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Reflections on the Frances Clark Center 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

Reflections on the Frances Clark Center 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients
The Lifetime Achievement Award has only been bestowed ten times since 1983.
It is the Frances Clark Center's highest honor and is presented to individuals who have made substantial and enduring contributions to the field of piano pedagogy. At the NCKP 2021 Virtual Piano Conference, four individuals will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Below are reflections from colleagues about the meaningful contributions that each honoree has made to the field of piano teaching, learning, and performing.
"We don't shape students in our image—we just do what's best for them!" 

Nancy Bachus lived out her axiom—one student, one lesson at a time. In seventy-six years of life, Nancy wore many hats: beloved wife, mother and grandmother, independent studio teacher par excellence, as well as respected recitalist, pedagogue, college professor, author, editor, and music historian. Through her teacher, Eugene List, Nancy was a "grand-student" of Olga Samaroff, legendary pianist, editor, critic, and teacher. Like Samaroff, Nancy Bachus was a trailblazer who impacted music education and our piano world, innovating and reinventing herself to meet the needs of students and teachers.

Growing up on a farm in Indiana, Nancy's first piano teacher was her mother. The four-year-old girl took to piano like a duck to water. Nancy often said "I'm just an Indiana farm girl. Think about all the people I've gotten to know and all the places I've gotten to go!" The story of how this "Indiana farm girl" became a leading mentor and influencer in our field is an inspiration to us; a reminder that greatness oftentimes sprouts from ordinary and simple roots. 

Nancy pursued a degree in music education at Manchester University, Indiana. In her senior year, she crossed paths with Marvin Blickenstaff, whose coaching she credits for her change in trajectory. Pursuing graduate studies at Eastman School of Music, she studied with Eugene List, developing a lifelong friendship with him and his wife. Nancy performed in List's original "Monster Concerts" in New York City (Lincoln Center, Radio City, and Carnegie Hall), the White House, and on the two "Monster Concert" recordings, assisting List with the complex coordination required for such events.

While at Eastman, Nancy studied accompanying with Brooks Smith. Later, she coached with Fernando Laires, receiving his artistic input for her Spirit books. Fernando, his wife Nelita, and Nancy would become good friends. Nancy closed many presentations with this quote from Fernando that exemplified her teaching and publications:

"What should be the goal of every piano teacher? To make their students into better human beings. Their only contact with culture and art may be when they enter the teacher's studio. The teacher has the obligation and privilege of opening the student's mind to this world of beauty."1

It was during graduate studies in Rochester that Nancy met her husband and the love of her life, Don Bachus. Together, they would raise two daughters and have five grandchildren. Don's humor and perspective as a non-musician brought strength and stability, while his encouragement of her passion for music allowed her to accomplish all that she did.

Certified as a Master Teacher by MTNA, Nancy taught at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, and had over thirty years of teaching experience on the faculties of Houghton College, Hiram College, and Cleveland State University. However, it was outside the academic arena in her private studio in Hudson, Ohio, that Nancy began to tune in to the specific needs of piano teachers and precollege students, leaving an indelible mark on the field of piano pedagogy. She had a love for music history and was a gifted researcher, identifying appealing repertoire and fun trivia. At the behest of teachers, Nancy began to host monthly classes in her living room. With thirty-five teachers typically in attendance, these three-hour classes would highlight performances of repertoire with discussion of stylistic needs. The work and research she invested was pivotal to the birthing of her landmark piano anthologies: The Baroque Spirit, The Classical Spirit, The Romantic Spirit, and Beyond the Romantic Spirit. Nancy would go on to author thirty book publications, including the Exploring Piano Classics series, groundbreaking in its inclusion of progressive preparatory technique for specific repertoire. 

Nancy served on the Board of Directors of the American Liszt Society and was editor of its newsletter for many years. A prolific writer and editor, she served tirelessly on the editorial board for Piano Magazine (formerly Clavier Companion) from 2004 until her passing in 2020; her guiding voice and unerring editorial instinct is deeply missed. You can also find her series of eighteen articles in the "Athletes at the Keyboard" column for Junior Keynotes, the magazine of the National Federation of Music Clubs. 

