The Center for Musical Arts has a variety of talented music teachers. In this interview we spoke with piano instructor Tamara Goldstein about her extensive education and performance background as both a soloist and a collaborative pianist.
Center for Musical Arts: Hello! My name is Erica Reid, I’m with the Center for Musical Arts, and one of my jobs is interviewing our faculty members to get to know them better, so that if you are considering starting classes, you know who you might be working with. Today, I’m talking to Tamara Goldstein. How are you doing today?
Center: I believe that you are just beginning to teach with the Center. Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you here?
Tamara: Oh, I love the Center for Musical Arts. I knew about it from its inception a long time ago, and I think it’s been wonderful to watch it over the years evolve into this pillar in the community for people to seek out musical opportunities, whether they be adults or children of all stages of learning.
So I’ve been aware of it since the beginning, and just recently I’ve had a bit of a journey through different teaching and performing opportunities over the years, and I recently moved back to Boulder after being in Denver for quite a while. So now it’s very close to where I live and I have the opportunity to go seek out some of their events and things.
Center: Oh, great.
Tamara: It’s been a magnetic pull, and that’s a good thing.
Center: Yeah. So it sounds like you’ve been a long time member of our family already, and we’re just getting to work with you a little bit as a teacher now. That’s wonderful to hear.
Tamara: Thank you.
Center: So you teach piano. Can you tell us how that became your instrument?
Tamara: Oh, wow. Back to the very beginning?
Tamara: Well, I was born into a family that included violinists, and I started on the violin, actually, and I love it dearly. I am drawn to strings in general, but it just seemed so much harder for me than for the other people in the house who became professionals or already were professionals.
So I gravitated towards the piano, it looked easier, and lo and behold, I was completely duped [laughs], but I stuck with it. I went to pre-college in my childhood, and I went to summer camps that included music, and for a little bit, I did violin and piano both, but it didn’t take me long to go into piano, and I was always part of children’s choirs.
As a kid, I went to Manhattan School of Music Precollege and then Juilliard School Precollege, and so I was singing as well as playing the piano, not in voice lessons, but that was our ensemble as pianists as young… And I always loved theory and ear training, and it was nice. It was good. Definitely the big part of my childhood.
Center: Yeah. Have you ever come back to the strings or are you… Even as a hobby instrument, or do you stick with piano?
Tamara: No, I don’t go near the violin to play it. I can tune it for the little ones if I need to, so that’s a built-in bonus. But…
Yeah, no, I don’t play a lot with string players, and that’s always been true also since childhood, I suppose. So I’ve had a career of sorts in collaborating with mainly upper strings, lots of violin, and I did that in various environments. And so I consider part of what I do as a colleague and also as a mentor for young string players, is teaching as well. And I take great pride in that kind of teamwork that I try to instill.
And I try to instill the sense of teamwork as a piano teacher too, in that we come to a piano lesson as a laboratory, as a workshop, as a place to try things out and inspire both directions, even. I love when little kids have metaphors that I never would’ve thought of because I may not have seen The Little Mermaid yet or something. And there’s so many creative ideas that go both directions in musical teaching of all kinds.
The piano is wonderful because in the very beginning you just put your fingers down and you make a sound. You don’t have to learn how to move your lips for the flute, or figure out how to bow for the violin, et cetera. So it’s very popular. That’s my way of coming around to the fact that it’s very popular and there are lots of motivations for wanting to play the piano that I find extremely fascinating. I taught for a long time at Metro State University of Denver. I was head of keyboard studies and I hired, I was on search committees. I was part of a lot of applied piano, which is one-to-one, but also in organizing the students so that they could have lots of keyboard experiences as well as making sure that everything was going well for the faculty.
So one of the things about academia is that you find in certain kinds of college programs, lots of different ages, lots of different incentives for playing the piano. They were already a nurse in a former career, and they had three kids and now they’re coming back to school. There’s all kinds of that. As well as teaching teachers how to teach, like instilling Suzuki pedagogy, which is just honing in on listening at the very early stages for kids and some of the most wonderful games with children, I learned when I was around Suzuki colleagues. I did a decade playing at the Colorado Suzuki Institute in Snowmass Village, Colorado outside of Aspen. And so for a decade, I watched these colleagues of mine just make music so fun. I mean, I had certain kinds of piano teachers. Some of them were kind of famous and some of them were concert artists and had taught for a long time, but these teachers were vibrant and making up new ways to create games and lighten up the whole approach to lessons.
So I’ve had a lot of different influences. I went to Indiana for my undergrad, then I went back to Juilliard for a master’s, and my master’s, I taught secondary piano with a team of pianists who were given a certain fellowship to teach non-piano majors, but they were music majors, like a terrific trumpet player would be in the class because he had to pass a certain level of piano for instance. So those were the students there. So they were all really bright, and some of them had a background, some of them didn’t. But I learned how to organize a lot of thoughts for adults that way because we had a supervisor, terrific lady who had lots of sheets of how to group scales together, how to make things… How to make practice ideas, form a checklist, and figure out a way to make what you had learned in music theory apply to your piano lessons. There were all kinds of ways that we connected things on different levels.
