Frances Clark: A Legacy (The Early Years)

Hello again.  My first blog was brief, as I could only give an overview of Frances Clark’s contributions to piano pedagogy.  In telling the story of Miss Clark’s enduring legacy, now I will start at the beginning.  Her ongoing effort to find a better way of teaching piano began well before the opening of The New School for Music Study in 1960.  In other words, she soon recognized the need for change.

 

Robert Fred Kern completed a dissertation on Frances Clark’s achievements. Dr. Kern explains that Frances Clark’s first teacher assigned pieces in the order that they appeared in the method book with few comments made, a common practice that Miss Clark was determined to avoid once she decided to teach piano.  After her initial training, she studied with several teachers, including solfege with Nadia Boulanger and instruction from Isidor Philipp in Paris.  She also received lessons from Ernest Hutcheson and Guy Maier, both at The Julliard School of Music.

 

With such renowned teachers, Frances Clark was more than ready to embark on a career in music.  As mentioned before, Miss Clark organized the country’s first four-year teacher-training program at Kalamazoo College.  It was here that Frances Clark and Louise Goss first met.  At the time, Miss Goss was enrolled as a pedagogy student.  In her last year of study, she assisted Miss Clark in the publication of the ABC Papers, a primer that identified intervals for note reading.

 

One cannot write a biography of Frances Clark without including the name of her colleague, Louise Goss.  As soon as she finished her undergraduate studies in Music, English, and Philosophy, Miss Goss went on to earn a Master of Arts degree and complete doctoral studies in Musicology at The University of Michigan. Upon graduation, she became a faculty member at Michigan.  Miss Goss revealed to me in my own research she probably would have remained in Ann Arbor had it not been for Frances Clark’s request that she return to Kalamazoo in order to begin writing a new piano course for the Summy publishing company.

 

Together, Frances Clark and Louise Goss succeeded in creating a course unlike the prevalent Middle C method books that presented grand staff notation at the first lesson.  Time to Begin, the first book of The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students, introduced note reading with staffless notation of black key compositions, followed by intervallic note reading and landmark identification. In the lesson books after Time to Begin, notes were named above and below landmarks, and reading on the grand staff progressed in steps. This effective alternative to the traditional teaching approach was not only unique, but groundbreaking.  In my next blog, I will explain in more detail how the Clark course stood apart from other methods.  You may be surprised to know the degree to which Frances Clark’s method departed from convention.

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