Over the past two decades, Nancy traveled the country and the world as a sought-after clinician for Alfred Publications, encouraging piano teachers with her approachability, down-to-earth wisdom, clear tips on technique and musical style, bottomless history trivia, and her special combination of warmth and humor. She ate fish-and-chips in England, strudel in Germany, and delighted in meeting teachers in China, Singapore, and Australia. Nancy would often embark on Alfred tours back-to-back from attending conferences, then return to her Hudson studio to teach and to participate in Federation festivals. Her boundless energy and unceasing passion for learning and music was a marvel.

 Nancy had a gift for connecting us to one another; to know Nancy meant increasing your pool of friends exponentially. She had a heart for younger colleagues and students, noticing their strengths and investing in them. In typical Nancy fashion, she never patronized, but treated each person as an equal—not only sharing what she knew, but always desiring to learn from them. She disarmed you with her humble honesty. During a technique presentation for my pedagogy students, Nancy humorously shared feedback she once received: "You play beautifully for doing so many things wrong!" Her impact? As students laughed, they felt that maybe there was yet hope for them to reach greater heights. Then she provided them with tools to achieve it. Nancy Bachus was a one-of-a-kind woman. Her passing on September 8, 2020 left a void that cannot be filled. Nancy lived out her faith in how she embraced people, music, learning, and life. Hers was a life well lived, and her legacy continues.

CHEE-HWA TAN is an independent piano teacher and author of A Child's Garden of Verses and other popular collections published by Piano Safari. She has served on the faculties of the University of Denver, Oberlin Conservatory, and Southern Methodist University.

1 Nancy Bachus, A Tribute to Fernando Laires, (The American Liszt Society, 2016): 6

Gail Berenson retired from her position as Professor of Piano at Ohio University in 2015, but from talking to her or visiting her website, one would never know this. She maintains an active schedule as a clinician, speaking on a variety of topics including her ardent advocacy for musicians' health. Before the pandemic, she regularly presented at conferences, including the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (NCKP), Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), College Music Society (CMS), and the International Society of Music Education (ISME). Since the pandemic, she has continued making online presentations to various teacher's groups, college classes, and at virtual conferences.


Growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Berenson's piano studies began at age five with Mrs. Marjorie Morrow, a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory. Throughout her studies, she participated in National Federation of Music Clubs competitions and Wisconsin Solo and Ensemble competitions. At the age of 11, she became an accompanist for the corporate Snap-On Tools Male Chorus, playing for the group until she left for college. She attributes this unusual and pivotal experience to her love of performing and the beginning of her passion for collaborative performance. She began violin study in fifth grade and played violin in the school orchestra throughout high school. Amazingly, she made it into the World Youth Orchestra at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, just before heading off to college (sitting in the last stand!). Three years later, she returned to Interlochen as a staff accompanist and was assigned to play in the studio of Janice Harsanyi, a world-renowned soprano. Harsanyi had several concerts scheduled throughout Michigan that summer. When her accompanist broke his wrist and was unable to play, she invited Gail to take his place, which resulted in memorable performing experiences, and also involved her first plane trip ever. Also while at Interlochen, she studied piano with a Michigan State University faculty member, Henry Harris. When he suddenly and tragically passed away, she was assigned a new teacher—a very young Nelita True. Nelita helped her work on her junior recital repertoire, something Gail still remembers with fondness.


Berenson received both her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from Northwestern University. During her freshman year, she studied with Louis Crowder, a pioneer who attended autopsies to better understand the hand and the body. When Crowder departed Northwestern, Gail joined the studio of Guy Duckworth where her weekly three-hour lessons were in a group with Mary Kogan and Peter Takács. They learned each other's repertoire, discovered how to offer constructive feedback to each other, and grew comfortable performing in front of each other and future audiences, all beneficial concepts for preparing for her future career as a pedagogue. Studying with Duckworth and working in this group developed both her pedagogical and performing skills.


Finishing her master's degree as she was about to turn 22, she was immediately hired at the University of Illinois to work with James Lyke, teaching piano pedagogy and group piano. (Note: E. L. Lancaster was a master's student in Berenson and Lyke's pedagogy classes.) At such a young age, Gail speaks of sitting in awe of the famous faculty colleagues with whom she was working. After seven years at the University of Illinois, Gail accepted a position teaching applied piano and piano pedagogy at Ohio University where she remained for forty years. (Note: Gayle Kowalchyk was a student in Gail Berenson's first pedagogy classes at Ohio University. Gail was a wedding guest when Gayle and E. L. were married a few years later. Little did Gail Berenson know that she also had a career as matchmaker.) Gail received several awards including the "Distinguished Teaching Award" at Ohio University and initiated a wellness class called "Performance Preparation" in 1981.

