Low Country Boil

Chickens and Antiques

I arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, on a balmy February evening after a fifteen-hour travel extravaganza that has led me from Frankfurt, Germany, through Detroit, and into the cushioned arms of Low Country hospitality. I’m here to play a couple of solo piano concerts. My host, a southern gentleman who works as a church organist, concert promoter, and hotel pianist, greets me at the airport. His name is Tom Bailey. I know from emails and phone calls he is neither an ax murderer nor a Trump supporter, but still, I worry. I’m tired enough that most of my trust issues evaporate into the salty night without a second thought as Tom, a dapper guy in a gorgeous suit, grabs my suitcase. We hop in his Nissan, and away we go.

Tom and his partner Steve live in Summerville in a rambling home they share with two dogs (Loopy and Buster) and twenty chickens. The chattering chickens reside outside and pretty much never shut up, but  I could sleep through anything at this point. I have a glass of wine, tour the labyrinth of chicken-themed, antique-filled rooms, and head up to the guest suite where I fall into a four-poster bed and dream of Pat Conroy and roosters.

To avoid performing with jet lag, I’ve arrived in Charleston six days before my first concert. Other, more seasoned artists don’t fret about travel fatigue, but I’m approaching my sixtieth birthday and I function best when my head is not plopping onto the keyboard.

Tom Bailey fills my pre-concert days with cocktail parties, dinners, and “meet and greet” sessions with fans and friends. He has created a minor buzz about me, so I get star treatment. This is something new and different, but I go along with the program and soak up the love. Being a sponge is fun. I eat too much and drink too much. I have cramps in my cheeks from smiling.

Note to my liberal friends: At no time during my stay does Lindsey Graham jump out from behind a potted palmetto. South Carolina might be a red state, but the citizens of the greater Charleston area, at least the ones I meet, are a civilized mish-mash of black-white-old-young-straight-gay-jewish-christian-muslim-happy.

It seems I have once again found myself in an American Bubbleland. I’ll take it.

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Loopy and Buster

My Funny Valentine

On Valentine’s Day, Tom—who knows a million songs and plays them all with bouncy bravado—works  the Swamp Fox Room at the Francis Marion Hotel, a five-star joint in downtown Charleston. Steve and Tom have invited three pianists—Nancy, Hermeine, and Patricia— to have dinner with me. They are stunning, aging, and funny; they are also kick-ass pianists. After dinner, Tom invites them to play. I listen in amazement as Hermeine romps through a version of “Embraceable You” with a Brahms-y rolling left hand that sounds like the tide. Wow. Hermeine plays more notes in four bars than I play in an entire set. As I take my turn at the piano I feel an inkling of impostor syndrome creeping under the collar of my stretchy black travel dress.

I play tinka tinka and hope my minimalistic approach will carry me through. Hermeine, Patricia, and Nancy are Charleston’s Golden Piano Girls. I feel like I’ve known them forever. That’s the nice thing about the Musician’s Club—we’re family, even if we’re meeting for the first time. I’m in a party of seven, and five of us play the piano. Among us, we have three hundred years of stories.

How many pianists does it take to play “My Funny Valentine?” Evidently, all of us.

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Tom @ the piano.

Miss Emily

Emily Remington, as far as I know, is the world’s most senior Piano Girl. One hundred years old and still snappy! After turning down the volume on her Vladimir Ashkenazy recording (more Brahms), she greets Tom and me in her apartment. We happily sip afternoon cocktails, eat crackers and brie, and trade tales about the music business. Miss Emily, appalled by the current political situation in the USA, reminisces about the choirs she conducted in 1962, one black, one white. After Kennedy’s assassination, she fought to integrate the choirs and have them sing together for his memorial. A teenage Jessye Norman was a soloist for the performance. Tom says that Miss Emily, fearing the hatred of white supremacists, stood in front of Jessye during her solo to protect her from crowd violence.

“To think we’ve returned to such awful thinking,” she says. “It depresses me.”

I remind Miss Emily of Carrie Fisher’s brilliant comment: Take your broken heart and make it into art. “That’s what you did, Miss Emily, back in 1962,” I say. “And other artists will follow in your footsteps.”

“At least we still have that,” she says. “Music.”

We discuss musician wardrobe malfunctions—she once had a strapless dress fall down while conducting a symphony orchestra—and I lament about my failure to find a strapless bra that hoists the twins to a respectable height without cutting off my oxygen.

“Well, I have a gift for you!” she says. She stands up, and with the aid of a walker, cruises into her bedroom, where she reaches into the top drawer of her lingerie chest and pulls out a black strapless bra. “Here,” she says. “Take it. My strapless bra days are behind me.”

