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Robert Pace A Tribute

Helen and Robert Pace, 2007

Both the scope of materials to be used and the sequence, or order of presentation, are crucial to the success of the student at each stage of development. Students should understand so clearly what they are doing during the lesson that they can literally teach themselves for the rest of the week.1     —Robert Pace

My father, Robert Pace, has been credited with radically transforming piano teaching in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through his landmark ideas on both content and presentation. He was a universalist, and for him, music was the proverbial universal language with many dialects. He believed that everyone has the ability to make music. And, he held that virtually all systems of music share basic fundamental properties, or "concepts." 

Robert Pace was also an individualist. He believed that each student should become an independent learner, and he strongly considered everyone to be capable of unique creativity. 

Over his lifetime, Robert Pace evolved a teaching approach broad in scope. He was renowned for his system of group instruction that integrated the learning experiences of a diversity of students. He introduced the Conceptual Learning theories of Jerome Bruner into music pedagogy: Pace's Music for Piano series incorporated a sequence of musical concepts that students could interrelate, reshape, and reapply to their future learning, in limitless ways. 

He raised awareness on the part of many, that the ability to create music was not a gift limited to a few "musically elite,"2 and that it was only from lack of experience that so many people seemed unable to improvise or compose. He was innovative in including jazz and pop music as an important element of his piano instruction curriculum. "Thinking in motion" through improvising was integral to each Pace student's musical experience. 

Rather than simply teaching repertoire and technique, Pace interrelated repertoire with a "balanced diet" of theory, harmony, ear training, sight-reading, technique, and creative activities. He stressed that students should develop technique as a tool-set for the purpose of sensitive, expressive playing. Dr. Pace offered students of all levels a rich stylistic palette. He based the selection of repertoire for his approach on musical value and technical accessibility. Absence or presence of flats and sharps was inconsequential: No composition was "selected or rejected because of key."3 

Robert Pace believed that every student should be given the means to make music an ongoing part of his or her life, in whatever way each sees fit. In Dr. Pace's view, a student's awareness of universal musical concepts, together with the student's individualized application of these concepts, provided that option.

Seven-year-old Robert Pace, his ten-year-old sister, Mary (left), and ten-year-old friend Ruth Yerkes (right).


Robert Pace was born on June 22, 1924, in Newton, Kansas. In his youngest years, he lived on a farm with his parents and older sister. During his teenage years, the family moved to Hutchinson, Kansas. Hutchinson was also the hometown of several other notable musicians, including Jane Smisor Bastien, James Dick, Steven Stucky, and Elizabeth Cormier. 

Pace's mother was a former schoolteacher and self-taught pianist. His father owned a hardware store, and, subsequently, a meat processing plant. Later, both parents operated a gift shop. According to Pace, his father didn't play a musical instrument but could always recognize a wrong note! 

Pace began piano lessons at the age of five. By age nine, he was performing radio concerts three times a week, along with his sister, Mary, a violinist. In addition to the piano, he played trombone in his junior and senior high school bands, and idolized Glenn Miller. During these years, Pace also played baseball (breaking a finger), and worked at several jobs, including delivering newspapers and selling poultry and eggs.

Encounters of two young musicians

Fellow Hutchinsonian, Elizabeth Cormier (Senior Artist Teacher Emeritus, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University), recalls first encountering Robert when she saw him playing the piano. She was five, and he was six. 

I remember vividly, seeing this little boy sitting at an upright piano, his feet dangling. He played several short pieces, people clapping after each one, and I remember the absolute silence that was required while he was playing. 

After seeing Robert play, Cormier began piano lessons because "I was so impressed by the grownups' reception of his performance." She recalls the style of early musical instruction both she and young Robert received: 

[Our teacher]...was a good pianist, and she used the John M. Williams method. The first several lessons were in a small group, and I remember being greatly frustrated because we were not allowed to touch her piano until we learned the names of the white keys and the lines and spaces of the grand staff. There were some ear-training sessions also, pitch matching mostly. 

Then the private lessons began and the first one consisted of reading whole and half notes, and playing with alternating thumbs on Middle C while counting aloud 1-2-3-4. We were supposed to practice that for a whole week! Mother counseled patience, so I put up with it for a week or two until something closer to music finally appeared. 

Even while young, Robert apparently bridled at Middle-C instruction. Cormier recounted: "[His mother] told me years later that Robert had started with the same teacher, but was too unhappy and switched to another." 

