Archives for November 2015

Nakey: The Concert

DSC_0052Any working musician will tell you: Our professional lives offer challenges both substantial and diminutive, situations blissful and farcical, moments hilarious and tragic. When we’re lucky, elements of our careers cross paths, circle back, and thump into each other, gifting us with a chance to simultaneously experience glory and goofiness during the course of one gig. My recent venture—as a concert pianist in a sauna and wellness center—proved to me once again that art and absurdity can peacefully coexist and thrive in the oddest of settings. Just because your audience is nakey and asleep, doesn’t mean they’re not listening.

Back Story

The novelty of the German sauna has accompanied me through much of my literary career. The first essay I sold—to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 1995—chronicled my first hesitant forays into the world of public nakedness. Through a series of wonderfully misguided steps over the course of two decades, my solo piano recordings became part of a popular sauna ceremony at Mediterana, an award-winning wellness center, located twenty minutes from my home in the German countryside. Wellness plus soothing solo piano—the concept made perfect sense to me. It still does.

Full disclosure: I have an annual membership to Mediterana. It’s one of my favorite haunts when I need a tonic to soothe frazzled nerves, repair aching muscles, or chase away the winter blues. It’s Disneyland for stressed adults.

The ceremony in the Kerzensauna (candlelight sauna), called Piano del Sol, features two of my recorded compositions, a flag-waving sauna guy in a plaid loin cloth, a pendulum full of ice that drips water onto lava rocks, and, at any given time, thirty naked, sweating people who have to remain silent and aren’t allowed to leave until the music finishes. My father, Bob, insists this is karmic payback for the decades I spent playing in noisy cocktail lounges and hotel lobbies. Imagine. People sit there and listen, and no one is serving them drinks. The ceremony is wonderful and silly. I love it.

As the nakey gods of fate and good fortune would have it, Mediterana asked me to compose and record sixteen new pieces—four for each season—for use in the Kerzensauna. They licensed the music from our record company and purchased the exclusive rights to sell the physical CD to their visitors over the next five years. I keep hearing rumors that music fans have stopped buying CDs. Perhaps this doesn’t apply to those who are naked, asleep, or both.

Mediterana released Piano del Sol on October 13th, 2015. Keeping with the industry tradition of presenting a launch concert, they booked me for a performance on the drop date. Don’t we just love those music-biz terms? Drop, release, launch. Maybe not such fitting words when your audience is buck nakey, and you’re the only one wearing a bra.

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The Concert

It’s three o’clock. In one hour I’ll be performing in the Indische Hof, Mediterana’s East Indian indoor garden. The English translation of Indische Hof is Indian Square, which makes the event sound like a concert in a teepee. I hope no one asks me to do a white girl rain dance. Circle your wagons while you can.

The Indische Hof, a Mecca of mosaic tile in soothing shades of green and blue, hosts a large granite fountain with floating rose petals, an indoor garden with palm trees and ferns, and a skylight that filters the dusky German light into something both gauzy and gilded. The garden pulses with mingled fragrances of eucalyptus and lavender, myrrh and sandalwood. It is a refuge for meditation and reflection; a place to lie half naked next to a complete stranger and hallucinate. Today, in the middle of the vista of over-sized lounge beds, sits a large Yamaha grand piano, looking like a stout hostess at an “east meets west” cocktail party. A sitar would be more appropriate in this space, but it’s Piano del Sol, not Sitar del Sol, so we’ll work with what we have.

What we have is me, dressed in my Ultimate Pajamas—a black silky outfit with a vaguely East Indian looking cape tossed over my shoulders. With the exception of my blingy flip flops (you can’t wear real shoes here), I’m dressed for a concert in a more traditional location, or a gig in a fancy hotel lobby. This is not true of my audience. Terry cloth—or fairy cloth as my daughter once called it—covers most of the guests. Towels, wraps, bathrobes, more towels. At the perimeter of the performance space, naked people stroll from one sauna area to another, but they don’t spook me. My nearsightedness blurs them into an impressionistic tableau of brown and beige skin. Mostly beige.

I need to warm up—it’s toasty in here, but I want to get the touch of the keys under my fingers. Every piano feels different, and this one, delivered in a rush this morning, schlepped from the cool autumn air into a manmade tropical retreat, might have unique issues. It’s pin drop quiet, people are sleeping, and other audience members are silently taking their places in beds and on velvet sofas. Not a good time for a soundcheck. I figure I’ll take my chances and wait until show time before playing anything at all. I open the piano to full stick, then sit and check the position and height of the bench.