Performance and Pedagogy

Widely known for her pedagogical writings and wellness-focused workshops, Gail also had a distinguished career as a performer. Shortly after arriving at Ohio University, she played a solo recital in London at Wigmore Hall and also, on the same trip, in Brussels. Although her annual solo recitals featured a variety of works, her favorite repertoire is anything from the Romantic era and especially compositions by Brahms. She performed the Brahms Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, Op. 83 as winner of the Northwestern University concerto competition during her student days. The Brahms Sonata in F Minor, Op. 5, the Liszt Sonata in B Minor, and the Schumann Fantasie, Op. 17 are special favorites. The Schumann is a result of hearing Howard Karp play it at the University of Illinois and falling in love with the piece.

Berenson also performed regularly as a duo pianist, chamber musician, and collaborative artist. She performed annual faculty duo-piano recitals with colleague Nancy Zipay DeSalvo and later with Alejandro Cremaschi. As a collaborative pianist, she played numerous faculty recitals and quite extensively around the country with flutist Alison Sincoff as the Ohio University Lyric Duo. Berenson has written articles for numerous professional magazines. She is also one of the co-authors of A Symposium for Pianists and Teachers: Strategies to Develop Mind and Body for Optimal Performance and is a contributor to the piano method, Piano Discoveries, and a co-author of "Ask the Professor."

Professional Organizations

In addition to serving as MTNA National President from 2007-2009, Gail has held numerous additional positions at local, state, and national levels. Helping to nurture musicians' health as a focus for professional associations, is one of her most valued accomplishments. The MTNA Pedagogy Saturday wellness track, which she has chaired, will be in its ninth consecutive year at the 2022 conference. Another new MTNA wellness initiative is currently in progress, working with colleague, Charles Turon. She also established a wellness committee for the College Music Society (2015), initiated a wellness committee for ISME (2012), and has been involved in the Performing Arts Medicine Association. 

Berenson established the wellness committee for the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy in 1989. In 2001, when NCKP was organized after a five-year hiatus, she established the Committee on Pianist's Wellness and served on that committee until 2017.

Interest in Wellness

Gail's interest in wellness began when she enrolled in the Adult Fitness program in 1984 at Ohio University. After experiencing a minor running injury, working with her physical therapist, she recognized the similarities between injury prevention and recovery strategies of athletes and musicians. Her first workshops on the topic of wellness were collaborative presentations with her physical therapist. If you visit her website, gailberenson.com, you will see that she now presents numerous workshops on the topic. 

Living in Sarasota since shortly after her retirement, Gail serves as Vice President on the Board of the Sarasota Concert Association. Longing for the days when travel returns, she looks forward to being able to attend national and international conventions to satisfy her intense love of visiting places throughout the world (not to mention the annual trips, usually cruises, that she and her sister have taken since 1996).

GAYLE KOWALCHYK and E. L. LANCASTER are piano faculty members at California State University Northridge. The couple directed the keyboard area at Alfred Music from 1988 until 2016. With others, they co-authored Alfred's Premier Piano Course and Music for Little Mozarts.

Tony Caramia is one of the most gifted musicians and one of the most generous human beings I have ever known. His is a rare combination of talent, accomplishment, and humanity that make him one of a kind. 

Tony is well into the fifth decade of a distinguished career in which he is recognized as a pianist, composer, author, pedagogue, clinician, and adjudicator. Tony models lifelong learning and his career exemplifies the ever-widening concentric circles of influence a teacher makes on students across generations. If you've ever heard Tony perform, give a workshop, or had a coffee with him you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

Today, Tony Caramia holds a professorship at the Eastman School of Music where he directs Piano Pedagogy Studies, coordinates the Class Piano Program, and teaches both applied piano and beginning jazz piano. The basic facts of his career are found on his faculty profile page: esm.rochester.edu/faculty/caramia_tony/ 

As is the case for many who become great teachers, Tony experienced great teaching at critical junctures in his life. At Fredonia University, already an accomplished jazz performer, Tony studied classical piano performance under the legendary Claudette Sorel. In her teaching, he encountered world-class musical insight and developed brilliant technique. At the University of Illinois, Tony came under the sage mentorship of James Lyke— group piano innovator and co-founder of the original National Conference on Piano Pedagogy. Lyke helped direct Tony's exceptional combination of pianistic talent, improvisational ability, and pedagogical instinct. A year in residency at the New School for Music Study as composer-in-residence and teaching artist provided the opportunity for Tony to work alongside and learn from Frances Clark on a daily basis—absorbing her meticulous and loving attention to detail in the teaching/ learning process for all students. Through Clark, Tony came to recognize that, although there is an ineffable thing known as talent, there is also music in every human being. The teacher's job is to find it.

