Pianist in New York 1948…Friday Fictioneers.

The photo could’ve been taken yesterday. It hadn’t faded at all. Standing at the very top of the Empire State Building on the eve of her New York debut, she was a wife, mother of three little boys liberated from her domestic chains through her prodigious talent. Perched all 102 floors above the ground, what was she thinking? Was she feeling alone and thinking of home? Or, had New York waved its magic wand, cast her under its spell? I don’t know.  I came along much too late in the conversation, and have only been left with the photograph.


Eunice Empire State Building 1948

Eunice Gardiner at the Empire State Building 1948.

In 1948, my grandmother Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner made her debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. She spent something like a year touring USA and Canada leaving her husband, mother  and three young boys back in Australia. The two older boys went to boarding school and my Dad, aged 3, stayed at home with Gran, my grandfather and a housekeeper. Before I had my own kids, I didn’t understand how she could go to New York by herself like that and leave them behind. I have had a few moments in my parenting journey where a solo trip to New York would’ve been blessed relief, but I couldn’t have gone for a year…even to pursue a writing career.

While I don’t know a lot about my grandmother’s time in New York, there are a few newspaper articles and I thought I’d include this funny story:

‘Burglar’ Was A Pianist

NEW YORK, Mon. (O.S.R.). — While Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner, was practising in a friend’s home, a snow-covered policeman rushed in with re revolver drawn. The policeman, who was even more surprised than the pianist explained that neighbors had put an emergency call into the’ police station that a burglar was in the house. “They said that the window was open and the radio playing,’ he added apologetically. Eunice Gardiner said that blizzard or no blizzard, she had to have fresh air occasionally.

Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Tuesday 20 January 1948, page 2

Eunice 1948 USA

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948. I’ll have to go looking for the photo on the Empire State Building.

This is another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields This week’s photo prompt PHOTO PROMPT ©Jill Wisoff

Best wishes,


PS I thought you might also be interested in seeing  Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York Series, which I touched on recently during the A-Z Challenge.

36 thoughts on “Pianist in New York 1948…Friday Fictioneers.

  1. Rowena Post author

    There was that thrill factor but also the nerves and the enormity of it all and she found it hard to make connections in New York. She had done very well in London before the war and in hindsight regretted not going back there instead. Have you written anything about your grandmother? I’d love to read it.
    Best wishes,

  2. Iain Kelly

    Wonderful piece of family history, and a nice insight into her possible frame of mind. You are right, a brave choice to make to leave family and friends behind for so long, but what an adventure she must have had.

  3. Rowena Post author

    Neil, to the day she died, she couldn’t understand how she went and left the kids behind. However, I found an article where it said that American conductor Eugene Ormandy said the sky’s the limit and I think he encouraged her to go to America. She was definately a woman ahead of her time, but I wonder how it would’ve been if she was stepping out today. The piano isn’t as popular as it used to be. Indeed, it’s very hard to even give one away these days unless it’s fairly new.

  4. Dale

    There are decisions we make in our lives. Sometimes they are difficult, sometimes they are extremely easy. I wonder which it was for your grandmother…

  5. Rowena Post author

    Thanks, James. You would’ve thought that story would’ve done the rounds of the family, but I only stumbled across it a few years ago. I’ve been so lucky that the old newspapers have been going online, as it’s made my job so much easier. I don’t think my grandmother would like how it’s become to put her pieces back together, but she was a public figure.
    Best wishes,

  6. Rowena Post author

    Hi Dale,
    I think it was easier for my grandmother to leave for New York and the decision became more complicated and torn as time went on. She did tell me that she thought she’d be able to travel back and forwards but she didn’t have the money. She also had her appendix removed while she was over there and was quite ill. I also found a clipping where she talked about my grandfather and the boys calling her before she went onstage at Carnegie Hall and what a difference that made to her. She actually went on to have seven children and maintain her career, but she had her Mum behind her and my grandfather knew what he was getting into. There was a miniature grand piano on their wedding cake and I have no doubt that it was a two for one deal.
    It’s been quite strange for me, because I hover on the fringes of this world and my daughter is getting into dance and goes to auditions, although she’s till pretty young and I don’t like to factor my grandmother into the equation too much. It’s rather overwhelming and my mother was her pupil so I have it from both sides. I personally think an obsessive personality type has a lot to do with it.
    BTW have you been up the Empire State Building? If so, what was it like? Revisiting the photo tonight, I could actually see a good deal of New York in the background. It’s giving me itchy feet.
    Best wishes,

