Archives for November 2017

Home and Away

A November sky, dazzling and crisp, frames the silhouette of the Dom, the Gothic cathedral towering over the Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne, Germany, where I play the piano. I am scheduled to perform today for Afternoon Tea. The lobby—an oasis of old-money sophistication—offers a plush shelter for upscale Cologne residents, travelers from distant lands, confident business people, and ladies who lunch.

Home. Away. A little bit of quiet in a noisy world.

I sit at the Steinway, a beautifully restored 1939 Model A. The hotel’s Wintergarten area at this time of day usually hums along at a pleasant, lazy afternoon tempo, but it’s unusually serene right now, a secret sanctuary in a fast-paced city. I play “Home & Away,” the title track of my new album. I coast along with the music, and glide through the autumn afternoon, going nowhere and everywhere all at once. Our guests feel at home here. So do I.

Opalescent shafts of afternoon sun slant through the lobby; the golden walls glow with effortless elegance.

I think about home, about the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve loved. I often compose music about water—the rivers and streams running through my life, and that big salty stretch of Atlantic I’ve crossed so often. Sometimes I imagine the ocean is made up entirely of a voyager’s fragile tears.

“What makes you feel at home?” I ask my daughter, Julia.

“That’s easy,” she says. “Home is any place at all where you feel loved. And understood.”

That is this place for me. When I play this piano, surrounded by guests, friends and colleagues, I feel understood, and—occasionally—loved.

American television legend Mister Rogers, in all his wisdom, used to say this: “Take a moment and think about the people who understand you—the people who have loved you into being the person you are right now.”

Some of them are here with me. Some are far away; some might bump into me only in my dreams. For better or worse, they have made me who I am. My music comes from their love.

When I embrace the places that nourish my soul, when I give myself permission to be loved and understood by those around me, a miracle happens. I may be sitting at a 1939 Steinway in a grand European luxury hotel, but I’ve arrived at a place that warms my heart. I might be away. But here, I’m home.

Zu Hause. Home. At last.

*****

Home & Away   (Deutsch)

Der Novemberhimmel, strahlend hell und frisch, umrahmt die Silhouette des Kölner Doms, der gotischen Kathedrale, die hoch über dem Excelsior Hotel Ernst emporragt. Hier ist mein Arbeitsplatz, hier sitze ich am Flügel.

Heute spiele ich zum Afternoon Tea. Die Lobby – eine Oase der Perfektion alten Geldadels – ist ein vornehmer Rückzugsort für Kölner mit gehobenen Ansprüchen, Reisende aus fernen Ländern, selbstbewusste Geschäftsleute und „ladies who lunch“ – elegante Damen, die sich die Zeit beim Mittagessen vertreiben.

Ein Zuhause. Außerhalb meines Zuhauses. Ein wenig Ruhe in einer lauten Welt.

Ich sitze an einem wunderbar restaurierten Steinway-Flügel, Modell A, Baujahr 1939. Normalerweise summt der Wintergarten des Hotels um diese Tageszeit vor angenehm gemächlicher Geschäftigkeit, aber an diesem Nachmittag ist es ungewöhnlich ruhig – der Raum wirkt wie ein geheimer Zufluchtsort inmitten einer schnelllebigen Stadt. Ich spiele „Home & Away”, das Stück, das den Titel meines neuen Albums trägt. Ich lasse mich mit der Musik treiben und gleite durch den Herbstnachmittag, bewege mich nirgendwohin und überall zugleich. Unsere Gäste fühlen sich hier heimisch. Mir geht es ebenso.

Sanft schillernd fallen die Strahlen der Nachmittagssonne in die Lobby; die goldenen Wände erglühen mit spielerisch leichter Eleganz.

Ich denke an zu Hause, an die Orte, an denen ich gelebt habe, und die Menschen, die ich geliebt habe. Ich komponiere gern Musik über Wasser – die Flüsse und Bäche, die durch mein Leben fließen und diesen weiten, salzigen Atlantik, den ich schon so oft überquert habe. Manchmal stelle ich mir vor, der Ozean bestehe nur aus den Tränen einer Reisenden.

„Was gibt dir das Gefühl, zu Hause zu sein?”, frage ich meine Tochter Julia.

„Das ist einfach”, antwortet sie. „Mein Zuhause ist jeder Ort, an dem ich mich geliebt fühle. Und verstanden.”