My first encounter with Tony came in 1979 at the first meeting of the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy (NCPP). NCPP was a bold, untested idea and no one had any inkling of what it might become. Tony had recently begun his fifteen-year tenure at the University of Illinois where he was blazing new trails in piano, group piano, and his unique approach to jazz piano education.

The world was blanketed in snow and the windows coated in ice, but I can still picture vividly a warm room filled with 100 intrepid pedagogues as Tony seized the stage and improvised on that standard of standards— "Satin Doll." I was awestruck, gobsmacked you might say—even though that word had not yet entered the lexicon. What a bold and brilliant performance—hard swinging, but elegant, imaginative, sensitive, virtuosic, and utterly unforgettable! I had never seen or heard anyone like Tony Caramia—an artist who could hold his own with the best classical pianists, yet turn on a dime and perform with the best jazz artists. Worlds once thought to be separate and probably incompatible, were embodied in this one exceptional individual. 

That was the first of what would become an almost automatic expectation that Tony would perform at virtually every meeting of NCPP (later NCKP). Of course, he would not only play, but teach in his inimitable style, offer wonderful workshops, and be an ever-present creative force at our conferences—and others as well, including MTNA, the International Jazz Educators Association, the European Piano Teachers Association, and the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference. Thirty-two years later, he keeps on getting invited back because we have never tired of hearing Tony play. We have never tired of sharing the joy of music-making that he exudes—whether in ragtime or Ravel, bebop, or Bill Evans. 

Tony became justly celebrated for themed solo recitals. Early on, he offered dazzling all-ragtime programs where he would lead an eager audience through the catalog of Scott Joplin while introducing us to less well-known contemporaries such as Jelly Roll Morton and Tom Turpin. He went on to focus on the hypervirtuosic "novelty" piano repertoire of Zez Confrey, the stride piano of Fats Waller and Art Tatum, the great songs of Richard Rogers and Harold Arlen, and more. In one of his most impressive programs, Tony presented the history of jazz piano from its antecedents in the cakewalk through ragtime, swing, and stride right up to the modal modern jazz of Chick Corea. In one moment, he embodied the raucous New Orleans barrelhouse sound of the 1920s and, in another, the exquisite, subtly inflected and sensitively voiced cool jazz of Bill Evans. As technology advanced, Tony added multi-media elements to his programming that further engaged and educated his audiences through projected images as he performed.

When Tony came to the New School in 1980, with a goal of learning from Frances Clark, we learned as much, or more, from him. Being around Tony was a constant inspiration. I remember his weekly jazz piano classes where he revealed secrets of harmonization, reharmonization, voicing, and much, much more—all in terms jazz mortals could understand. I also remember pilot teaching the elementary and intermediate jazz compositions he was writing for the New School for Music Study Press, under the discerning eyes of Frances Clark and Louise Goss. Tony was tireless in his efforts to create music in authentic jazz idioms that average students could grasp and in which they could experience complete success. Many of the pieces that would become staples in my own teaching repertoire were written during that year and published in Sounds of Jazz I and II, Folksongs Revisited, and Six Sketches. I came to realize that, despite an outward appearance of spontaneity, improvisational jazz is a language and a discipline—honed by craft, reflection, effort, and practice, practice, and more practice.

Tony, we honor you for a lifetime of service and exceptional contributions to the art of teaching music at the piano. Your music has touched just about everyone who teaches piano today—whether they know it or not. We are grateful to have spent time in your presence and learned from your generous spirit. And, we look forward to what's next.

SAMUEL HOLLAND is the Algur H. Meadows Dean and an award-winning professor of music at the Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University. His articles have appeared in every major English language professional keyboard journal and he is the author of over seventy critically acclaimed method books and recordings.

"It is with great pride and pleasure that I write this tribute in honor of my mother's Lifetime Achievement Award from the Frances Clark Center."