I like that she had that bra at the ready, as if she was willing to slip on a slinky sequined dress, grab her gig bag, and hit the boards running. One hundred years old, and still thinking like a Piano Girl.

Note to opera buffs: Jessye Norman sang to Miss Emily on her 100th birthday.

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Me, age 59. Miss Emily, age 100. She wins.

The Cape

Tom and Steve take me to a vintage clothing shop and buy me a full-length velvet cape with a red satin lining and beaded shoulders. Perhaps my nun-ish wardrobe has disappointed them, or maybe they are hoping I’ll make a Liberace entrance at my concert on Saturday.

“Tom,” I say. “I don’t think I can wear this while I play.” I yank the jeweled clasp that pinches the fat on my neck and threatens to strangle me. Death by beading.

“No, no,” he says. “You walk onstage and then drop the cape dramatically next to the piano before you sit down. Fabulous!”

Tom and Steve are fabulous. I now own the cape. I wonder if it has super powers. Sure, Liberace liked his capes, but so did James Brown and Batman. I am in good company.

Note to soul fans: James Brown, born in South Carolina, employed a “Cape Man.” Cape Man’s soul function was to run onstage when Brown was collapsing from excessive emotional exertion and too many hip thrusts. Cape Man would dramatically place the cape on Brown’s slumped and twitching shoulders, thus bestowing Brown with enough energy to go on with the show.

I am currently taking applications for my own personal Cape Man.

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With Steve & Tom. My Cape Men.

The Surprise

I am sitting with Tom in a Summerville restaurant called Oscar’s. He tells me we are meeting “some agent” for lunch. I go along with the program because at this point I’m on remote control and know that anyone Tom introduces to me will be funny, smart, and entertaining. Even an agent.

Tom tells me about his funeral gigs. Sometimes he plays three or four funerals a week, in addition to his hotel and church jobs. When I ask him if the funerals get depressing he says: “No. The organ is in a closet and I have a video feed of whoever is conducting the service. No casket viewing, no grieving people—I just go in my closet and play the gig. Sometimes I take a sandwich with me.”

This morning, while Tom was playing in his funeral closet, I called Robin Spielberg, my piano BFF, just to check in and tell her what’s going on. She would love it here! Robin lives in rural Pennsylvania and I could tell she was in a vehicle so I asked where she was going. “It’s a trip to nowhere,” she said. It’s been almost ten years since we’ve seen each other, even though we communicate daily. Busy, busy, Piano Girl lives. I miss her.

The server asks about our drink orders. Wine or no wine? With all the socializing and bar-hopping the week has turned a bit hazy around the edges, but that’s a good thing. I’m often accused of exaggeration (I like to think of it as a gift for fiction) and I’m sure no one from my real life will believe the things I’ve been experiencing in Charleston—the chickens, Miss Emily, the cape, the way Charleston teems with musicians and gigs . . . I order the wine and chat with Tom about the piano business and funerals, waiting for “some agent” to show up.

Surprise! In walks Robin Spielberg and her handsome husband, Larry, who actually is a talent agent (one of the good guys). Knock me over with a feather. How Tom and Robin managed to keep this a secret baffles me. I usually sniff out covert activity weeks before it happens. Ask my children. In the spy versus spy game, I am queen. Not this time. I have been out-played by two piano players.

We squeal, we cry, we are a surprise-party cliché. We order more wine. Spielberg is beautiful and full of life and understands so much about what I do for a living. She is here and I am over the moon happy. The first thing I do when we get back to Tom’s house is show her the cape. She agrees: It’s fabulous.

The next day we drink dill-pickle flavored Bloody Marys, eat a little lunch, then go to a dress store and buy matching southern belle evening gowns. On sale. Now I have something to wear with the cape. And the bra. And if anyone ever calls us to do a two-piano show, we’re all set.

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Spielberg & Goldsby, 4 hands sounding like 2.

The Concert

The first concert takes place at St. Theresa the Little Flower Catholic Church in Summerville. Tom runs a series there, called Third Sunday at Three.

Steinway has provided a gorgeous Model B. It sits front and center under a glorious (but gruesome) mosaic of Jesus on the cross. I’m not sure this is the appropriate place to tell stories about my life as a cocktail lounge pianist, but I’m here, hundreds of people have shown up and I figure I’ve got enough  spirituality in my music to make up for my atheist tendencies. Live and let live and all that.