Young Elizabeth again encountered Robert, this time at an audition in junior high school: 

There was a competition to be chosen to play for the annual school production of A Christmas Carol. I was asked to play the Chopin Prelude in C Minor, which I sight-read, badly. Bob played it fluently, won the competition, and played while Marley's ghost came on stage, chains clanking loudly. After that he won every competition held throughout high school. The rest of us numerous pianists competed for second place, knowing that he would probably win.

Robert Pace (bottom row, second from left) with his army buddies.

I was Robert Pace's assistant in his Scarsdale Studio for four or five years. It was breathtaking to watch him teach. His ideas flowed fast and fluidly; the dialogue between student and teacher was challenging, encouraging, humorous, and up-to-date with contemporary jargon. Best of all he could demonstrate at the piano—he often clinched a musical suggestion with his gorgeous playing. In fact, he raised the bar in every aspect of piano instruction. I really appreciated that he insisted on using the highest quality of music by contemporary composers. His lessons were stimulating, productive, and fun, too! His creed was that group teaching made the students better pianists and more complete musicians than the private lesson. For his pedagogy students he supplied a lifetime of inspiration.

—Carolyn Powell Shaak, Shaak Piano Studio

Juilliard pianist to army infantryman

In high school, Pace's teacher "Rudy" (Mr. Rudisil) gave Pace "long Saturday lessons on a wide range of repertoire."4 Rudisil was instrumental in advancing Pace toward a professional career. As a high school senior, Pace auditioned to study at the Juilliard School of Music, and he was accepted on scholarship by the famed pianists, Josef and Rosina Lhévinne. 

Only weeks after arriving at Juilliard, an Army induction notice abruptly terminated Pace's studies. From 1943 to 1945, the former Juilliard pianist was, instead, an infantryman. He fought in Germany, France, and Austria, and received the Combat Infantry Badge.

Dr. Robert Pace was a major influence in my formative years as a youngster growing up in Scarsdale, New York. I was particularly shy and reserved as a child and was able to "come out of my shell" through the musical and social activities that were provided by the weekly lessons that constituted the Pace Method. His innovative piano pedagogy allowed each individual student to explore their forte (mine being boogie-woogie and jazz). My oldest and dearest friend to this day is David Poole, who was in the class. He and I still reminisce about our recorded duet of The Stars and Stripes Forever that was made in the Pace studio. 

—Bert Bloch, Bass Player, K-12 music teacher

Music: an international language

One of Pace's many defining war experiences included an incident where Pace, at the time an Army intelligence officer on reconnaissance, became lost at night: 

After dark, there are absolutely no lights, even on vehicles. Consequently there was no way to tell one town from another, to say nothing of being able to see your hand in front of your face.5 

While searching for a safe place to stay until sunrise, he had the good fortune to be taken in by a local family. Pace recalled, "At the first house I tried, the people invited me in for the night—I guess they did, at any rate I made a hasty entrance."6

Neither he nor his hosts spoke the other's language, but the family had a piano and during the evening Pace began to play. Pace recounted that as he performed, the musical language of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and others took over, giving Pace and his hosts a deep common connection without a word being spoken. "The only tense moment of the whole evening," he recalled, "came when I cut loose with a few bars of boogie, but everything was healed with the opening strain of Liebestraum." For Pace, this experience, against the backdrop of the "stupidity" of war, as he called it, was a profound lesson in the humanity and universality of music. (Pace later explained that his hosts did not object to boogie, but feared that its style would broadcast an American's presence.)

Juilliard and marriage

Helen and Robert Pace, 1948.

After the war, Pace returned to Juilliard, and he resumed studies with Rosina Lhévinne in early 1946 (Sadly, Josef had died in December of 1945). At Juilliard, Pace was invited to teach William Schuman's new course, which combined ear training, sightreading, harmony, and improvisation. This significantly influenced Pace's evolving teaching philosophy. 

During this time, Pace met his future wife, Helen Crabtree. She was on a committee to invite returning service men to a Juilliard welcome home dance and Pace was one of her invitees. A scholarship vocalist at Juilliard, she was a good pianist as well. Robert and Helen soon began dating. She considered him a bit "serious," and once, as he enjoyed recounting, proceeded to lighten things up by accessorizing with one red sock and one green. Holding an oversized balloon lipsticked with "Bobby," she loudly sing-songed his name while skipping down the Juilliard hallway and meeting him in the crowded student lounge. 