Uh-oh. Not good. Right in my sight line—at the end of the piano—is a corpulent man in a robe. He’s asleep. Not a problem, sleeping seems to be the activity of choice in this space. But he’s got a case of man spread, the robe gaps open, and there, right at eye-level, are things no self-respecting Piano Girl should have to see, at least not while performing, and certainly not while attempting to focus on a new composition that features chord clusters that are a bit advanced for tentative fingers. Concentration is key for this performance. Am I really going to play something called “April Tango” while looking at Benny and the Jets at the end of the Yamaha? I think not.

Or I think so. For better or worse, I’m determined to make this concert work. I escape to the holding area and try to get hold of myself. Forty minutes until I go on. The holding area doubles as a First Aid station. I hope there are no medical emergencies between now and show time. I check out the defibrillators on the wall and wonder how often they’re needed. Imagine, naked, covered in sauna sweat, and having a heart crisis. Every middle-aged woman’s worst nightmare. Not even a chance to put on nice potty pants before being whisked off to the ER. In this place it’s fairy cloth or nothing.

I sip a cup of chamomile tea, thoughtfully provided by the young woman in charge of today’s shindig. The beautiful J wears a cotton sarong. She’s rosy-cheeked and cheerful, excited about the concert, worried about her introduction, concerned that there won’t be enough beds and sofas for the guests. There are 1200 visitors today at Mediterana—about 100 of them will recline and hear my performance. That’s a lot of beds.

I think about the guy in the front bed, then I try not to think about him. Family jewels. Right. Obviously a term invented by a man.

Voice of Reason, a reliable friend from my Piano Girl past, resonates in my head: Keep your eyes closed, Mrs. Goldsby, and imagine your listeners dressed in gabardine and silk. Or at the very least, underpants.

A loudspeaker voice blares through the building: “Please head to the Indische Hof in five minutes for the Piano del Sol concert!” The voice sounds like one of those “stand by for evacuation” announcements I used to hear during a fire alarm or bomb threat at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. Scary. I remind myself that I’m twenty-one years and 3,755 miles away from Times Square. Sure, we had the occasional naked person roaming Forty-second Street—perhaps a PETA activist or a flasher—but for the most part my daiquiri-swilling Manhattan fans were clothed. They weren’t always wide-awake, but at least their private parts weren’t flapping in a Broadway breeze.

I sit on the paper-covered exam table in the First Aid holding room. I go through my set list—I am scheduled to play all sixteen compositions with musical transitions between the pieces. There won’t be any applause until the end—an intense sixty minutes of new music for me, but a swell opportunity for music lovers to chill out and take a nap.

It’s time. I take another gulp of tea and leave the First Aid area. J introduces me. I take a bow and sit down at the piano. It’s very quiet—management has turned off the fountains and my naked audience, swaddled like newborns in towels and blankets, has settled in for an hour of meditative music.

Voice of Reason: Concentrate. It’s just another concert. It’s just music, with sleeping people allowing you to accompany their dreams.

Voice of Doom: You’ve been putting people to sleep with your music for years. Nothing new here.

Voice of Bob (my father): Now would be a great time for the “Hokey Pokey.”

I swat the voices away—shew!—close my eyes, and focus on the task ahead. Four seasons of music, starting with spring. I play the vamp to Piano del Sol, the title track of my album and let the sound wash over me. Slowly, like a lonely traveler finding her way home, I wander through the faded light of my past. Through my fingers, I feel the relief of a shade tree on a hot summer day, the golden glow of a cloudless sky in mid-October, the miracle of a clear day in February. Fairy cloth and sun dance. For several moments, I even feel young.

I play on and on, caught in my own weird spell. I don’t know if I sound good or bad but it doesn’t matter. I sound like me. Take it or take it not. My sleeping audience frees me—maybe their nakedness frees me as well. We connect with each other—not through eye contact or visual cues, but through sound and trust. Together, we’ve created something magical. Almost. It’s as close as I get in the music business.

I’m dazed and exhausted when it’s over. I sign CDs and do the “meet the artist” thing. I chat with some of our guests, wondering if I haven’t already said enough with my music. Maybe not. But that’s the great thing about art. There’s always more to say.

I’m glad I didn’t play the “Hokey Pokey.”

**

Robin Meloy Goldsby is a Steinway Artist. She is also the author of Piano Girl; Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl; and Rhythm: A Novel.  

Coming soon: Manhattan Road Trip, a collection of short stories about (what else?) musicians.

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Piano del Sol

Here are the words that accompany my new album, Piano del Sol. The CD is available exclusively at Mediterana, in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. German translation by Dagmar Breitenbach.

***

Piano del Sol takes you on a journey through four seasons of music. These compositions reflect my personal experiences, but I hope you’ll relate to each of the pieces in your own way. Summer, autumn, winter, spring. Close your eyes, dream a little, and imagine a place in the sun. Then you’ll hear the music. It’s there for you.