My dressing room is the priest’s vestry. Forget about the cape! Robes and scarves in glorious colors hang in the priest’s closet. And look at those rosary beads. This is bling city. I’m suspicious of most organized religion, but I’ve always been a fan of Pope-wear. I’m temped to borrow the lime green cassock for my entrance but Spielberg talks me out of it. Look at us: a Jewish gal from New Jersey and a Pittsburgh atheist with German residency hanging out in the priest’s vestry of a South Carolina catholic church.

Ah, music. The great unifier.

We gaze at the special sink for holy water but we do not drink.

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The concert goes well. My hands are cold for the first chunk of music (the vestry was chilly) but I recover and warm up for the rest of the program. The audience rolls along with me, laughing when they’re supposed to. I read my story about playing an endless version of the Titanic theme at a private party in a German castle, and Tom sits in at the piano for me and provides the perfect soundtrack. People here love him, and because they love him, they accept me.

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New fans!

I sign a lot of books and CDs and head to the post-concert shindig at Tom and Steve’s home. Eighty people show up for the party. Tom has hired service staff and a pianist. The food is plentiful; the bar is well stocked. They serve a Low Country boil called Frogmore Stew, which I am happy to report does not contain frogs—just giant shrimp, potatoes, corn on the cob, and sausage. Maybe it should be called Frogless Stew. I drink a goblet of wine and pose for photos. I’m starving, but I can’t very well eat corn on the cob while I’m having my photo taken. That’s a little too Ellie Mae Clampet, even for me.

Note: Posing for a cell phone photo takes three times longer than posing for a real camera, especially when senior citizens are involved. Commonly heard phrases include:

It’s all black.

It didn’t click.

Where do I push?

It’s all fuzzy.

The Medical Emergency

I go on the veranda to have my photo taken with a guy named Chris, just as Miss Sarah, a retired volunteer librarian using a walker, struggles to get down the steps. Miss Sarah is elderly and has just had a knee replacement. Miss Sarah’s husband takes her walker and his own cane and tries to follow her down the steps. He is also carrying multiple copies of my books—way too much stuff for a nonagenarian on a staircase with an opiate-impaired wife.

I grab Chris and we get hold of Miss Sarah just before she takes a dive. I’m in front of her; Chris is behind her. We get her down the steps, but she is dizzy and nauseated and ready to toss her Frogmore cookies. I know this feeling all too well. It will pass, but her advanced age calls for something more proactive than a reassuring pat on the back. I don’t want anyone, especially sweet Miss Sarah, going down for the count on the night of my big event. Piano Girl Program Kills Popular Librarian is not a headline I care to see.

“Tom!” I yell, after running back into the house. It’s hard to find him in this French-farce maze of rooms. “Miss Sarah needs medical attention. Call an ambulance!”

“Who?”

“Miss Sarah! Miss Sarah! The librarian! On the veranda!”

I feel like I’ve been dropped into the second act of a Tennessee Williams play. I’m even developing a slight twang.

The paramedics come, a little too slowly for my taste, but hey, it’s the south. Miss Sarah is fine—she has experienced an opiate-induced blood pressure drop—and will be delivered back to her rehab facility. One of her fellow librarians asks me to sign Miss Sarah’s books before they drive away. This should be the last thing anyone is worrying about, but who am I to argue?  I love this woman. Get well soon, Miss Sarah!

I glance at the waiting paramedics and scrawl my signature as quickly as possible. I never get that photo with Chris. But I do snag some corn when the crowd thins out.

Book signing

The Ultimate Music Machine

Steinway & Sons Charleston and BMW sponsor the second event, held at a sleek and shiny BMW showroom on the outskirts of the city. David Vail, Steinway Director, delivers a Model “D” for the concert. I’m more comfortable here than I was yesterday at the church. For one thing, I don’t have Jesus hanging over my head for the comedy portion of my show. And I prefer my audience in chairs rather than pews. Tonight’s audience is close-up and a little punchy from the cocktail reception. The cars on the periphery of the stage area, in gleaming shades of powder and pewter, look pretty and powerful.

Perfect.

Miss Emily, our resident centenarian, wearing a festive zebra-print frock, perches in the second row with a glass of wine. She missed my church gig yesterday because she produces her own concert series at the senior residence where she lives. When I’m introduced, I bow at her feet in tribute. Then I wonder what kind of bra she is wearing. This woman knows her undergarments.

I glide through the show, marveling at the instrument in front of me. I can’t play a wrong note on this piano—Steinway technician John Krucke has groomed it till it sings. I could stay here forever. But I don’t because the show is over and we have dinner reservations and I’m hungry.

