Louise Goss: In Memoriam
In April, the world of piano pedagogy lost a legend. In the following pages, friends and colleagues of Louise Goss pay tribute with remembrances and recollections.
In the "old days," all senior piano majors at Oberlin were required to take piano pedagogy.
I will never forget the excitement our professor exuded when she presented to us the brand new teaching series by Frances Clark and Louise Goss. She was convinced that this publication represented the best of piano educational materials.
In the years that followed I taught piano pedagogy at each of my college positions. The Frances Clark method remained the gold standard. In the 1960s I was teaching at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, and my demonstration class was learning Time to Begin. In a burst of naïve enthusiasm, I took three carloads of us on a road trip to Princeton, NJ, to meet with Frances and Louise. The experience was unforgettable.
Frances and Louise were on the forefront of video technology, and during our visit they showed us videos of beginning groups and repertoire classes. Those young students were playing the same pieces as our students in Chapel Hill, but not in the same way. I shall never forget the excitement Louise imbued in a simple piece, nor will I forget the musical intensity with which her students played. It was a graphic demonstration that musical conviction must be present at every moment of the lesson and with every piece.
Years later I was serving as Associate Editor of the Rhythm Column for Keyboard Companion. For one issue I asked several teachers to respond to the question "How do you repair a rhythmic error in a student's playing?" Louise was asked to respond to the question. She wrote back that her students do not have rhythmic errors, for they are well prepared with correct rhythm before the piece is assigned. Thus I learned yet another basic pedagogical truism from Louise.
For the last sixteen years, I have served on the faculty at The New School for Music Study, and this allowed me to become close friends with Louise as I continued to learn from her. Her pedagogical legacy lives on in the teaching of every New School faculty member.
— Marvin Blickenstaff
Director, Program for Excellence in Piano Study
The New School for Music Study
There are two memories I would like to share. I met Louise in 1989 when I came to audition for the New School for Music Study's teaching certificate program,
and Louise was kind enough to meet me at the train station. I knew that this was no ordinary piano teacher when she arrived in a convertible—and the top was down. Through out my fourteen years at the New School, Louise lived up to this early impression.
Years after that first meeting, a call came to the New School saying that Louise's house was on fire. I arrived and joined Louise standing across the street. When the fire was out, a fireman had taken a seat in a small, upholstered chair that was moved from her house to the yard. The sight of a fully outfitted fireman sitting in a dainty white chair was not lost on Louise. She looked at me and said, "that's my mother's slipper chair," flashing a wry smile. This was the strength and good humor that I saw many times both in and out of the studio. It always made an impression and always took me by surprise.
— Ted Cooper
Piano Faculty, The Levine School of Music
My life is forever changed because of Louise Goss.
During my time at the New School for Music Study, I was able to learn much from her. Her compassion for beautiful music making was infectious. At the annual student recitals you could see it in her face as it lit up with that wonderful smile. Because of Louise and Frances Clark, the simple statement and philosophy of "there is music in every child" exists. I approach every student and every lesson with that as a singular focus. It is possible to play beautifully from the very first lesson.
The work of her life revolved around the education of young musicians and teacher training. My experience of working closely with her has taught me much about music education. Her greatest contribution to my life is the idea that beautiful music making is not possible without beautiful teaching. Beautiful teaching is difficult but incredibly rewarding work. It follows me every day as I look into the excited faces of my young students. It is what I strive to impart to college students under my tutelage. In my humble opinion, that is the greatest legacy of Louise Goss, and I am so glad to have had her in my life.
— Scott Donald
The New School for Music Study, 1999-2010
Many years ago when I was teaching at the University of Illinois, I was asked by Marienne Uszler to critique The Music Tree for the Piano Quarterly magazine.
As I remember, there were six methods being reviewed and I felt fortunate to be the person to evaluate this groundbreaking set of books. The pedagogical thought that went into these carefully sequenced books was brilliant, especially the approach to music reading. After the article appeared, Frances Clark and Louise Goss wanted to meet me, and a lunch was arranged at the next MTNA meeting. That's when I first met Louise. I was struck by her intelligence, graciousness, and passionate love of teaching.