Piano del Sol nimmt Sie mit auf die Reise durch vier musikalische Jahreszeiten. Die Kompositionen spiegeln meine ganz persönlichen Erlebnisse wider, aber ich hoffe, Sie können sich mit jedem der Stücke auf Ihre ganz eigene Weise identifizieren. Sommer, Herbst, Winter und Frühling. Schließen Sie die Augen, träumen Sie ein wenig, und stellen Sie sich einen sonnigen Ort vor. Dann werden Sie die Musik hören. Sie wartet auf Sie.

Robin Meloy Goldsby

Köln, Deutschland, 2015

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Spring

Piano del Sol

The water shimmers, a breeze traces patterns in dune grass, and a child’s footprints in the sand lead me back to places I love. I listen to the music of the sea as the falling sun paints my horizon with the colors of life.

Piano del Sol

Das Wasser schimmert, eine Brise strichelt Muster ins Dünengras und die Fußabdrücke eines Kindes führen mich zurück an Orte, die ich liebe. Ich lausche dem Klang des Meeres, während die untergehende Sonne meinen Horizont mit den Farben des Lebens herausputzt.

Flight of the Cranes

Eurasian Cranes, headed north, pass over my neighborhood each year in early spring. A gift from nature, reminding me that even birds spend a lot of time searching for home.

Flug der Kraniche

Jedes Frühjahr fliegen Graue Kraniche auf ihrem Weg nach Norden schon früh über unsere Gegend hinweg. Ein Geschenk der Natur, das mich daran erinnert, dass sogar Vögel auf der Suche nach ihrer Heimat lange unterwegs sind.

Apricot Tree

The soft browns and grays of the Lyon winter fade into spring. The old apricot tree in the center of the garden, with its twisted trunk and gnarled limbs, reaches for the clouds. There is a song about this tree, and if I look at it long enough, I’ll hear it.

Aprikosenbaum

Die weichen Braun- und Grautöne des Winters in Lyon verklingen im Frühling. Der alte Aprikosenbaum mitten im Garten, mit seinem krummgewachsenen Stamm und den knorrigen Ästen, reckt sich nach den Wolken. Über diesen Baum gibt es ein Lied, und wenn ich ihn lang genug betrachte, dann höre ich es auch.

April Tango

The rain stops, but the music continues, ugly and beautiful all at once. It’s hard to trust April—a flower child with the soul of an ice queen, she seduces me with the promise of spring, then laughs when the storm begins anew.

Tango im April

Der Regen hört auf, aber die Musik spielt weiter, hässlich und schön zugleich. Es ist nicht leicht, dem April zu trauen—dem Blumenkind mit der Seele einer Eiskönigin, das mich mit einem Frühlingsversprechen verführt und lacht, wenn der Sturm von Neuem losbraust.


Summer

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Turning Point

Fly as far and as wide as your dreams will carry you. You’re the passenger; you’re also the pilot. You’re the reader; you’re also the writer. You’re the singer; you’re also the song.

Wendepunkt

Flieg so hoch und so weit, wie Deine Träume Dich tragen. Du bist die Passagierin; Du bist aber auch die Pilotin. Du bist die Leserin; Du bist auch die Autorin. Du bist die Sängerin; Du bist genauso das Lied.

Giverny

“I would like to paint the way a bird sings.” (Claude Monet)

Hypnotic colors draw me deeper into Monet’s garden. I marvel at the artist’s ability to watch from the shadows, quietly capturing his beautiful flowers in their darkest and brightest moments.

Giverny

“Ich würde gern malen wie der Vogel singt.” (Claude Monet)

Hypnotische Farben ziehen mich tiefer in Monets Garten. Ich staune über die Geschicklichkeit des Malers, er beobachtet aus dem Schatten heraus, leise fängt er seine schönen Blumen in ihren dunkelsten und leuchtendsten Momenten ein.

Sanibel Island

Sanibel in May—soft air, rose-colored light, and opalescent seashells that look like expensive jewels in my aging hands. I search for you across an endless sweep of silver water. There you are—counting your memories, just like me.

Sanibel Island

Sanibel im Mai—weiche Luft, rosenfarbenes Licht und schillernde Muscheln, die in meinen alternden Händen wie kostbare Juwelen aussehen. Ich suche Dich über die endlosen Weiten silbernen Wassers hinweg. Da bist Du —und zählst Deine Erinnerungen, genau wie ich.

Summer Lullaby

It’s a lazy afternoon. I close my eyes, float in a golden pool of summer light, and dream of nothing at all.

Sommerwiegenlied

Ein träger Nachmittag. Ich schließe die Augen, treibe auf einer Insel aus goldenem Sommerlicht, und träume von rein gar nichts.