Money being scarce, Robert courted Helen, mostly with donuts, coffee, and, for a treat, Nedicks orange drink, rather than dinners. Six months after meeting, they married. They became the first married couple to graduate together from Juilliard. Their sixty-two year marriage lasted until Helen's death in 2009. They collaborated on books, recordings, and recitals, and together founded Lee Roberts Music Publications. They had four children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Emergence of the "Pace Approach"

After graduating from Juilliard in 1948, Pace "crossed the street" to Teachers College, Columbia University. There he received a Master of Arts and, in 1951, his Doctorate of Education under the sponsorship of Dr. Raymond Burrows. 

Burrows's classes convinced Pace that class piano was the best means for teaching analysis, sight-reading, transposing, and confidence in performing for others. Pace nonetheless still preferred private lessons for "polishing repertoire." This changed around 1952, when a student in Pace's own studio arrived ahead of schedule, during another student's lesson. Pace noticed the early arrival's keen interest in what the other student was doing, and, obversely, the improved attention span of the student whose lesson it was.7 Pace began teaching dyads experimentally and concluded that this format surpassed private lessons, even for detailed instruction in solo and duet repertoire. 

Though Burrows and Pace both taught multiple students at one time, Pace's "Group Instruction" differed significantly from Burrow's "Class Piano." Pace explained: 

Raymond was interested in class piano. Non-music majors would come in and play in groups of sixteen to twenty people, but there was no interaction between anyone there.... In contrast I wanted students to have small groups, where they could learn from each other.8 

Student interaction was at the heart of Pace's innovation of "Group Instruction." 

Pace's doctoral project focused on developing a sequence of solo and ensemble materials to bridge the gap he saw between basic and advanced piano literature. In his project, he noted that his Juilliard students were often deficient in repertoire. Much music was beyond these students because they were able to "sight read well only in the keys which contained a few flats or sharps."While "modern" beginner's materials provided "an enviable background of transposition, sight-reading, analysis and improvisation," intermediate music collections did not. Pace observed that there were two insufficient options for intermediate students at the time: There were popular music collections that were often beyond the students' technical range, and there were collections of overly simplified pieces. As these latter collections were typically restricted to key signatures of no more than one sharp or flat, they did not adequately prepare students for the variety of keys found in advanced literature. Pace thus set out to develop a more tonally inclusive collection of intermediate pieces intended to "lead smoothly into more extended literature of the classic and romantic periods of music," while also acquainting students with "the dissonance and polytonality of modern music...."9

Geoff Haydon, Robert Pace, and James Lyke with their new publications (2009 MTNA Conference in Atlanta).

I was fortunate to join Dr. Pace and his work at the early stages. The first piece I wrote for the Pace series was Poundin' the Beat. I brought the piece to Dr. Pace, and we had so much fun playing it. I carefully reminded him to accent the second and fourth beats to get it to "swing." He suggested changes, always with grace and elegance. We talked about how this piece would set the stage for a series of pieces that would make jazz improv accessible to piano educators (and therefore their students). Dr. Pace's musical insights, intellectual energy, and wonderful sense of humor buoyed me, enabling me to develop compositions and instructional approaches which continue to be the mainstay of my functioning as a teacher, performer, composer, and inventor.

—Dr. Bert Konowitz, Professor of Music, Teachers College, Columbia University

Department Head, Teachers College

Robert Pace working with group classes at the Teachers College Community Center, mid-1970s.

Burrows, Pace became head of piano instruction at Teachers College. 

Dr. James Lyke (Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois) describes Teachers College studies with Pace: 

In the fall of 1958, I began graduate work at Teachers College. After nearly four years in Alaska where I served in the U. S. Army and taught music in the schools, I was happy to be in New York City and pursue a career as a choral director. Then I met the dynamic Dr. Robert Pace, a Juilliard-trained pianist who changed my life. 

Teachers College in 1958-1959 hummed with music making. Choruses rehearsed, the orchestra served as a training unit for conductors, students could be heard practicing their instruments, and classes and lessons in all instruments and voice were offered. But it was the piano department that truly sparkled. And the offerings in piano pedagogy attracted a multitude of students and teachers from countries throughout the world. 