At the 2003 MTNA convention, I was honored to receive the Frances Clark Keyboard Pedagogy Award. Then the real thrill came when this great lady, Louise Goss, spoke about me and presented me with the NCKP Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 meeting in Lombard, IL. There was a humorous moment in the award ceremony when I reached for the plaque and she said "not yet, Jim!" The piano pedagogy world has lost a giant.
— James Lyke
Georgia State University
I first met Louise back in the 1940s at a Guy Maier workshop in Bristol, Virginia, when she was serving as Frances Clark's assistant.
I admired her greatly from afar, unaware that this was a prelude to a professional association and friendship that would last a lifetime.
I got to know Louise in the late 1950s when I joined Frances's newly formed piano faculty at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, and I continued to serve with her on the faculty of The New School for Music Study when it was founded in 1960. I feel particularly privileged to have observed firsthand the development of the Frances Clark Library for Piano Students, which never would have been possible without Louise's expertise, dedication, and never-ending patience.
At the New School, Louise's inspired and virtually flawless teaching was a perfect model for all who witnessed it. She and Frances observed the staff's teaching on a regular basis—our teaching was not so flawless and usually involved more perspiration than inspiration. Louise's detailed critiques were once again a perfect model, always positive, but certainly hitting the nail right on the head without ruffling feathers or bruising fragile egos.
Louise was a gentle, loving, and compassionate individual. During all of the years I knew her, I don't recall ever hearing her say an unkind word to or about anyone, nor did I observe even an indication of a temper—well, except for once. During a summer transcontinental workshop tour, Frances and Louise flew to each destination, while four of us fledgling staff members were charged with driving Frances's yellow Mercury. A leg of that trip from California to Chicago was particularly challenging, since we had to drive almost nonstop for several days to arrive on time. Upon our arrival, Louise came running out to greet us, but when she saw the car's interior she was aghast! The dirty laundry, stacks of music, and brown paper bags with food remnants were too much for her, and she immediately started grabbing things and with disgust, pitching them into the nearest garbage can!
Following Richard Chronister's untimely passing in 1999, the Frances Clark Center decided to purchase Keyboard Companion and Louise asked me if I would be willing to take over its editorship. Whee! At the time, I didn't even own a computer, but who could say "no" to Louise? So, counting on her faith in my ability to do the job, plus her ongoing encouragement and assistance, I agreed, and somehow this made the job doable. And that was our Louise!—always able to make everything seem doable.
Louise's role in the establishment of the standards which have become a benchmark for evaluating excellence in pedagogy, materials, and music-making at the piano during the past sixty years is a remarkable achievement and a grand legacy. But what is equally remarkable and grand is that for well over a half century, through thick and thin, Louise was always there, encouraging, assisting, and being a mentor and friend to those who knew and worked with her. Today I am sure that the addition of her loving and beautiful spirit is now enhancing the glorious environment of her new and forever home. Louise, I salute, honor, and love you.
— Elvina Truman Pearce
The Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy
Louise Goss was a legend. That is a fact, and her professional and publication record bears that out.
Louise and Frances Clark were an unstoppable force that played a large part in shaping twentieth-century American piano teaching.
My first teaching experience as an undergraduate pedagogy student was assisting in a Time to Begin class. Although I never studied with Louise or taught at the New School for Music Study, I have always retained my respect for that early teaching experience and what I learned from Louise's work. The Music Tree is still one of the core methods studied in our pedagogy classes at the University of South Carolina. But Louise Goss was so much more than just a set of books and a school. She was a unique and wonderful lady who had a knack for reaching out and including people in this wonderful thing we call music. She always seemed to have an unwavering belief in people and what they could do at the piano, and how music could help them grow and improve their quality of life, regardless of their level of study.
When I joined the Board of the Frances Clark Center, I enjoyed so much seeing Louise at the annual meetings. She always entered with a warm greeting for everyone and sat quietly and listened to the proceedings. Always the paragon of politeness and respect for others, she would add her thoughts, and they would always help set the stage for the next step in the Center's progress. Her words rang with wisdom, and she always seemed to have considered not just the issue at hand, but the people involved and how any thoughts or actions would benefit them. In my opinion, she was a true leader in that respect.
