The Professional Contributions of Louise Goss
The professional contributions of eminent American piano pedagogue Louise Goss are countless.
Her tireless efforts, along with those of Frances Clark, include the establishment of arguably one of the first piano pedagogy programs in the United States at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, the creation of the New School for Music Study, the development of The Music Tree and the Frances Clark Library for Piano Students, the presentation of countless workshops, the creation of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy, the proliferation of the National Conference on Piano Pedagogy and its continuation as the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, the publication of Keyboard Companion and later Clavier Companion magazines, and the editorship of books and articles on piano pedagogy.
Goss's work has touched the lives of innumerable piano students, piano pedagogy interns, and piano teachers. "I would say that my mission in life and the mission of the school [the New School for Music Study] has been to do everything we can to improve piano teaching methods and materials, so that every child who takes piano lessons can have a wonderful, joyful, growthful experience," stated Goss.1 But it was not in Goss's nature to seek public recognition for her work, as Marvin Blickenstaff reaffirms: "Louise is not one to covet the spotlight and willingly relinquishes that position."2 During an interview, Goss remembered, "When she [Frances] was getting a lot of praise, she many times said to me, 'Just remember, I couldn't have done one bit of this work without you.'"3
The Music Tree's Time to Begin is the first book of a piano method like no other. While the main purpose of many piano methods is to present a series of enticing pieces so that the student is motivated to continue learning, The Music Tree is a curriculum designed to facilitate the implementation of the teaching principles developed over the years by the Clark-Goss team and the New School for Music Study.
In Goss's words, "Time to Begin is the milestone of everything we created. Time to Begin is the nugget."4 In 1953, when the first version of Time to Begin was prepared for the publisher, Clark and Goss suddenly changed their minds about the book. Goss recounts, "The manuscript was literally packed and ready to go up [to the Summy Company] on the 5 a.m. train. The engravers and everybody were standing by to start work that morning at 9, and we called and said: 'We've taken it off the 5 a.m. train. We can't send it at this time. A lot of it was to be rethought.' And I remember hearing our publisher say: 'I could have wrung their necks.'"5 Clark and Goss's strong commitment to their teaching principles led them to completely rewrite Time to Begin.
When asked whether The Music Tree could be taught incorrectly, Goss replied: "I've seen it taught wrongly. If there is a weakness to the course, it's the fact that it can't be really absorbed and understood without some help. The teacher who is learning it has to have some help. And that is not true of the courses which are less comprehensive and less sophisticated."6
From my experience as a fellow at the New School for Music Study, I learned about The Music Tree's guiding philosophical principles, which are essential to understanding the method. Goss's primary goal as a teacher was to develop students' minds so they grow to be independent learners, making the teacher expendable. Key components of this philosophy include understanding and adapting teaching styles to fit each student, comprehensive musical understanding, thorough lesson planning, and natural sequencing that builds upon existing knowledge.
Musical concepts are thoroughly prepared in ad-vance, so the concepts are "owned" and understood by the student before their first appearance in a piece. Introducing musical concepts is done first through the ear, then through experience with body movements. After these steps, the symbol is presented, and the last thing to appear is the name of the concept. This differs from a more traditional approach of presenting the name of a concept first and then moving to explanations and student experiences.
Marvin Blickenstaff noted, "No one left the New School pedagogy program without having been indelibly influenced by Louise's teaching procedures and philosophy."7 Amy Glennon, a New School faculty member, recalled, "Over the years, I have often asked Louise to hear one of my students and offer advice on how to improve a performance. She unfailingly knows the one thing that will bring the performance to the next level. She listens keenly, indeed. She never, ever, talks down to the student, but always with respect."8
When asked about her hopes and wishes for the future of the piano pedagogy profession, Goss stated: "My hope for the future is that a much larger group of people will come to see what piano pedagogy in its fullness means; how exciting it is, how important it is, and that lots of people will get on the bandwagon and make it become what it can become."9 Goss later stated, "[I hope] everybody would begin to grasp this notion that it's the child first, music second, and only third is the piano."10
1 Candace Braun, "Profiles in Education," Town Topics (June 15, 2005). Retrieved from towntopics.com.
2 Marvin Blickenstaff, personal interview, 5 December 2011.
3 Louise Goss, personal interview, 20 June 2011.
4 Craig Sale, "A Lifetime of Teaching: An Interview with Louise Goss," Clavier Companion 2 (6) (November-December 2009), p. 16.
5 Goss interview, 20 June 2011.
7 Blickenstaff interview, 5 December 2011.
8 Amy Glennon, personal interview, 23 January 2012.
9 Louise Goss, personal interview, 13 June 2011.
Editor's note: This article is based on Judith Jain's doctoral dissertation: Louise Goss: The Professional Contributions of an Eminent American Piano Pedagogue. University of Cincinnati, 2012, 3539913.