Thursday, May 28, 2015

Frances S. Goldstein

During my first semester at Juilliard I was filled with dread at the thought of my class piano teacher, Miss Frances S. Goldstein. She was very old, very gray, and smoked constantly. One of the two grand pianos in her teaching studio was covered with cartons of unfiltered Camel cigarettes, which she smoked throughout every group lesson.

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.

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."
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.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is the same Frances Goldstein who taught at the "Pardee School of Music" on West End Avenue in the 1950's (changed from the "Community School of Music"). But the description fits (minus the cigarettes during lessons). I was an indifferent student who stupidly resented my musical opportunities. Even so, Miss Goldstein left an indelible memory. If I made a mistake, she would offer an instant exclamation which sounded like physical pain. I was amazed that music could be so deeply ingrained. I admired her selflessness and dedication to the composer's intent. That was her truth. I never found another teacher who taught it better. It was a life lesson I ultimately tried to live up to. May she rest in peace.

Maureen (Hanrahan) Hughes said...

I had Francis S. Goldstein for literature and materials of music in the pre-college. She seemed to take an interest in me. When I moved up from pre-college to the college division, she stopped me in the hall on the fifth floor once, and asked me how did I like it? I started to say it was hard, but caught myself, and said it was very difficult. She looked at me, nodded and said, "Good!" Years later, I walked into my beginner piano class, and there she was sitting at the desk. She was filling in attendance records! I was startled to see her, and asked her if I was late (for my class). She replied, "No, you are early." I sat down like a statue with my back to her. After a while, I turned around and she was gone! A few moments later, my piano teacher came in the room, and asked me did I just see Miss Goldstein? I said yes. He shook his head and looked shocked! It was a few days later that I saw the program for a concert in her memory! I've often wondered if that was a vision of her spirit? I know that sounds nuts, but I don't know any other explanation!

Elaine Fine said...

He must have seen her too. What a creepy story, but I imagine if her ghost were to appear anywhere, it would be on the fifth floor of Juilliard.

Anonymous said...

I too had Miss Goldstein when I attended the Julliard Preparatory Division in around 1960. I was about 7 or 8 years old and she terrorised me. But, she was a superb teacher and to this day (I am 64) I remember everything she taught me. And yes, she never stopped smoking!

Unknown said...

In one class she asked me to play a scale (nothing complicated). Very slowly I played the scale as smooth as could be. When I finished. she asked about the fingering in the left hand. She was standing on the opposite side of the room and unable to see the piano. I looked up behind me to see if there was a mirror. I swear no one could tell the scale was magnificent. But Frances Goldstein was absolutely right and as everyone obviously recognizes (comments above) she raised the bar no matter what your level.

Yehuda Jordan Kaplan said...

Miss Goldstein was the most competent teacher I ever had. I not only learned music
and music theory from her, but also many teaching and life techniques.
She didn't allow erasing. If you erased an answer on homework or a test
(& she always found it no matter well you erased) she took off 1/2 credit
"because you can train yourself to not make mistakes. Besides, your mistake
leaves a permanent impression in the paper." This borders on advanced
Chassidic philosophy.
She had very gray hair and only wore gray clothes and shoes. Her fingers
were stained gray from 1,000,000 cigarettes. She wore no makeup.
Once, a heavily made up 15 year-old-girl came 7 minutes late to class
(something one didn't do with Miss Frances Goldstein)!
She was practically in tears in fear of some unnamed dreadful punishment
about to be inflicted when it dropped: "You wouldn't be late if you didn't
spend 10 minutes every morning putting that shoe polish on your eyes.
She said you must acquire absolute pitch by the end of the year.
I had absolute faith in her word, and by the end of the year, I had
acquired a reasonable amount of 'absolute pitch'. Those who scorned
her or doubted her did not.
Every December she would invert a manila folder into a billboard and
post the following message on her piano, "No Christmas presenst for
Miss Goldstein- only good, consistent work throughout the year."
I was tempted to get her something and say, "Happy Chanukah!",
but the thought that this might bring down her wrath upon me was
a sufficient deterrent.
Back to music:
She was very big on sight-reading 4 voice Bach Chorales, singing the
alto or tenor voice while playing the other 3 voices on the piano.
Of course, you were forbidden to look at your hands.
She demanded perfection in all areas:
Chordal analysis
Voice leading
Penmanship (!)
Personal dress and grooming.
As I was a composer-type, very into perfection and music theory,
and I tried very hard to meet her standards, she sort of liked me.
She did little to hide her dislike of most students who were 'normal'
and didn't strive to please her.
I was honored when 6 years later, when my sister took her first
theory class, Miss Goldstein immediately asked her,
"Is Jordan Kaplan your brother"?
Miss Goldstein replied,

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you Yehuda! I totally forgot about the grey clothes and shoes. And I forgot singing the inner voices of the Bach chorales (though I remember that in ear training we had to do it with different clefs).

Yehuda Jordan Kaplan said...