My mother's remarkable career as an internationally known piano pedagogue, performer, clinician, and professor has allowed her to spend her life promoting and advancing in a profession about which she is deeply passionate. She continues to prepare and inspire pianists and teachers around the world. 

My mother has given master classes, workshops, and enjoyed an active concert career as a soloist and collaborative artist in the United States, Canada, Central and South America, Asia, and Europe. Her collaboration of over thirty-five years with piano partner, Ena Bronstein Barton, includes two CDs, featuring duets and two-piano works. Articles, interviews, and reviews on piano pedagogy, music, and health by my mother have been published in Clavier Companion, American Music Teacher, and The European Piano Teachers Journal. With Ingrid Clarfield, she coedited Classics for the Developing Pianist (and Study Guides), and, with Paul Sheftel, Mastering Classic Favorites, More Mastering Classic Favorites, and Personal Trainer. Among other editions and book chapters, she coauthored The Inner Game of Music Keyboard Workbook with Barry Green. 

My mother grew up in the small town of Monticello, New York, in the Catskills. Her father was a pharmacist and a passionate opera lover. Her mother was a piano teacher for children in the neighborhood. Early on, my grandmother helped my mother pursue her piano career, taking her on the bus for two-and-a-half hours to lessons in New York City every Saturday. My mother received a B.A. with a music concentration from the University of Rochester and the Eastman School of Music and a M.S. in piano from The Juilliard School. With my father, a psychologist, she moved to Boston and established her career as a performer and teacher, teaching in students' homes and at the Longy School of Music, and performing in the Boston area. My parents began researching performance anxiety and, together, wrote articles and gave presentations around the world on the topic. She was a founding member of the International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance. 

When my parents moved to New Jersey in 1970, my mother began teaching class piano at Westminster Choir College and soon became the head of the piano department, a position she held for eighteen years. She was the liaison between Westminster Choir College and the New School for Music Study, and helped create and establish the piano pedagogy program, which began in 1983, in partnership with Frances Clark and Louise Goss. She became the Director of Professional Studies at the New School, taught the core pedagogy class, pre-college literature, performance classes, and she took part in their summer workshops held at Westminster. She was also the piano professor for many of the graduate students in the program. When Westminster Choir College and the New School for Music Study discontinued their joint program, she, with colleagues Ingrid Clarfield, James Goldsworthy, Tom Parente, Betty Stoloff, and Ena Barton created a master's program in piano performance and pedagogy at Westminster. My mother helped establish connections to Westminster Conservatory, the community music school associated with Westminster Choir College, enabling graduate students to observe and teach as junior faculty. She continues to teach and perform at Westminster Conservatory and regularly attends and participates in Frances Clark Center events for the New School and the National Conference for Keyboard Pedagogy. After forty-seven years, my mother retired from her position as Professor of Piano and Director of Graduate Piano Pedagogy at Westminster Choir College.

As a high school student in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I attended the Thursday evening performance classes at the New School taught by my mother. Not only did I perform and meet other high school pianists and friends, I observed the way in which my mother gave comments to students, always in a positive way, pinpointing one or two small, but important details, and suggesting changes that would ignite interest and transform the student's understanding and interpretation of the piece, while at the same time engaging all the students in the class. 

In my professional life as a piano teacher, I have relied on my mother's pedagogical advice. I have asked her for help in choosing repertoire for more advanced students. I value her ideas for working with beginner and intermediate students and look to her to problem solve with individual cases. She has given master classes each summer at the piano camp that I direct at Westminster Conservatory. She has been the piano teacher for my two children. We have performed both four-hand and two-piano recitals together, most recently recording for the Westminster Conservatory Concerts at Nassau Lunch Time series. (To see a recent recital, visit: nassauchurch.org/westminster-conservatory-recitals/) 

Since "retiring," my mother has continued to teach, serve as a guest speaker in piano pedagogy classes, adjudicate, write articles, present at conferences, and perform solo and chamber music. During the pandemic, she has continued to teach, present, collaborate, and perform online. 

I am proud of my mother and of her professional accomplishments. I am also grateful that along the way, for me, she has been a mentor, a teacher, a collaborator, and a loving mother. Congratulations, Mom, on this well-deserved award!

SUZANNE LEHRER lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband and two children, ages fifteen and twelve. She teaches private piano lessons, group piano classes, and chamber music. Suzanne runs an independent piano studio and is a member of the piano faculty at Westminster Conservatory of Music

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