Calling Louise, even when her health was declining, always meant that I would find a warm and caring voice on the other end of the line. Although she had never seen my students with special needs play or had never been to any of my workshops, she seemed to know all about my work, my beliefs, and what I hoped to achieve for my students. That was Louise—always interested in people and how she could support them. During one of our last chats, she talked at length about how she had attended a New School for Music Study recital and how pleased she was with the musicianship of the students and in the quality of work being done by the teachers. She said that she felt it was among the best New School recitals she had witnessed. High praise, indeed, from a lady who exemplified a lofty standard of quality.
I think this was who Louise truly was. A person who was always interested in and invested in people and their lives and development, and in the role music could play in aiding and sustaining that development. She was a musician, pianist, and educator, but she was also a great humanitarian and a wonderful friend who will be deeply missed.
— Scott Price President,
The Frances Clark Center
for Keyboard Pedagogy
In April, shortly after learning that our mentor and friend, Louise Goss, had passed away, my colleagues and I watched a video of a pedagogy class she taught in 1995.
The video captured a vibrant, incredibly focused, intelligent, and honest teacher whose somewhat intimidating presence was softened by dry humor and an indefinable accessibility.
The pedagogy class was structured completely around teachers performing the repertoire that their students were to perform at the upcoming recital. Master's degree candidates pre-paring for full recitals of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms were coached on pieces such as The Prowling Pussy Cat, by William Gillock. Louise coached these performances with such intensity and purpose, not giving up until the performance was transformed. Louise showed us that we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, knowing the pieces we are teaching better than we know our own literature.
I believe that Louise held herself to a high standard, giving herself completely to her work. I write this on the eve of the New School student recital series. Louise attended each of the six recitals held over two days until last year, when she was only well enough to attend two. Even though I am well into adulthood, I admit to hoping that she was pleased with how my students performed, and beaming when she affirmed my teaching. This somewhat juvenile response probably stems from my view of Louise as a motherly figure. I know that Louise mothered so many with love, affi rmation, and kindness.
— Amy Glennon
The New School for Music Study
I first met Louise Goss twenty years ago, and I was scared!
I was auditioning for the Master's degree in Piano Pedagogy that was jointly offered by the New School and Westminster Choir College, and I was charged with teaching a young student in front of a panel of teachers that included Louise.
At the time I did not know Louise at all; I only knew of her work through The Music Tree and the Frances Clark Library. As frightened as I was, when I now reflect back on that time I realize that I shouldn't have been scared—I should have been completely terrified! I was teaching in the presence of greatness, and I am so thankful to have been associated with Louise and her greatness over the last two decades.
Though I never did study with her formally, I feel like I have learned so much from Louise. Like many of her students, I learned that one's standards can never be high enough, and that there will never be a substitute for quality. Merely observing Louise live her life was a lesson in grace, elegance, and dignity. Working with her on pedagogical endeavors was an invaluable study in preparation, sequencing, and the highest degree of thoughtfulness one could find in a teacher. Being in Louise's presence always challenged me to sit up a little straighter, speak more clearly, and, most importantly, to think about what I was about to say, because with Louise, every word had meaning.
As you might imagine, her columns for Clavier Companion rarely needed any editing. If I did happen to move a comma or change a word, she always responded with humility and appreciation. Louise demonstrated the perfect blend of excellence and compassion. The lessons I was fortunate enough to learn from Louise will always be a part of me, as they will always be part of the lives of the countless students, teachers, and people Louise touched during her time in this world.
— Pete Jutras
I first met Louise in 1980 at the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy when she gave a brief presentation on the teacher training program offered at the New School.
My decision to enter that program changed my life forever and began a relationship that spanned decades in a variety of ways. She was at times my teacher, my collaborator, and my mentor. At all times she was my touchstone with every-thing involving music education at the piano.