Für mich ist das die Lobby im Excelsior Hotel Ernst. Wenn ich auf diesem Flügel spiele, umgeben von Gästen, Freunden und Kollegen, fühle ich mich verstanden – und manchmal sogar geliebt.

Von Fred Rogers, der 2003 verstorbenen amerikanischen Fernsehlegende, stammt der weise Ausspruch: „Halt einen Moment inne und denk an die Menschen, die dich verstehen – die, die dich mit ihrer Liebe zu der Person gemacht habe, die du jetzt bist.”

Manche dieser Menschen sind bei mir. Andere sind weit weg, und manchen begegne ich nur in meinen Träumen. Sie haben mich zu der gemacht, die ich bin, mit allen guten und schlechten Seiten. Meine Musik entsteht aus ihrer Liebe.

Wenn ich die Plätze umarme, die meine Seele nähren, wenn ich mir selbst erlaube, von den Menschen, die mich umgeben, geliebt und verstanden zu werden, dann geschieht ein Wunder. Vielleicht sitze ich gerade in einem prächtigen europäischen Luxushotel an einem Steinway-Flügel, Baujahr 1939 und bin an einem Ort angekommen, der mein Herz erwärmt. Manchmal bin ich unterwegs. Aber hier, hier bin ich zu Hause.

Zu Hause. Home. Endlich.

***

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

New: Home and AwayGoldsby’s newest solo piano album, available November 26th, directly from the artist, at Amazon, or from your favorite streaming channels.

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Song for My Daughter

Life can be one long love song, a musical scrapbook of your greatest hits, a jumble of waltzes and nocturnes, hip-hop moments, and two-part inventions that weave melodies in your head with harmonies in your heart.

Life can also be one long dirge, a monotone drone without shape or nuance, a thin and reedy voice drifting over swampy waters and the five-o’clock shadow of parched fields, sad and sorry and soul-less.

You’re twenty-one years old. I would go for Option A.

Here’s the thing. You’re the composer. You’re also the conductor, the Maestra. At this point in your life, with teachers and parents and colleagues and friends telling you what to do and where to go, you probably don’t feel like you’re in charge of anything. But you are. You get to choose your life song. You, as a strong young woman living with the comforts of the modern world, can pluck the best notes, the finest sounds, from your musical garden. You can string notes together any way you like. They can be cliché and smooth—a daisy chain of simplicity—or rough and raging, as thorny and complicated as the world around you. The notes, when linked together, will lead you somewhere or nowhere, far away or back home, to the hardened soil of foreign lands or the soft chairs of familiar rooms. All of these places will be safe, because you own them; they will be part of your soundscape.

Like generations of women before you, you will encounter swollen, oily men with grabby hands and bloated egos. You will walk into seemingly harmless situations—petal-strewn pastures that turn into minefields capable of shredding your confidence and obliterating your self-esteem. When you’re not treated well, speak up. Do not play the shame blame game. Shout out the name of the offender and move on. Let punctuated shrieks of anger and survival be part of your life’s soundtrack.

Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Expect respect in every aspect of your life. You are not a princess. You are a queen. Off with the metaphorical head of anyone who flunks the human dignity test.

Move on. Can I say that often enough? No.

I promise you this: Good guys do roam the earth—you will meet them and they will acknowledge and appreciate your wisdom and strength. Accept no less.

You will succeed; you will fail. You will laugh and cry. You will fall in and out of love. You will stumble in the haze of romance, dance on the toes of an unsuspecting partner, and shield your tired eyes from loss and  loneliness. You will study and work and then study some more. You will have babies or not. You will learn to say yes; you will learn to say no. You will speak up and sit down, stand tall and stop short. You will figure out what you want; you’ll decide what you need. You will learn to say goodbye.

When you are old, say, fifty or so, you will shout, “This is my song!” Some will sing along. Some will plead indifference. Others will think you’re crazy. At this point in your life, and you can trust me on this, you won’t care. You’ll be proud to have a song worth singing.

Is there anyplace better than where you are, right now? You’re ready to pick up the conductor’s baton, poised to deliver the downbeat, prepared to guide your orchestra through a musical score full of highs and lows, crescendos and diminuendos, full stops, repeat signs, and codas. Anything might happen.

Go for it, Maestra. Find your song. Be fierce.

Photo of Julia Goldsby by Annike Elisabeth Luise.

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

New: Manhattan Road Trip, a collection of short stories about (what else?) musicians. Go here to buy Manhattan Road Trip!

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