Before we leave I talk to audience member Charles Miller, the organist who jumped in to accompany President Obama during his unanticipated “Amazing Grace” moment at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church memorial service. I watched that ceremony live from Germany, and although I was weeping, I remember noting the amazing grace of that amazingly graceful organist. He overcame his grief, did his job, and lifted all of us to a better place—a beautiful moment in a tragic setting, buoyed by the bravery of one musician.

“You are my hero,” I say to Charles after my concert. “I’m curious. What key did Obama sing in?”

“He was between E and Eb,” says Charles. “But I pushed him down to Eb.”

Wow. No cape necessary. While I’m talking to Charles and signing books, a hugely talented fourteen-year old named Caleb sits down at the “D” and starts playing Bach. My God—this room is swollen with music. Caleb balances at the beginning of his career; Miss Emily has leaned comfortably into the end of hers. The rest of us stand somewhere in the middle, grateful benefactors of our musical pasts, protectors of what’s to come.

Is everyone in this town a musician? Seems like.

It’s time to move on. Thank you, Charleston. You have plenty of music in your fine city, but you’ve welcomed me as if you can never get enough. Your southern charm took me by surprise.

Next stop: Pittsburgh. But first, let’s eat.

Note to music fans: The former mayor of Charleston, Joseph Riley, set out to make Charleston a world-class city by focusing on the city’s vibrant cultural life. It worked. Music is everywhere and venues—both large and small—are full. The current mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg, is a jazz pianist.

 *****

Special thanks to Tom Bailey, Steve Jackson. Robin Spielberg, Larry Kosson, David Vail, John Krucke, David Archer, Pat Huffman, and Emily Remington. And much gratitude to Tom Bailey’s circle of friends for making me feel so welcome. Can’t wait to see you all again! 

Coming next month: The Pittsburgh Party

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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Picture Perfect: Photo Tips for Real Women

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Most performers, in spite of our occasional “back to nature” urges, want to look as good as we can, especially when a hot-handed social-media expert with a cell phone camera is lurking in the wings. Like so many of my friends, I waltzed into my mature soft-focus years just when the world decided it absolutely needed harshly lit, candid photos of all of us. It’s bad enough dealing with wrinkles and chins and roots and flab, but it’s far worse for those of us in a business that necessitates maintaining a “public face.” I play a concert and flash goes the camera; I play for a wedding and I show up in a dozen home videos, many of which end up on YouTube; I often need new photos for CD launches. I play, I pose, I pose, I play. It’s stupid. I have enough to worry about trying to hit the right keys and make emotional sense out of my compositions. Do I need to worry about the hideous angle of the camera pointed at me, held by a Taiwanese tourist whom I will never see again? At this point in my life do I really need to be concerned about back fat and batwings?

I realize this is a taboo subject. The world is going to hell in a hand basket and I’m worried about how I look in a photo? I’m not the only one. Pretty much every woman I know—skinny, stout, lifted, tattooed, coiffed, buff, chilled, or uptight—thinks about how she looks, probably a little too much. Maybe even a lot too much. Even the deepest of us occasionally wade in shallow water.

In the last month I’ve survived two photo sessions, each one intended to help promote a new project. I worked with two great photographers, Andreas Biesenbach and my daughter, Julia Goldsby, but still, I did not walk willingly into the light. Filled with dread, I complained about the sessions for about a month in advance.

“This, Robin, is an uptown problem,” said my actor-friend, Peg. She has an intelligent sense of humor, soulful eyes, and a wide, quirky smile. She is beautiful. I would paint her if I had that kind of talent. “Complaining about having your picture taken at our age is sort of like crying because you got too many flowers for your fiftieth birthday.”

She has a point. I’m happy people still take my picture. I’m not so happy that I worry about it.

My pianist pal, Robin Spielberg, says she would gladly stop thinking about her appearance if she had a normal job that didn’t mandate new glossy photos every few years. The lovely Ms. Spielberg, with raven hair, green eyes, an hourglass figure, and a husband who takes gorgeous photos of her, worries just as much as I do, even though, most days, she looks as if she slipped out of a beauty and style blog. We joke about being on the celebrity “B” list—well-known enough to warrant looking as groomed as possible; not quite famous enough to call in the cosmetic surgeons, the personal trainers, and the daily Spackle team. Not that we want those things. Or do we?

Actors, musicians, and artists on the “B” celebrity roster aren’t the only women who strive to look good (or at least not fat) in photos. I know prominent businesswomen, doctors, United Nations representatives, judges, lawyers, teachers, and stay-at-home moms who every so often go to battle against  the vanity monster. I know teenagers who stand in front of the mirror and practice poses. I know grandmothers who have perfected the art of using the selfie pole. I know really powerful women—women who take down organized crime syndicates, battle the NRA, and bench press hundreds of pounds— who cower at the idea of having an up-to-date passport photo taken.