Robert Pace taught an array of piano pedagogy courses including Practices and Materials in Teaching Piano, Piano Instruction for Children, Teaching Piano in the College, and Interpretation of Piano Literature. There were also classes in sight-reading, piano ensemble, the teaching of musicianship, and even piano tuning and maintenance. Dr. Pace surrounded himself with a brilliant faculty including Martin Canin, Allen Forte (my piano teacher), Thomas Richner, Santos Ojeda, Hadassah Sahr, John Mehegan (jazz pianist), and others to carry out his intention that all piano instruction be in small or large groups. 

In the summer of 1959 I became his assistant. Little did I know I would be heavily involved in the training of assistants throughout my long career.

Helen and Robert Pace, 2007.

Innovations in applied study

Dr. Lyke recalls: 

Studying applied piano in a group of four within a two-hour lesson was novel to me. All my life I had experienced private lessons only. I soon realized that the group experience provided an exciting path to musical learning. Peer interaction, critical listening, and constructive comments for practicing were some of the benefits. The teacher took on the role of a facilitator. Analysis of each piece was paramount to the interpretation, and hints for overcoming technical obstacles were offered by fellow students. 

In addition to his work at Teachers College, Dr. Pace oversaw a studio in Scarsdale, NY, to test his ideas of partner lessons combined with musicianship classes. 

In the fall of 1958, he brought students from his Scarsdale studio to his pedagogy class at Teachers College to demonstrate his method of teaching both with partner lessons and a larger group (the musicianship class). I was astonished not only by the way these students played, but also by their musical understanding. Students in the partner lessons played their repertoire pieces flawlessly. They demonstrated various technical exercises both in solo and ensemble situations. At the chalkboard they notated difficult key signatures and various chords with ease as well as notating melodies and harmonies dictated from the piano. They eagerly sight-read, transposed and improvised. These students also performed ensemble music (duets and two-piano pieces) fluently. All this made me think back to my dreary days of early individual lessons and rather dull materials that never taught me to read with fluency. 

I was hooked. My future became clear. I wanted to teach piano in groups, use stimulating materials and apply sound principles of musical learning.

Music for Piano

By 1956, Robert Pace's group and multikey approach was receiving increasing attention. National newspapers and magazines were featuring articles on his ideas.10

In 1961, he published the first books of his groundbreaking Music for Piano series. (See for additional career details.) 

Dr. Lyke recalls: 

This integrated set of books stressed the multi-key approach and included a recital series that featured pieces by many talented composers. Ensemble music (perfect for group teaching) was a strong component of literature for the students. Music for the very young child was not overlooked. Adult instruction was another important element. Music For Piano has undergone major revisions throughout the years. After the series was published, Dr. Pace organized teachers throughout the country to implement this new and exciting approach to piano teaching. 

One of the series' many innovations was its inclusion of jazz instruction. Author Dr. Bert Konowitz remembers: 

Dr. Pace and I realized we were breaking new ground not previously explored in making jazz an organic part of a piano teaching approach.We felt like Christopher Columbus, journeying deeper into the world of improvisation, as we developed our sequential approach.11

National Piano Foundation

In 1962, the National Piano Manufacturer's Association saw Pace present a group teaching demonstration at the National Association of Music Merchants Convention. Enthusiastically, the manufacturers wrote Pace about their interest in maximizing public participation in successful group piano instruction. They added: 

Those of us who had the privilege of watching the clinic which you presented at the Music Convention...last summer received further confirmation of the value of our group teaching objective, and further confirmation, if any were needed, of your outstanding ability in this field.12 

To achieve their objectives, the Piano Manufacturers created the National Piano Foundation. They appointed Pace Educational Director, charging him with training teachers to provide "successful group instruction programs."13 Pace's "National Piano Foundation Approach to Classroom Music" was adopted by schools throughout the country. Wrote the Music Trades journal, "Educators Hail the Piano as Classroom Tool."14 The rise in publicity along with the unique support of the piano manufacturers helped bring piano teachers new professional standing.

International connections

In 1977, Pace resigned from the NPF and became Executive Director of the International Piano Teaching Foundation. He conducted seminars in "Comprehensive Musicianship" throughout the United States, South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe, and his writings were translated into many different languages. 