  7. Lynn Love

    What a brilliant story, Rowena. As you say, it would be fascinating to have a record of how Eunice felt away from her family so long – small kids change so much in that time. Did you speak to your dad about it? How did he fell or doesn’t he remember? Really interesting take on the prompt

  8. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    How wonderful that she could do that, and what a wonderful set of pictures… How the world changes, I think these days it would be more normal to leave… but I guess you don’t have to be away for a year….

  9. Dale

    The important thing is that it all worked for her and her family. I’m sure each has their own version of how it all went down and how they feel about it.
    Yes, I have, actually… Eons ago! It was fantastic, I have to admit. i would love to go back.
    Take care,

  10. Varad

    I have often thought about going for a month or two to some remote location where there is no wi-fi or mobile data and just write. But, as a husband, father and a businessman, I have never been able to follow up on those dreams. Maybe, once I retire.

    It was great that your grandma had the guts and a great supporting family to follow her dreams. Loved the funny anecdote about her as well. Excellent post, Rowena.

  11. Rowena Post author

    Varad, I certainly know those dreams too. I had a thing for quite awhile about driving off in a Kombi heading North to Byron Bay. However, I haven’t thought about that for awhile, which must be a good sign.
    It’s interesting to think about the sacrifices family members made to enable her pursue her talent and opportunities. I think it was that exceptional that there wasn’t a choice. That the sacrifices had to be made. There was a huge fundraising effort to support her trip to London and studies at the Royal Academy of Music and this was around 1932 I think during the Great Depression. My grandmother’s story is extraordinary from many perspectives and I’ve only been able to scratch the surface.
    Best wishes,

  12. Rowena Post author

    No one in the family has ever voiced resentment of her talent, career etc and it was such a part of her, you couldn’t imagine her without her piano. However, she was 92 when she passed away and like so many, the moment came when she went into a nursing home and she and her piano were parted. Her memory wasn’t the best by then.
    The funny thing is that it would be hard for me to sit down and write these memories and insights straight down but the prompt almost provided a script.
    Best wishes,
    Hope you get back up the Empire State Building some time soon.

  13. Rowena Post author

    Thanks very much. My grandmother was certainly an amazing person, but the interesting thing that our family shares her genes whatever that means. That has it’s pluses and minuses. I try not to think about it and just let nature take its course.

  14. pennygadd51

    You’ve given us a rendering of a piece of family history that is warm and gently questioning. It’s beautifully paced. and subtly emotional. Nice writing, Rowena!
    You mention that she was in London before the war. Do you happen to know whether she ever performed in Cambridge? If she did, she may well have practised on my piano, which was used as the practice instrument for an annual season of concerts there.

  15. Rowena Post author

    Penny, I’ll ask my uncle. He’s lived in London and married over there and might have some idea. I know she played at Wigmore Hall and for the then Queen who we know as the Queen Mother. So do you play much? I prefer the violin, which I took up again five years ago. I love it.
    Best wishes,

  16. jillyfunnell

    This is a wonderful story. For Eugene Ormandy to be so interested in your late grandmother’s talent, she must have been outstanding. If you could gather up more information it would make a very interesting book.

  17. Rowena Post author

    It’s something I’d like to write for the family, and maybe move from there to something more public. Privacy is a big concern, but at the same time, she was a very inspiring woman pianist and such a trail blazer. She ought to be remembered.

  18. Pingback: Weekend Coffee Share – May 14, 2018. | Beyond the Flow

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