Why worry about a silly photo session? It’s not like we don’t have anything else to think about. We are raising families, raising hell, redecorating our dining rooms, making scientific breakthroughs, writing novels, helping to coordinate refugee relief. We are ruling on critical legal matters, planting herb gardens, planning philanthropic events, delivering our children to college, and mending broken hearts. We are repairing skinned knees, visiting autoimmune specialists, balancing hormones, and trying to save the world with a plant-based diet. We are practicing hard, living disciplined Fitbit lives, and getting better at what we do.

Do we really care if our gray hair is showing? Or if we look jowly in the reunion photo?

Uh, yes.

Too bad we can’t post 4D scans of our working brains and full hearts instead of pictures of our laminated smiles and sooty-lashed eyes. Scans that would show kindness and strength and resolve. Humor and resilience. Rage. Is it possible to photograph a woman’s unbreakable spirit?

Less silicone, more sass. Less filler, more fight. Not that there’s anything wrong with filler. If it’s what you want, go for it.

In the meantime, book a good photographer and a stylist. Their photos will compensate for the hideous casual shots that seem to show up on social media. It’s money well spent. Once the photographer sends you the finished photos—if she’s smart she’ll send you the touched-up versions and you’ll think she’s brilliant and you’re a tad more polished than you thought—you can take a deep breath and feel a little foolish about the whole thing. You can step away from the mirror, ma’am, and go back to what counts. You can have a cocktail and a club sandwich and discuss politics and your children and the melting world with your friends. You can practice the piano or the cello or write a poem. You can post your photo everywhere and bask in the afterglow of everyone’s warm comments. “Wow,” they’ll say. “Wow. You haven’t changed a bit.”

But I know better. I think you’ve changed a lot since the last time you had your picture taken. For the better.

If you don’t like your new photo, I suggest taking the Carole Delgado Approach. Throw the picture in a drawer and don’t look at it for ten years. Take it out. You’ll see so much more than an airbrushed face. You’ll see a younger you, picture perfect, windblown and beautiful in all your naivety, ready to take on the world.

If only you had known how good you looked, back then.

***

Put on a Happy Face: A Few Tips

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Yours truly. Photo by Andreas Biesenbach, who perched on a ladder to get this shot. No injuries!

  • Get a good night’s sleep. Try not to dream about your disappearing waistline. Set your alarm so you have enough time to stretch and take a really hot shower.
  • Don’t starve yourself before the session. You’ll faint, or worse, you’ll look pale and spaced out. Heroin-chic might work for Kate Moss, but it probably won’t work for you. Eat bananas. They don’t get stuck in your teeth and they soothe your nerves.
  • A couple of days ahead of time, drink as much water and herbal tea as possible. Your skin will thank you, even if your bladder won’t. The morning of the session, be sure to drink soothing, clear beverages (no, not vodka), but don’t drink too much. You don’t want to be running off to the potty once you’re in gear.
  • Tempting as it might be to tie one on, stay away from wine for a week ahead of time. Okay, maybe just seventy-two hours. Nobody hates this rule more than I do, but wine makes your face puffy and that’s no fun, unless you’re using the photo to audition for a PMS print ad.
  • Same as #3, but substitute the word “sugar” for wine.
  • Take it easy on the salt. It’s all about the bloat.
  • Hire a great photographer—or more importantly, a nice one who calms you. One who appreciates your intelligence. One who laughs at your jokes and acknowledges you have better things to do (solving physics problems, practicing Ravel, baking brownies) than worry about your disappearing cheekbones and falling face.
  • Hire a stylist. It is worth every penny. She will watch out for excessive hair frizz and bleeding lipstick. Ask your photographer to recommend someone.
  • Lighting is everything. Ask Diane Sawyer.
  • Relax your forehead. This is easy if you’ve had Botox, because your forehead won’t move, no matter how excited you get. I am Botox-less, which means I can raise my eyebrows to the top of my scalp. This feels right to me, but it makes me look like I’ve just seen George Clooney in a kilt, or worse, that I am a member of The Young Americans, that singing group that performs patriotic songs. Also, I don’t really have any eyebrows (they are blond and very thin), so I resemble ET if I raise them. A relaxed forehead makes you look happy and calm, even if the world is crashing around you.
  • Keep your makeup natural looking. Don’t get me wrong—you need a good dose of Spackle to avoid looking like an aging and hung-over hippie, but you also don’t want to look like last night’s leftover. Hold off on the Liza eye- and lip-liner. Gloss is good; goo is not.
  • A little contouring goes a long way.
  • Beach shots are always good. Water reflects light nicely and, if you’re not having any fun, you can always jump into the deep end and go for the comedy shot.
  • Wear something really simple. Clean necklines, no fuss. Not too much jewelry.
  • A nice three-quarter-length sleeve is your best friend.If your arms are exposed, face your palms out. This creates a nice arm line and shows off your biceps, assuming you have biceps. If you don’t, grab that pashmina, pronto.
  • Smile, but not too hard, or you’ll look like a cackling Phyllis Diller.
  • Sit up straight, but keep your shoulders down. Does that make sense? No. Practice, you’ll see what I mean.
  • If at any time your photographer gets on the floor and shoots up at you, shoot back. No good has ever come from this angle. Sure, the photographer might get a nice shot of the skyline, but your neck will look really fat and your nostrils will resemble the Holland Tunnel. The best angle for a mature woman is slightly above eye level.
  • If, heaven help you, you find yourself in the dreaded panoramic group shot (popular at weddings and women’s conferences); do whatever you can to be in the center of the picture. Anyone stuck on the end will look enormous. Ships on your hips and all that.
  • Hum “I Am What I Am” or some other confidence-boosting anthem while the photographer clicks away. “Lush Life” works for me.
  • Remember this phrase: “I want to look my best, but I don’t want to look fake.” Your photographer will know exactly what this means—that she should use Photoshop, but no one should notice.
  • Remember, the portrait lens won’t steal your soul, but it will steal your confidence if you let it. Don’t let it; you’re fiercer than that.