There are so many memories about Louise, so many ways in which she impacted my life and teaching, yet I keep thinking about her amazing craftsmanship with language and communication. No one knew and loved words and language more than Louise. I remember visiting her house and seeing a dictionary on a pedestal in her living room. It held a position of honor in that space and was clearly not just a display but also a source to which she would gladly return time and again.
When I was a pedagogy student, the importance of carefully selected words was consistently demonstrated in weekly conferences and demonstration lessons. To this day I still use Louise's words when teaching the terms "forte" and "piano" or when introducing stu-dents to one of their favorite Time to Begin pieces, "The Schumanns."
When I heard of Louise's passing, I had just started three new students in Time to Begin. While teaching this familiar book, I was overwhelmed with an awareness of Louise's presence, not only in my presentation of the material, but also in the material itself. It became clear to me that the unique, groundbreaking pedagogy in the materials came from Frances Clark, but the tone of wonder and discovery and the love of music and children expressed through the materials was delivered by Louise.
When I was a pedagogy student, we asked Louise what she would do when Frances was no longer among us. She replied that she would be off to the Bahamas, never to work again. We all know how untrue that statement was. After Frances's death, Louise continued to devote her life not just to the pedagogy of Frances Clark, but also to the promotion of music as the most powerful force in a child's life. In closing her interview with me for Clavier Com-panion (November/December 2009), Louise captured it all with the finest of words: "In beauty is the salvation of the world."
— Craig Sale
The Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy
If you're lucky, you may encounter a teacher who transforms your life. Louise Goss was one of those teachers for me.
In thinking about these remarks it struck me that it was almost fifty years ago that I first met her. During those many years, Louise became like family to us. Throughout our house you find pictures of her, Louise with my parents, and Louise with my children. The most powerful teaching doesn't go on in a classroom, it goes on in life.
In the wake of the human dynamo that was Frances Clark, it was easy to miss all that Louise did. I can say without doubt (and I'm sure that Frances would agree) that Frances Clark could not have become what she was without Louise. The fact was, Louise created the foundation, the order, the structure, the plan. Without Louise, grand vision would never have become reality. Frances would have been a comet blazing across the sky and disappearing, instead of a star in a constellation that continues to shine and guide our path.
When I left Austin to study at The New School, I was a hot-shot performance major who wouldn't have considered teaching beginners at all. Are you kidding? You can't be serious. Beginners! Who would ever want to teach beginners? With the guidance of Frances and Louise, however, I started down that path. In those beginner lessons, I encountered focused, loving attention to detail, but even more, I encountered the high adventure of teaching for the first time—and that teaching the beginning was actually the best of all—and the most important of all. To this day, I enjoy teaching seven-year-old beginners more than anyone—even advanced, graduate students.
A lot of people don't know that, among the pedagogy students at the New School in the 70s, instead of Miss Clark and Miss Goss, we often referred to them as Miss Cluck and Miss Goose. I learned a lot from Miss Cluck. But I learned just as much from Miss Goose. From the example she set, I observed how one might conduct a life—illuminated by grace, by a gentle, but relentless pursuit of excellence, a life in which being the center of attention is not the most important thing, a life that places service above recognition, and a life in which small decisions add up to quality and meaning.
You couldn't really know Louise unless you spent some time with her in Vermont during the summer. There she'd greet you in jeans and a cotton shirt. She'd take you down the lane to the local farmers for fresh blueberries, into the tiny town of Glover for early breakfast at the Busy Bee. But, if you were lucky—really lucky—Louise would take you sailing. After music, sailing was one of her life's great joys—filled with harmony, metaphor, and lessons for life and spirit. She was a great sailor—able to skillfully and confidently maneuver her small craft, reading and even seeming to anticipate the winds and currents, just as she was able to navigate through her full and generous life. Louise not only taught me how to teach, she taught me how to sail.
One of her Vermont friends, Robert Greenwald, sent us a poem a couple of weeks ago. It is a perfect description of her, and I can't think of a better tribute.
co-author, The Music Tree
Executive Director, The Frances Clark Centerfor Keyboard Pedagogy
Editor's note: For more remarks on Louise Goss, please see Sam Holland's "Questions & Answers" column in the July/August 2014 issue of Clavier Companion.