“You can really play Bach!” a deep and enthusiastic voice announced from behind me. I was an undergraduate student at Westminster Choir College, and had just played for a master class with Seymour Bernstein. And I didn't know it, but I was about to meet Frances Clark. For the record, I can be perfectly awkward when meeting new people. I bungle and stumble, and have stepped on a number of unfortunate feet while attempting a graceful greeting. I turned around to find a tall and beautiful woman whose striking white hair was done to perfection. She was smartly dressed in a long aqua raincoat accented by a contrasting silk scarf, pumps and large earrings. And daring red lipstick. She was tall, sophisticated, and simply awe-inspiring. I suddenly felt frumpy and underdressed, but her face was shining and her expression was genuine. After a brief moment, my mouth gaping open, I was able to muster up a “Thank you.” As I walked away from the encounter a fellow student whispered in my ear, “Don't you know who that was? That was Frances Clark!”
Several years later, I had the good fortune of becoming a pedagogy student at the New School. I want to believe that in their lifetime most people will have an interaction with someone who brings out the best in other people and inspires the desire in others to be their best selves. Frances was one of these people. I came to learn that there were many things one could depend on with regards to Frances: nine a.m. classes really began at eight fifty-five, feedback would be brutally honest but delivered with a broad smile, the most grueling feedback would usually come with a compliment-often regarding hair or clothing, every moment was of critical importance. Most of all, Frances cared deeply about her students.
Frances had an exquisite fashion sense. When I was at the New School, I used to think it was something like a hobby to her; she always had the most elegant and pulled- together outfits! But I’ve thought a lot about it, and I was wrong. Frances didn't dress to perfection for her own sense of enjoyment. Rather, her clothes were an intentional vehicle of communication, stating her care and commitment to others. We could always count on Frances to show up looking marvelous. I understand now that it was so we could become marvelous, too.
Mary Brostrom Bloom is the Director of Education at Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, CT. She attended Westminster Choir College where she received a B.M. cum laude in Music Education and a M.M. with distinction in Piano Performance and Pedagogy. She has studied piano with Phyllis Lehrer, Ena Bronstein, and Helen Shafranek, and pedagogy with Frances Clark, Louise Goss and Sam Holland. Her teaching has been featured at the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy and at the 50th anniversary of The New School for Music Study. She has enjoyed serving on a number of panels at meetings of the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy and the Music Teachers National Association. Her articles on piano teaching have appeared in Keyboard Companion and pianopedagogy.com, her remembrances of Frances Clark appeared in Clavier. Mary maintains a large studio at Neighborhood Music School where she teaches individual and group piano lessons to children and adults.