Robin Meloy Goldsby has arguably played more gigs than the Rolling Stones and Madonna combined. Its schedule rivals the Grateful Dead at its peak, with around 200 performances a year. And the variety of venues she’s performed ranges from a commissioned performance at Buckingham Palace to a hotel lounge near Newark Airport.
“It’s not like all of a sudden you can play better because you’re at Buckingham Place,” says Goldsby, a Pittsburgh native who released Piano Girl Playbook: Notes on a Musical Life (Backbeat Books) at the end of last year. “It is the context that changes. I don’t change as a musician. Sometimes it can be hard to filter out all the weird things that are going on and remember to stay true to your heart and do what you know how to do.
piano girl playbook is the sequel to Goldsby’s 2005 release, Piano Girl: A Memoir. This book followed Goldsby’s rise as a leading concert pianist and composer who achieved worldwide fame, with over 170 million subscribers on Pandora. A graduate of the former South Hills High School and Chatham College, Goldsby moved to New York in 1980. Since then she has performed at venues in Marrakech, Vilnius, Paris, Oslo, Stockholm and Dublin, and performed for former German Chancellors Angela Merkel. and Helmut Schmidt, in addition to the Prince of Wales and 250 guests at a charity event in 2017.
With the help of a piano, an excellent music teacher, and a lot of courage, I made my way from Pittsburgh to the palace. Banksville to Buckingham. Kennywood in Kensington. Mount Washington to Mountbatten. Right now I’m as far away from Kaufmann’s clock as I can get. Not a jagoff in sight.
Currently the featured pianist at the Excelsior Ernst Hotel in Cologne, Germany, and artist Steinway, Goldsby found that after his early memoir there were more stories to tell.
“You’re trained as a musician to start memorizing things early on,” she says. “So your whole memory muscle is really conditioned. And then if you start relating the things that happened to you to the music, those memories are embedded in the music itself.
It also helps that the music tends to lend itself to “crazy stuff”. The non-linear life of a musician rules out the A-to-B-to-C type of progression of many careers. Instead, Goldsby describes her career as “like pure sugar. It’s everywhere. And that makes it really fascinating and, in a way, challenging.
Goldsby credits much of his vision – including his stinging, sometimes ribald humor – to his father, Bob Rawsthorne, the famed Pittsburgh drummer who played regularly on Neighborhood of Mister Rogers. Rawsthorne, now 87, won a 2021 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album as a member of the Johnny Costa Trio for It’s such a good feeling: the best of Mister Rogers.
“He’s really funny,” Goldsby says of his father, noting that he didn’t even realize such an album existed until he was told he had won a Grammy. “I grew up listening to him tell stories about the music industry, and I think what motivated me to start writing was because he doesn’t write stories, he’s not a writer, he has a very, very good ear.
She adds that he’s “one of those guys you can sit in a restaurant with and be entertained for as long as you’re there with him.”
All along piano girl playbook, Goldsby does the same: she entertains readers with a combination of whimsy and pathos, finely tweaking her tales until they sing like one of her compositions.
But Goldsby insists his target wasn’t self-serving; instead, it aims to illuminate the lives of musicians in general, to let readers know that there’s more going on than those precious moments on stage.
“All of my books are written to honor the profession of musician,” says Goldsby. “I’m really proud to have been able to make it my job. And I hope to continue to do so for as long as possible.
Recently, Goldsby organized a fundraiser to help women and children arriving in Cologne fleeing Ukraine. Through the American International Women’s Club Cologne, donations are accepted to help refugees fleeing conflict.
The distance from the German city to the Ukrainian border is 1,730 kilometers (just over 1,000 miles), but war is still on the minds of Cologne residents, according to Goldsby.
“We’re close enough to this horrible mess that there’s a lot of concern,” she says.
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