In 1960 co-founders Frances Clark and Louise Goss discussed what to call the school for piano study that they intended to start. “I remember the conversation,” says Goss, during an interview in her Stonebridge apartment. “Frances said, ‘I think we should call it the New School.’ I said, ‘But 10 years from now it won’t be a new school.’ And Frances said, ‘If it isn’t I won’t want to have anything to do with it.’” Clark’s motto was obviously “Every day, another discovery.”
Clark and Goss’s New School for Music Study in Kingston, which struggles to stay small and intimate, now enrolls 250 students and has a teaching staff of a dozen men and women. The school accepts both children and adults. No auditions are required; enrollment is on a first come, first served basis. The New School kicks off its 50th birthday year this year with a three-day celebration.
Tony Caramia opens the festivities with a jazz concert on Tuesday, August 3, 7:30 p.m. Duo pianists Ena Barton and Phyllis Lehrer perform four-hand music on Wednesday, August 4, at 8 p.m. Both concerts, which are free, take place in Bristol Chapel on the campus of Westminster Choir College of Rider University. Caramia, Barton, and Lehrer have all participated in the New School as faculty members.
Caramia’s program pays homage to Frederic Chopin, whose 200th birthday is being celebrated this season, and includes Chopin works, as well as several pieces whose theme is “birthdays.” Caramia is currently professor of piano at Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, where he is director of piano pedagogy studies and coordinator of the class piano program.
Barton and Lehrer play works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Manuel Infante, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Barton is head of the piano department at the Westminster Conservatory and a member of the piano faculty of Westminster. Lehrer is professor of piano and director of piano pedagogy at Westminster.
A piano pedagogy seminar, open to the public, takes place on Wednesday, August 4, and Thursday, August 5, in the downstairs auditorium of Talbott Library at Westminster Choir College. The fee is $50. The presenters are piano pedagogues who received their training at the New School.
The New School is a division of the Frances Clark Center, established in 2000, two years after New School founder Clark’s death at age 93 in 1998. Co-founder Louise Goss, who is 22 years younger than Clark, is chair of the center’s board of directors. The mission of the center is to extend the ground-breaking philosophy of music education developed at the New School. The New School approach is embodied in a graded series of instructional books, the Frances Clark Library, known as the “Music Tree.” Clark and Goss are co-authors.
A gracious hostess, Goss allows me to rearrange the furniture in her dining room to set up. Indulging her taste for intimacy, she pulls up a chair close to me and my computer at the dining room table. Goss speaks in entire paragraphs with well-formulated sentences. She makes virtually no false starts. She takes credit for the name “Music Tree.”
Why “tree,” I wonder. Goss gives a single-word explanation. “Growth,” she says. Her sense of drama overcomes her fluency with language.
Goss likes to set musical study in the larger context of living. She is convinced that living and learning require working out how the whole and the parts relate, without preconceptions. “I would like people to get excited about the fact that the Music Tree is a holistic approach,” she says. “Good education in all fields needs to be holistic.
“The source for that idea came through my college philosophy teacher, who made a major impact on my thinking,” Goss says. “He was holistic, and promoted no particular philosophy. He didn’t like labels. I majored in philosophy. I also majored in music and English.”
By the time triple major Goss entered Michigan’s Kalamazoo College, she already had a substantial resume. Born in 1926 in Kalamazoo, she was 15 when the United States entered World War II. “The music critic of the Kalamazoo Gazette was drafted while I was a [high school] freshman, and somehow the editor learned that I had quite a lot of writing experience. He invited me to become the new music critic,” she told Craig Sale for an interview in Clavier Companion’s November/December 2009 issue.
Because of the war, the Kalamazoo junior high schools lost their music directors. “I was excused from morning classes in my senior year,” Goss told Sale, “and rode around town on my bicycle, directing orchestras in our five junior high schools. It goes without saying that I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow I managed to keep discipline, polish some repertoire, and present spring recitals.
“I didn’t think about being a music critic at 14 and conducting at 17 as anything but fun activities,” she tells me. “At the time I was not at all impressed at what I was doing. It didn’t come home to me until later.”
When she entered college, Goss assumed that she would be a singer and teacher of singing, she says in her interview with Sale. “My musical mentors advised me that I needed to be a better pianist. They shared the exciting news that Frances Clark was coming back to Kalamazoo College (Clark’s alma mater) and that they would intercede with her to take me as her student.”
Reflecting on her early days with Frances Clark, Goss tells me, “Frances Clark, my pedagogy teacher, who turned me onto my life work, believed passionately in the need for holistic music training. She believed that music is for everyone and is a basic part of the curriculum because of all the many ways in which it helps people grow.
“She was particularly interested in the training of teachers. She had bad training; I had bad training; and all the people she was working with had had bad training. So she devised a program of teacher- training for pianists.
“Kalamazoo College did not have a strong music program. Frances thought it would be good place to try her ideas. She was a very persuasive person and was able to talk the dean into experimenting with her ideas about piano pedagogy. I and five other piano pedagogy majors were in on this from the beginning. Frances was a very imaginative, stimulating teacher who made you want to be creative.
“Frances thought that using groups would give her more children to experiment with. That way she would gather more information than she could in individual lessons. Then she realized that using groups was a good idea intrinsically. Everything else children learn, they learn in groups. She enabled the children to feel free in criticizing each other. That criticism gave them a lot of training. Also, groups are more fun than private lessons. So much of the nature of piano study is private.”
In 1955 Westminster Choir College invited Clark and Goss to set up a program similar to that at Kalamazoo. Five years later they started the New School. “Our primary interest was in piano, whereas Westminster focused on choral music and organ. We wanted to work at the graduate level. When Westminster began to offer a master’s degree in piano pedagogy and performance, they invited us back. Meanwhile, the New School was not a degree-granting institution either. We offered a certificate. Probably dozens of certificates were granted.”
The first location of the New School was in Princeton, on Nassau Street, near the intersection with Harrison Street. In 1970 its 10th anniversary year, the New School moved to its present location, a house built in 1740, on Route 27 in Kingston. “We were looking for the right amount of space, and a certain ambiance,” Goss says. “When we drove into the driveway with the realtor, I fell in love with the place long before the engine stopped.”
Goss taught at the New School until a decade ago. “I stopped 10 years ago,” she says. “I barely can get along without teaching. I play piano for myself; I have bad arthritis.” As chair of the board of the Frances Clark Center, she exerts her influence through her wisdom and good judgment, rather than through hands-on teaching.
Louise Goss offers up a summary of the philosophy embodied by the New School. Even today, it is provocative. Imagine how revolutionary it must have been more than 50 years ago when Frances Clark started her pioneering work on piano pedagogy at Kalamazoo College.
“The main contribution, I believe, is the fact that every aspect of music and musical learning is imbedded in the first lesson,” Goss says. The aspects of music touched on in that first lesson include becoming sensitive to beautiful sound and learning that technical exercises are subordinate to making music.
“Composition and improvisation are there from the beginning,” Goss says. “In learning any new language the greatest reward is being able to speak. Starting piano study without the idea that you can very soon speak piano would be discouraging. Students use what they have learned in the first lesson to say something of their own, something meaningful. Therefore, music becomes their language.
“We offer a much broader concept than most approaches,” Goss says. “The essence of music must be available from the outset.”
Jazz Concert, New School for Music Study, Westminster Choir College, Princeton. Tuesday, August 3, 7:30 p.m. Pianist Tony Caramia, Eastman School of Music. Free. 609-921-2900 or www.nsmspiano.org.
Also, Concert, Wednesday, August 4, 8 p.m. Four-hand music concert presented by Ena Barton and Phyllis Lehrer on piano. Free.