Autumn

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Atlantic Terrace

A fragile sky stretches over the foaming shoreline of Montauk, Long Island. Memories of summer haunt my daydreams, a September wind chills my face, and the future—like the ocean churning in the distance—promises a season of reflection, renewal, and hope.

Terrasse am Atlantik

Ein zerbrechlicher Himmel spannt sich über schäumende Gischt an der Küste von Montauk, Long Island. Erinnerungen an den Sommer geistern durch meine Tagträume, der Septemberwind streicht kühl über mein Gesicht und die Zukunft—in der Ferne, aufgewühlt wie das Meer—verspricht eine Jahreszeit der Besinnung, Erneuerung und Hoffnung.

Otoño

Soft—a velvet cloak draped over naked shoulders,

Bold—the troubadour’s song on an autumn night,

Smoldering—the dancer’s eyes; he looks right through me,

Sees winter approaching, and turns the other way.

Otoño

Weich—ein Samtumhang um nackte Schultern gelegt,

Kühn—das Lied des Troubadours in einer Herbstnacht,

Feurig —die Augen des Tänzers; er schaut durch mich hindurch, sieht den Winter nahen, und wendet sich ab.

Maybe It’s You

Days grow shorter. The crisp air and falling leaves remind me of another time, another place, another love. I feel a chill run down my spine. Maybe it’s you—your beautiful spirit reminding to pay attention to what counts.

Kann sein, es bist Du

Die Tage werden kürzer. Die klare Luft, die fallenden Blätter erinnern mich an eine andere Zeit, einen anderen Ort und eine andere Liebe. Mir läuft ein Schauer den Rücken herunter. Vielleicht bist es ja Du—Deine schöne Seele, die mich daran erinnert, auf das, was zählt, achtzugeben.

Home

An American in Germany, welcomed by neighbors and colleagues—I belong and yet I don’t. I struggle with language and cultural differences, but I collect experiences of a lifetime—photos and postcards I glue to the fragile pages of my personal scrapbook. I write songs, I travel far, I journey wide, hoping to be understood, but trying just as hard to feel at home.

Zuhause

Eine Amerikanerin in Deutschland, von Nachbarn und Kollegen willkommen geheißen—ich gehöre dazu, und irgendwie doch nicht. Ich kämpfe mit der Sprache und den kulturellen Unterschieden, aber ich mache Erfahrungen für ein ganzes Leben—Fotos und Postkarten, die ich auf die hauchdünnen Seiten meines privaten Sammelalbums klebe. Ich schreibe Lieder und reise in weitentfernte Länder, immer in der Hoffnung, verstanden zu werden, und doch bemühe ich mich genauso sehr, mich heimisch zu fühlen.

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Winter

The Blue Season

A thousand shades of blue, blended together at the end of the year—deepest sapphire and brightest cobalt, turquoise, navy, azure, and aqua. The silver blue of winter swirls in the eyes of a newborn child; the icy blue of morning reflects the falling stars we caught last night. December’s muddy clouds drift away and reveal clear patches of crystal blue sky.

Die blaue Jahreszeit

Zum Jahresende verschmilzt blau in tausend Schattierungen— tiefstes saphirblau, strahlendstes kobalt, türkis, marineblau, azurblau und aquamarin. In den Augen eines neugeborenen Kindes wirbelt das silberblau des Winters; eisblau reflektiert der Morgen die Sternschnuppen, die wir letzte Nacht auffingen. Schmuddelig-graue Dezemberwolken jagen davon, stellenweise blitzt kristallblauer Himmel hervor.

Starlings

Starlings swirl in the distance like a choreographed team of tiny ballerinas, lilting to the left, pirouetting to the right, performing a sky ballet in the November wind.

Stare

Stare wirbeln in der Ferne wie eine choreographierte Truppe winziger Balletttänzerinnen, sie schwingen sich nach links, machen eine Pirouette nach rechts, ein Himmelsballett im Novemberwind.

Echo

Stones and feathers,

Dipped in gold,

Growing wiser,

Growing old,

We’ll wait in the meadow,

Where ravens play,

Let go of the dark,

Hold on to the day.

 

Echo

Steine, Federn,

In Gold getaucht,

Werden weiser,

Werden alt,

Wir werden auf der Wiese warten,

Dort, wo Raben spielen,

Die Dunkelheit lassen wir gehen,

Und fassen den Tag beim Schopfe.

 

December:

Quiet now. The year, anxious to make a graceful exit, tiptoes out the door, whispers goodbye, and leaves nothing but a smoky trail of memories in the dusty snow.

Dezember

Still jetzt. Auf Zehenspitzen stiehlt sich das Jahr davon, bedacht auf einen anmutigen Abgang; es flüstert Adieu, und hinterlässt nichts als eine rauchgraue Spur von Erinnerungen im staubigen Schnee.