*****

I get by with a little help from my friends: I’ve selected photos of women I respect (all of them over fifty). Polished professionals (and skilled artists) who fling themselves in front of a camera with gratitude and confidence. Look at these gorgeous results! They aren’t rail thin or spring-chicken young. They aren’t models or household names or regulars in the tabloids. Not one of them actually likes having her photo taken, but yet they venture forward (hopefully into a rose colored light) when necessary and get the job done. If they can do it, you can, too.

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Robin Spielberg, composer and author. “The false eyelashes were so heavy I had to keep resting my eyes. This photo was a happy accident!”

Robin Spielberg says:

  • If you feel beautiful, your photos will be lovely. Wear something that makes you feel terrific. It could be a fabric that is cozy, or a dress that you love…or a cape that makes you feel special.
  • Avoid shooting first thing in the morning! Eyes might be a wee bit puffy
  • Do hire a stylist for hair and makeup
  • Do take “practice photos” with your hair and makeup set to make sure you like how it looks
  • I once had a  photographer retouch my eyelid area at first to get rid of the wrinkles on my lids . . . then I had him undo it. The wrinkles there are mine. I own them and have earned them. Instead of retouching, we relied heavily on good lighting to fill in and illuminate my face. I didn’t need to look younger…I wanted to look my best self.
  • Jewelry: don’t overdo. Jewelry should not distract from the portrait. Choose statement earrings or necklace but not both. If you have a statement necklace, wear light earrings close to the ear. If you have statement earrings, wear little or nothing around the neck.

*****

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Holli Ross, jazz vocalist

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Holli on the beach.

Holli Ross says:

  • Go for early morning light or the golden hour light-late summer afternoon (an hour before sunset where the sun is still in the sky at a very low angle).  Outdoor shots help keep costs down. A) don’t have to pay for a studio and B) that low angled light helps immensely for filling in (ahem) gravity’s nasty work.  The full length shot was 7 AM above was taken on a Jersey Shore beach. I was dead tired but we used the “Starbucks” app for making me look more awake than I was.  It was pretty hysterical getting dressed in a boardwalk bathroom.  Tasteful mega makeup and flowing gowns are not the usual fare in that part of the world (think Housewives of New Jersey) or their public bathrooms.
  • The headshot (above) was taken at a train station (hence the stone wall building behind me) on a late fall afternoon on an overcast day that was just glowing.  No Photoshop on that one!  Just lucky I guess.
  • Be aware of looser skin if you’re going to lean your cheek on a hand or squeeze those boobs together.
  • Always think sexy!!!  You’re still that twenty-one year old inside!

*****

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Carol Windfuhr, English tutor and actor. She gets film “extra” work playing upscale European women. Carol uses casual photos for a “real life” effect.