All in all, everyone agrees that as a music teacher, Miss Goldstein was a
once-in-a-lifetime fount of wisdom.
There are a lot of comments (including my own) that discuss her lack of bedside
manner as a teacher.
Having lived through a piano teacher who was a destructive musical predator,
I would like to rise to Miss Goldstein's defense and differentiate her from 'bad'
music teachers who willfully harmed their students.

Miss Goldstein's intentions were purely good, and she only bestowed good upon
her students (although sometimes in the sense that castor oil bestows good upon
the sick).

Before I had Miss Goldstein as a teacher, I was well aware of her scary reputation.
My first day of her class, I was prepared for the worst.
She was nothing like her reputation (although I could see how that reputation
could evolve from her sharpness).
She never yelled or screamed, she was always fair, and if you did the work with
seriousness, you could win a bit of respect from her. She never played favorites,
and she could not at all be bribed in any way.
What I am trying to say is that in many ways, she was an exemplary example of
what a very good teacher and human being should be; knowledgeable, intelligent,
fair-minded, and interested in giving over the vast amount of knowledge she had
accumulated, to the next generation (for 3 or 4 generations!)

An eccentric Camels-chain-smoker who
always wore gray? Yes. But what a teacher!

Like Marvin Hamlisch, and probably thousands of others, not a day goes by when
I don't use some of the skills that she imparted to me- and I'm not restricting this
to musical skills. Striving for excellence,
perfection, and achievement. I can't say this about many other teachers I've had.

I, too, feel the loss that she was not able to relate to her students outside
of her Domain- her classroom.

A great loss for both her, and her myriads of disciples and students.

Yehuda Jordan Kaplan

Unknown said...

I too remember well my music theory classes with Miss Goldstein. She once related her memory of Gershwin rushing into Juilliard on the way to a theory lesson, desperately in a hurry to learn what he needed to progress as a composer. "He knew he didn't have much time, I believe."
That's one line I heard from a teacher in the early 1970s that I have never forgotten. I am glad to know that many others remember her as I do- an exceptionally dedicated and memorable teacher.

Aaron Lawrence

dave said...

I too had "Miss Goldstein" when I was at the Prep Division of Julliard; also I think I started in 1960 when I was about 8. She was an excellent teacher but terrorised me and bullied me. I stayed with her for 4-5 years then changed teachers as I ended up in tears after each lesson. She shared an apartment with Miss Pardee (of the Pardee School) on 96th street I believe. She was truly unforgettable

Elaine Fine said...

I was a teaching fellow at Juilliard in 1964-66. Frances Goldstein Was my boss. I thought four classes a week of piano minors. Once a week, I give a “ demonstration lesson“ for Miss Goldstein. This lesson was to be given to a colleague, another teaching assistant.

She (Ms. G.) would watch as I “taught” an introductory lesson to my colleague Fritz! “Now son,” she would say, “Be respectful to your father! Now father, be kind and understanding to your son!” 

During my 2 years Miss G always carried a large clear plastic bag containing fresh packs of ”Camel” unfiltered cigarettes.

When I graduated from Juillard and was freshly divorced and hurting she gave me Comforting council--and she gave me some tips about a job, which I followed up and got employed! At this late date I bless her memory!

Unknown said...

I have just come across this site re Frances Goldtein as I was writing about a long-time friend who had been a graduate teaching assistant in Frances Goldstein's piano proficiency class. I met my friend while at Juilliard and he was able to lead me to some kind of victory in Goldstein's class - victory was just passing. Flipping papers, lighting a cigarette with kitchen matches and seemingly rummaging around while I stubbled through a chord progress on the blackboard, she would stop me suddenly, albeit politely, with a correction in my fingering without ever looking up or stopping her activities. And she was always correct. We were terrified, but loved her. To this day one of the proudest 'victories' of my education was making it to the end with Miss G.

Don Oehler Juilliard '68

Unknown said...

I was a student of Frances Goldstein and in the same class with Marvin Hamlisch, who was always being inattentive and snoozing. She was on his back and that intimidated him. I found her simply wonderful during my years at Juilliard. She even came to my Master's recital many years after she taught me in the Preparatory Division. She had a heart of gold.

Paul Jones Juilliard 1967

Anonymous said...

I was a student of Frances Goldstein in the 1970's. She was standing on the opposite side of the room, in her customary baseball hat, chain-smoking camel cigarettes.

She asked me to play a scale in octaves (perhaps Re Major; both hands).

I relaxed and felt quite comfortable. She couldn’t see my hands and would have no way of knowing if my fingering was correct. Or any “minor” mistakes.

Playing at a very slow speed was allowed, so now I could escape detection of any minor “mis-fingering”.

I played perfectly. Smoothly. Even toned and no one could detect any error! But somehow I messed up the fingering with my left hand. But no one could possibly detect it without seeing my hands. No sooner had I finished ..............

She tore me to shreds and knew exactly what fingering I used and called it out.

I looked up, at the top of the wall behind me. There had to be a mirror!