Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy

First Published 2009 by Black Inc.

piano lessons

There is a little game I like to play as I drive through Adelaide’s most leafy suburbs: how would my life have turned out had it begun here instead of modest Modbury with its 3-bedroom houses from the seventies? What would I be doing now, who would I have married, where would I be living, what holidays would I be taking? And I noticed that whilst reading Piano Lessons I was playing the same game; where would I be if I had had the Goldsworthys for parents instead of the Kramers? Would I be where Anna Goldsworthy is now instead of struggling on with the writing while raising four kids on my own and doing a bit of cleaning on the side?

Oddly enough, I never play this kind of game when driving through Adelaide’s rough parts. In the same way as I am not drawn to reading so called ‘inspirational’ memoirs where the author has survived a childhood of abuse, mentally ill parents and the like. But this was a book that ticked all my boxes, and I went back and read it all over again a year or so later.

The story starts when Goldsworthy is nine years old and has just met her piano teacher for the first time. The woman is Eleonora Sivan, a Russian immigrant and distinguished teacher on the ‘Liszt list’. As Anna grows up, her life is centred around the piano lessons and the endless hours of practice, but it seemed that no matter what she did, Mrs Sivan would always say, “Not.” I felt a little sorry for this little girl, so serious and driven at such a young age, but never quite getting there, even though her achievements were and are many.

One aspect that did not come out very strongly in the book was a passion for the music itself. Yes, there was a passion for being able to play the music well, but hours spent doing the listening were not present, and I’m not sure if this lack was only in the book or in her life as well. Part of me suspects it is the latter; why else would Mrs Sivan keep saying “Not”.

One of the indicators that a book is good is the changes it inspires you to make in your own life. Post Piano Lessons I moved my eldest to a better school, and for a while three out of the four children were having piano lessons, although they have since quit as money was tight and no one was practicing! But I was glad to have enriched their lives just a little, and am happy for them to have a taste of a variety of activities outside of school.

Another sign that a book is good is that you will be still thinking about it months later, and maybe even re-read it, to see if you can wring a little more out of it. And when I re-read Piano Lessons, it was because I had become a bit fascinated by the Goldsworthy family and wanted to examine their drive more closely, because they seemed to be the antithesis of my own computer-game playing plodding one. My dad retired at 56 and that was that. He was always saying “work first, play later,” and made sure that he did play. But not computer games.

What I wanted to know was if drive/success as well as laziness/contentment were inherited or learned, and I saw that the Goldsworthy grandfather was quite a force in the family. In the end I was starting to wonder if the Goldworthys were a tad hooked on success, because their passion for it did come across in the book. And if this is the case then I would like to advise Anna Goldsworthy to give up that day job of hers and perhaps devote herself to what does seem to come so naturally for her, and I mean the writing.

Looking forward to reading her new book.



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