I remember bringing some Satie to my Juilliard audition, and for some reason unknown to me I was placed in a piano class far above my ability. I didn't know anything about scale fingerings or how to play without looking at my fingers. Frances Goldstein, between puffs on her cigarette, would chant, "tactile, tactile, tactile." She wanted us to feel the keys beneath our fingers as well played scales and arpeggios. I must have failed her class, because the next semester I found myself in a beginner class where I struggled.
I have only shadowy memories of the other teachers I had at Juilliard, but Frances S. Goldstein remains in perfectly clear resolution. I even remember what her hands looked like. Every time I sit at the piano I think of her.
She is a woman of mystery in these internets. All I could find about her was that she was born in New York and began teaching Literature and Materials of Music at Juilliard in 1930. Marvin Hamlish included a description of her in his book The Way I Was that I will share here:
Her name was Frances S. Goldstein. She was an irascible old woman who always had a cigarette in her mouth. She was tough, but she taught me more about music theory than anyone before or since. And when I had finished my scores for The Swimmer and Kotch, I thought it would be wonderful to share them with her. I wondered if she ever went to a movie. Her class at Juilliard was her life, that narrow room in which she kept emphasizing what was good and what was bad harmonically. If she gave you a check on one of our papers, you knew she meant it. If Miss Goldstein said you had done well, it wasn't said lightly to reassure you. You had done well.Since I think about her so often, I would really love to know something about her. Perhaps there are other people with memories of Miss Goldstein who could add something more to the picture Mr. Hamlish paints (yes, I know, with himself in the center), and the one that is in my memory.
I dearly wanted her approval now. I wanted her to know that I hadn't forsaken or betrayed my musical training. I needed that gold star at the top of my homework assignment. With all that was happening to me, I needed her to reassure me I was on the right track. I was hungry for the approval of the heretofore aloof Miss Goldstein and wanted her to see that I was capable of doing serious work.
I telephoned her and said: "Miss Goldstein, I'd love to have you listen to the music I wrote. I really think it's good."
"Marvin, I don't have time to listen to this music of yours. I'm very, very busy."
"But don't you even have time for a cup of coffee?" I asked. "I could bring the music with me."
"No, no, no, no," she insisted.
I was terribly disappointed. I wanted her to know that I understood her values, her virtues, her commitment. She may have been out of touch with the outside world, but in that world she created in her classroom, she believed wholly in what she did. And I was envious of that. I needed to have that in my life. That narrow classroom was an honest place where she devoted herself to the highest standards of music. I needed to get back into that room.
Years later, I learned that Miss Goldstein was in the hospital with cancer. A tiny woman who had always weighed about ninety pounds, she was not expected to live. As I looked down at her frail body in the hospital bed, it was hard to recall the teacher who seemed so tough and formidable at Juilliard.
She told me that her students didn't visit her, and this did not surprise me. She was a killer in the classroom and not immensely likable. Now she could barely speak. Those ever-present cigarettes had ravaged her throat and finally done her in.
We talked of the old days at Juilliard and of my new career. Finally, it was time to go.
"Good-bye, Miss Goldstein," I said, and started for the door.
"Marvin--" she said.
"Yes, Miss Goldstein?"
"I really should have taken time for that cup of coffee."