Carol Windfuhr says:

  • Try to moisturize inside and out the night before the photo shoot. Eat light food, and try to get as much sleep as possible.
  • Sometimes I apply a moisturizing mask either the night before, or the next morning. It’s all about moisture and fillers at our age. There are some creams that promise to do that, but so far I haven’t found one that could live up to my expectations.
  • Don’t try to look thirty, when you are over fifty.
  • The most important thing for a woman over fifty is to know her style. To be sure of her look and to realize that her perfect bikini body is gone forever.
  • Find clothes you like and wear them often, with different accessories. Be self confident. Our age group is the new thing! We are consumers, travelers, workers, artists, writers etc. We are attractive and experienced, and on the go.
  • Don’t overuse foundation. It sometimes does the opposite of what it is supposed to do—cover! If it is to heavy it can easily dry out, and emphasize the wrinkles or big pores we try to conceal.
  • I use a good moisturizer and under eye cream. Then I use a tinted day cream. Before I do, I dab on concealer with a thin brush (mine is from Mac). Then comes the foundation. I work it in with my hands.
  • If you have someone who can do good make-up, it is nice to treat yourself. Otherwise try out different looks. The more natural, the better. Too much make-up can make us look older.
  • Emphasize either the lips or the eyes. Never both.

*****

Daryl at piano green web

Daryl Sherman, New York City Piano Girl legend and winner of this year’s Hot House award for Best Jazz Vocalist

Daryl Sherman, who makes it a point to shred, crumple, or delete unflattering photos (always a good idea) says she has one iron clad rule: “I play the piano . . . I pose for photos at the piano and around the piano . . . but I  never sit on top of the piano for a photo!” Daryl speaks candidly about the perils of airbrushing and too much retouching: “Kids tell it like it is: a five-year-old boy (his parents are fans of mine) looked at my recent CD cover photo. He looked up at me and asked ‘did you wash your face for this photo?’ I responded “oh, the photographer really washed my face!’ ”

*****

AnneHartkamp04_photo#448F27

Anne Hartkamp: singer, composer, lyricist, songwriter. Photo by Ann Weitz.

Anne Hartkamp says: “Hire a good photographer. Ann Weitz, who did my photos is a “real woman” behind the camera! And a very kind and inspiring person, on top of her amazing photographic skills.”

*****

Tracie2_portrait

Tracie Frank Mayer, real estate maven and co-founder of  menopausebarbees.com

Tracie Mayer comes from show-business royalty and gets invited to lots of high profile events, the kind of shindigs that involve red carpets, slinky evening gowns, and paparazzi. Her advice? “If you’re walking through fire, just keep going. You will eventually reach the other side.”

*****

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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Music of Goodbye

IMG_7423It’s August 1st. Exactly nineteen years ago today I got on an airplane with my husband and toddler son and moved from New York City to Germany. I love my life here, but I miss New York. Or maybe I don’t—maybe I just miss the idea of it. I’m glad I left. I’m sad I left. I swing both ways.

Happy Anniversary to us. Moving to Europe was the biggest—and maybe the best—decision of my life.

Here something I’ve figured out: When you’re happy, you’re home, even if you’re not.

Let’s celebrate with a look back at 1994 and an excerpt from my book, Piano Girl: A Memoir .

***

Music of Goodbye

 “I can’t believe you’re leaving New York,” says Robin Spielberg. “It doesn’t seem real.”

We stand, holding hands, by the turnstiles leading to the N train at Fifty-seventh Street.

My family will be moving to Europe next week. Robin and I have just recorded my first solo piano CD, Somewhere in Time. She pitched the idea to a small record company in New England, and they hired her to produce the recording. I’ve never pursued a recording career, so I’m blown away by the very idea of the project. Hard as I try, I can’t imagine that anyone will buy one of my CDs in a record store unless they want to recreate that hotel-cocktail-lounge environment in the privacy of their own homes. Why not throw in a package of salted nuts, an overworked waitress, and a crowd of noisy chiropractors. But Robin Spielberg has more faith in my music than I do.

After a pleasantly intense six hours at Nola Recording Studios in Midtown Manhattan, we’ve got the makings of a nice CD. Ten years of rehearsing in Manhattan hotel lobbies gave me time to prepare.

***

The timing of the record contract is ironic. After a decade of playing in Manhattan piano bars, my time in New York City has come to a close. John has accepted the jazz bass chair with the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) Big Band, a jazz group sponsored by a large public television and radio conglomerate in Europe. I’d like to say that we’ve struggled with the decision for months and that we’ve lost sleep wondering whether we should leave New York. But we haven’t. We’re ready for a change. Both of us are working round the clock, our son spends way too much time with the babysitter, and the cost of private schooling in New York City looms like a five-headed monster. The job in Germany will mean a better education for our son, a chance for him to be bilingual, a great salary and benefits for my husband, and time for us to be a family. More than anything, we want time together, a luxury that too few American families these days can afford.

