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Ann Arbor Miller, Published April 20 2009

In View: "The Pianist"

The old upright caught Carla Gustafson’s attention a few months ago.

An illness during the summer of 2007 had forced the musician to stop performing at nursing homes in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The sight of that “nice little piano” paired with a renewed sense of strength prompted Carla, 84, to make an inquiry.

“She asked me if she could audition,” recalled Gordy Richardson, who owns the piano and The VIP Room in downtown Fargo where it’s located.

Richardson acquired the piano for his restaurant more than a decade earlier. While occasionally used during private events, the piano’s primary purpose was decorative.

He wasn’t in the market for a pianist, but figured there was no harm in indulging the woman.

“She sounded great,” said Richardson, who soon struck up an agreement with Carla to play Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunchtime.

“I get my tips and my dinner, so I must be doing okay,” said Carla, who has lived in Fargo for 10 years. “I very much enjoy it. It helps me to keep my sanity.”

Carla has played piano as well as vibes – a percussion instrument popular among jazz musicians – most of her adult life. She took classical piano lessons as a child but was unable to learn to read sheet music.

The former school teacher knows hundreds of songs and plays exclusively by ear.

While performing on a recent Tuesday, Carla was absorbed in the music. The transition from one song to the next was seamless. She glanced upward only briefly to select the next tune before lowering her gaze.

“I’ll probably be here for quite awhile,” she said afterward. “As long as my heart lets me.”


In View is a photo column by Fargo-based photojournalist Ann Arbor Miller focusing on everyday people and places in our community. Look for it Mondays in The Forum. To suggest future column ideas, e-mail annarbormiller@gmail.com.


If you go

- What: Live piano music

- When: Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m. or a little later

- Where: The VIP Room, 624 Main Ave., Fargo

- Info: Pianist Carla Gustafson performs a pleasant medley of tunes. Tips are appreciated. For more information or lunch reservations, call (701) 293-1999.


The VIP Room


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“In View” is a photo column by Fargo-based photojournalist Ann Arbor Miller focusing on everyday people and places in our community. Look for it Mondays in The Forum. To suggest future column ideas, e-mail annarbormiller [at] gmail[dot]com.