In Japan, a large international Pace teaching program, known as the Pace Method Study Group, was developed by Yoko Jimbo. Jimbo describes the program's background: 

The Japanese teachers usually have good dexterity and technique. But some do not connect thinking and feeling in balance with motor skills. Through studying the Pace Approach they are trying to use more brain and heart. Another important point is his idea of teaching from the "bottom up." We need to teach all students, not only a handful of the specially talented. The Japanese teachers were impressed both with Dr. Pace's piano sound and his philosophy of a very musical world. With great enthusiasm, Japanese piano teachers have organized the Pace Method Study Group.15

An ongoing legacy

For many of the students of Robert Pace, his teachings and philosophy have contributed to professional careers in music. Says Pianist Larry Graham, top-ranking American in both the Queen Elisabeth (1975) and the Artur Rubinstein Competition (1977), "I learned so much from him: being analytical, thorough technical training, introduction to twentieth century music, being wellrounded in all aspects of musicianship, being organized and focused in practice." Recalls former childhood piano student, now a K-12 music teacher, Bert Bloch, "I have always tried to follow his example with my students: one can be firm and demand excellence and yet at the same time display kindness, humor, and gentility." 

Many have taken what they learned through piano lessons, to fields other than music. For Martha Hanson (former student, now Head Acquisition Librarian, Syracuse University), "The lessons that Dr. Pace taught me were not just about the piano, but about life. What remains with me to this day is the understanding that work needs to be fun in order for an individual to flourish. That it's OK and even necessary to critique others and be critiqued. It's the 'how' you do this that is so important." 

Former Pace graduate assistant, Alan Leverenz, has transferred some of Pace's principles to sports. First interested in soccer when his daughter began playing, Leverenz is now a National Coach, responsible for training some 400 other coaches. He explains one adaptation: 

Peer learning is one of the effective teaching principles Dr. Pace applied in the group setting. Coaching tends to be, well, coach-oriented, so the notion of players teaching other players is not generally utilized by soccer coaches. Yet peer learning is practically the foundation of South American soccer: Kids teaching other kids how to play, having fun taking risks and exploring their potential. Sensitive coaches recognize that by allowing free play they have a much better opportunity to understand what makes each player unique, which helps guide how they engage them in their training sessions.16

During the forty-four years Robert Pace was at Teachers College, he taught countless pedagogy students, sponsored more than 200 dissertations and supervised the TC Community Center. He also taught many thousands of piano students in his studio and through worldwide workshops. To the end of his life, he continued writing and publishing.

Robert Pace believed deeply that everyone should have the tools for lifelong independent learning, creativity, and musical enjoyment. That so many have employed his teachings in such ingenious and varied ways testifies to the ongoing legacy of his philosophy.

1Pace, R. (October, 1982). Position paper presented at the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy. Madison, WI. 

2Pace, R. (1971). Piano for Classroom Music, (2nd ed.). Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, p. vii. 

3Pace, R. (1950). The selection and use of intermediate piano materials to supplement modern elementary piano texts. (Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia University, 1951). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 203008538. 

4This quote and all preceding Elizabeth Cormier quotes are from a letter by Elizabeth Cormier to Cynthia Pace, July 28, 2011. 

5Pace, Robert, as quoted in the The Hutchinson Kansas News Herald, January 10, 1945. 


7Pace, R. "Group or Private?" Adapted and Reprinted from Keyboard Journal Volume No. 1. Copyrighted, groupteaching.html. 

8Kowalchyk, G. (2005).Training piano teachers: The mission of Robert Pace. Clavier 44 (9), p. 15. 

9Pace, Dissertation. 

10These included Living for Homemakers (1956), The New York Times (1957), TIME Magazine (1961), and Life Magazine (1962). 

11Letter by Dr. Bert Konowitz to Cynthia Pace, August 14, 2011. 

12Letter by Walter Benson, The Wurlitzer Co., representing the NPMA, to Robert Pace, December 8, 1962. 

13Letter by Robert Pace to Walter Benson, December 30, 1962. This included training teachers to teach fundamentals, sight-reading, transposition, improvising and harmonizing melodies related to students' repertoire.Toward this end of teacher training, Pace presented hundreds of seminars and also mobilized a large network of clinician teachers to present educational sessions to piano teachers throughout the country. 

14Music Trades (November, 1971). The piano as classroom tool. 

15Letter by Yoko Jimbo to Cynthia Pace, August 18, 2011. 

16From letter by Alan Leverenz to Robert Pace, May 3, 2010, and letter by Alan Leverenz to Cynthia Pace, August 14, 2011.

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