We’ve hired a very serious German teacher named Brunhilde, given notice on our apartment and various jobs, and called the German moving men. In five days they will pack all of our belongings, large and small, into organized boxes, stack them in a container, and ship them across the water to our new home.

 ***

I’ve never been good at farewells. Saying goodbye to my friends isn’t easy. I know that the promises we make to stay in touch, as well-intended as they may be, will be eaten alive by distance and time. In the end I’ll be left with an overstuffed photo album, scraps of conversations that cling to my memory, and the echoes of songs that remind me of a place I once loved. I know how much kindness I’ll be leaving behind. All I can do is trust that, no matter what, the memory of these friendships will sustain, nurture, and guide me. It won’t be enough, but that’s the price I’ll have to pay for moving on.

Robin and I embrace one last time before going to our separate subway platforms. She gave me a blue crystal globe at the recording session this morning, and I feel the weight of it in my pocket as I wave to her on the opposite side of the station. This phase of my life—the New York phase—is coming to an end. Trains roar and squeal in the station, but in my mind I hear Robin’s laughter, her words of encouragement, her gentle reminders that my music has a place in the world. She has been my cheerleader, my sounding board, my fellow musician, my friend. I’ll never replace her. I start to cry. A train pulls up to the platform between us. When it departs, she is gone.

 ***

The last hotel piano job I play in New York City is right where I started—in the Grand Hyatt. It’s a warm June afternoon, a perfect New York day. The lobby swarms with tourists eager to eat and drink and get outside to experience the city I’m preparing to leave. It’s an odd feeling, playing my last job in Manhattan. I want something meaningful to happen, but it doesn’t. I’m disappointed but not surprised. Last jobs in the lounge-music field are just like first jobs. The interesting part is what happens in between.

Today at the Hyatt, I play all of my favorite songs and end my last set with Carole King’s “Far Away.” Some of the regular Lobby People pass the piano, but not one of them even bothers to say hello. The sunlight filters through the skylights and reflects off the shiny surfaces in the marble lobby. I notice the mottled patterns of shadow and light on my hands. I long for fresh air. It seems a perfect time to leave.

***

“Hey you, Piano Girl!” yells Virginia the street lady as I pass by her corner. I’ve just been to the babysitter to retrieve my son, and we’re going for a last walk around the neighborhood.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” she shouts.

It’s almost 100 degrees today, but Virginia is wearing a heavy winter coat. I try to ignore her, like always, and hurry past with my head down. Curtis waves at her. He waves at everyone.

“You think you’re going somewhere better, but you’re not, you know. Anywhere you end up is good enough for the likes of you.”

 Well, that’s sort of a compliment. Or maybe not. Virginia confuses me. How does she even know I’m leaving the city?

“You’re not the mother of that baby,” she says. That stops me dead in my tracks.

“That baby belongs to everyone else. Not you.”

  Oh, brother.

“Goodbye Virginia,” I say. “Good luck to you.”

“But you’re not going anywhere. Not really. Your spindly legs won’t carry you far. You’ve ascended to your level of incompetence. The rest is futile. Everyone leaves. No one stays. Not even babies. Not even music. Time moves past you before you have a chance to grab on and go for a ride.”

I push the stroller up the avenue and hope she’s not right.

***

We call two cabs on the morning of our departure: a van for John and the bass in its big white fiberglass flight case, and a station wagon for Curtis and me, all of our suitcases, and the baby paraphernalia necessary to travel anywhere with a toddler. As John and the drivers load the cars, I walk around the apartment one last time, with Curtis in my arms. He is eighteen months old.

“Here’s where you took your first steps,” I say. “And here’s where you said your first word. Hot. Your first word was ‘hot.’”

“Hop,” he says.

“Here’s where you liked to sit and swing while Daddy played the bass. And here’s where Mommy’s piano once stood.”

“Panno,” says Curtis. “Mommy panno.”

“Yes,” I say. “Mommy’s piano. Where Mommy hung out and wrote songs about someday meeting a man like your daddy and having a baby boy like you.”

“Mommy music.”

“This is your first home, Curtis, the place where I dreamed about you before you were even you.” I whisper. “Your first home. I hope you’ll always remember it.”

“’Member,” he says. “Curty ’member.”

I take him downstairs and strap him in into his car seat. It’s sweltering outside. John peers into the open window of our cab.

“You okay?” he asks. He knows I’m not.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m okay. Let’s get this show on the road.”

***

Robin Meloy Goldsby is the author of Piano Girl: A Memoir, published in 2005. Since then she has written two other books, a kids’ musical, and has recorded five solo piano CDs. Robin has lived in Germany since 1994, with her husband John and their two kids, Julia and Curtis.