Girls at the Piano by Virginia Lloyd
Entering the world of some memoirs feels like an intimate conversation with a stranger who will, over the course of your time together, become your new best friend. Reading Virginia Lloyd’s exquisite memoir Girls at the Piano, tracing her intense relationship with the piano (‘my first love’), I burned with affinity for the shy, deeply focused girl-to-woman who was as ill-at-ease in the social world her peers seemed to instinctively inhabit as she was inherently connected to her music.
Girls at the Piano is the work of a memoirist who has finely tuned her craft (this follows her excellent first memoir, about love, loss and grief, A Young Widow’s Guide to Home Improvement). On one level, Lloyd tells the story of what the piano has meant to her: how it shaped the girl and woman she became, without her realising it at the time; how it gave her a secure vantage point from which to engage with the wider world; how as a creative outlet, it taught her focus and discipline – but also, how the constraints of competition (which encouraged technical mastery and discouraged experimentation) ultimately stifled her love of the instrument. Using a high-school reunion as a framework for circling through the past, she reconnects with her passion for the piano, while interrogating why she lost it in the first place. There are echoes (but never copies) of Anna Goldsworthy’s Piano Lessons, one of my favourite memoirs of the past decade.
Lloyd’s journey is interwoven with the experiences of girls at the piano through history (from Clara Schumann to her own musically gifted grandmother): how the instrument and conventions around it have been both a vessel for creative expression, and a means of containing that expression within polite boundaries. This is a beautiful celebration of passionate creativity (whether professional or amateur) and how it can enrich and shape our lives.