I also was certified in Suzuki piano, but I don’t use that all that much. I did that when I was in New York. I came out to Colorado first for a romance, and then I was here for a while, and by the end of the first year, I had amassed wonderful piano students on the side, but I really wanted to meet colleagues. I really wanted to meet other folks and performers and people who were still practicing, that kind of thing.
Center: Yeah, yeah.
Tamara: So I got involved with the University of Colorado at Boulder, and I did a DMA, which is a Doctor of Musical Arts, there. And I studied with a variety of influences, really wonderful, wonderful faculty right here in Boulder. And that kind of cinched me — as a Juilliard student, we came out to Aspen for the music festival as kind of our western exposure. But after that, I came back and I became a resident of Boulder. And I just tell you, it is so wonderful to be here. It has changed my life in so many ways. So at this point, I have as many years here as I did back in the East Coast, so I feel like I’m really part of things locally now.
I’ve done a lot of performing mainly with others. I did some solo work, but played a lot of concertos for a few years, and so got my repertoire, kind of gave it a purpose. And I met a lot of people that way through the local orchestras, and I love it here. I love being part of things. I go to a lot of concerts and it’s fun.
Center: Wonderful. So I always ask all of our faculty members about their teaching philosophy, and it sounds like you have no shortage of… as you said, influences to draw from. You have an immense education, you have an immense performance experience. But if you could distill for our potential students, your teaching philosophy down, how would you describe that?
Tamara: Gosh, it’s hard to encapsulate.
Center: Oh, I’m sure.
Tamara: But I’ll try! [laughs] I like when students are feeling positive about the learning process, whether they’re kids or whether they’re adults. I love teaching adults because they have a little bit more experience with thought processes, right? So it’s the learning process. It’s going from not knowing a piece of music at all to feeling like it’s part of you, hopefully memorizing it, but just feeling like you’re emotionally connected to it as well with the older students. My teaching philosophy has a lot to do with the teachers that really resonated with me, and they were the ones who had the most patience, took things slowly, took things apart, analyzed the ingredients so that we had the best ingredients in order to mix that into a cake that was the best possible cake in a sense.
Center: Got it.
Tamara: So developing the raw ingredients for me are things like playing without pain. Playing in a natural way that creates a beautiful tone. Learning how to listen to yourself, learning how to hear a song that you really love and how to pick it out on the piano and figure out how to play it. And eventually, for those that don’t read [music] yet, finding a friendly way to figure out how to read.
It’s not easy, and it’s especially not easy for adults to learn from the very, very beginning, but there’s always a way to make it pleasant. The thing about reading is that you really have to be resourceful and you really have to want it. You really have to practice reading every day when your teacher’s not in the room. So I try to create relationships for the younger students with a parent or babysitter or whoever’s in a triangle kind of relationship — the teacher, student, and adult — who can be a practice partner and kind of instill the same positive philosophy the rest of the week. Not to feel like a note is right or wrong, or to try to instill a love for the process of learning. I think that’s a tough one, but it creates a wonderful sense of learning for everybody involved, and it really helps out the younger students.
For the adult students, a lot of them… How can I say? I’m not going to generalize. Everybody has their own story, and there are adult students who were terrorized as young learners and who want to come back and say, “Oh, my God, please, I know I love this. I just… please.” And there are books that we can read that motivate the learning process for adults who are interested. There are ways to supplement the studio, if you will. So I try to recommend videos and books and other ways that they can… There’s lots on YouTube in terms of masterclasses.
I like to feel like we’re exploring the world together. Who do you like the most in terms of the pianists who performed now and the pianists who used to perform, who no longer can? It’s interesting to develop listening also. Oh, you love this Mozart sonata, but listen to this symphony, or listen to this chamber music piece. That kind of thing. So it’s complicated, but it’s all good.
Center: Thank you so much. So I understand… Correct me if I’m wrong, but you work with some of the Center’s — or you will work with — some of the Center’s more advanced piano students, but you’ve mentioned young students, you’ve mentioned older students, I think you’ve even mentioned teaching teachers. Who is your ideal student? Who would be best to work with you at the Center for Musical School Arts? Or anybody?
Tamara: Gosh, I don’t want to play favorites. I mean, at this point, I have to be very honest and say I’m semi-retiring. I’m doing fewer concerts, and I’m home a lot when I’m home. But there are times when I like to go away because the world is out there and I like my freedom. So I’ve become very spoiled. Because I traveled a lot as a professor, and I still want to be able to do that kind of thing. So it’s a little harder on the younger ones. