Today’s piano pedagogy students take for granted that piano pedagogy programs exist in many colleges around the United States. Few realize that it was only a little more than sixty years ago, in 1945, that Frances Clark established the first piano pedagogy degree program in the United States at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Goss graduated in that premier class. This pedagogy program marks the beginning of Louise Goss’s collaboration with Frances Clark and of her life-long involvement in the field of piano pedagogy. Goss’s life has been dedicated to the betterment of piano education and piano teaching materials. Recognized as “one of our preeminent living pedagogues,” Goss cocreated and cochaired the undergraduate piano pedagogy program at Westminster Choir College, arguably the first piano pedagogy program in the United States, and cofounded the New School for Music Study, one of the premier institutions for piano teaching training in the country. Goss was coauthor of the Frances Clark Library for Piano Students and editor of two of the important pedagogical guides: A Piano Teacher’s Legacy: Selected Writings by Richard Chronister and Questions and Answers. As chair of the board of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy from its inception until 2010, long-time committee member for the planning of the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, and author of the ongoing column “Questions and Answers” for Clavier Companion magazine, Louise Goss has left her stamp on the history of piano pedagogy in the United States.
Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on May 21, 1926, Louise Goss was the second of two children born to Lindsey and Agnes Goss. Goss started her musical journey at the age of seven, when she began taking piano lessons. Before high school, Goss had taken up the clarinet, joined her school’s band and orchestra, and initiated voice lessons.
Goss started her formal piano studies when she was seven years old with “a young teacher who, to our good fortune, had had some pedagogy training and used the Robyn materials in teaching” Later on, Goss said she ”continued to study with an assortment of [her] mother’s church friends, each worse qualified than the one before.” By middle school, and without any real training in accompanying, Goss became “the accompanist of choice for soloists and choirs” in her home town. In fourth grade, Goss started playing the clarinet; three years later playing in band and orchestra became part of her every day activities. Also during middle school, Goss studied voice: “I had a trainable mezzo-soprano voice, and began to be used as a soloist. In high school I studied voice privately with an elegant, sophisticated musical matron who really knew how to teach and showed great interest in my progress and prospects.” Throughout her career as a piano pedagogue Goss would draw on these experiences, particularly in her belief that students should sing and feel the music with their bodies. During high school, when the music critic of the Kalamazoo Gazette was drafted to World War II, Goss was invited to become the newspaper’s music critic. Also with little previous experience, Goss became conductor for five junior high school orchestras. “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’m only glad I can’t hear them now!” Summarizing her early musical experiences Goss said, “I didn’t think about being a music critic at fourteen and conducting at seventeen as anything but fun activities.” With these varied musical experiences it is not a surprise that Goss was interested in continuing her music education through college.
In 1944 Louise Goss enrolled at Kalamazoo College to pursue a Bachelors of Arts degree, where she carried a triple major in Music, English and Philosophy. “From high school on, I assumed I would be a singer and teacher of singing. My musical mentors advised me that to be a singer and teacher of singing, I needed to be a better pianist. They shared the exciting news that Frances Clark was coming back to Kalamazoo College and that they would intercede with her to take me as her student.” From this point Goss’s emphasis would shift from voice to piano, and her life’s work in the field of piano pedagogy began. During her sophomore year, Goss along with five other piano majors joined “what Goss believes to have been the first four-year pedagogy course offered in an American college or university, and probably anywhere in the world.”
In the fall of 1948, Goss started her graduate education at Wesley College but dropped out by Thanksgiving. During her time away from graduate school, Goss says, “I had a lot of singing experience; I did a lot of reading….Without knowing it I was trying to figure out what my future was, where I should be going to school, what I should be doing.” The next year Goss chose to attend The University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, where she earned a Master of Arts degree with high honors in Music Literature. She went on to complete the course work towards her doctorate in Musicology, but not her dissertation. Her dissertation topic, “The History of the Music Critic as Educator,” was not approved by her dissertation committee. “I was going to write a really significant book, I thought, on the role of a music critic as a teacher. I felt nobody understood what music criticism should be. I was all fired up….They [the dissertation committee] wanted me to do something on twelfth century neumes. Something that was so unexciting.”
Despite the setback involving her dissertation, Goss became the first woman on the Music Literature faculty at the University of Michigan. However, in 1953 Goss received a request from Summy-Birchard Publishing to work with Frances Clark in the making of a new piano method. Goss did not hesitate to leave the University of Michigan and start a new phase in her musical career. (Excerpted from “Louise Goss: The Professional Contributions of an eminent American Piano Pedagogue,” by Judith Jain, used with permission.)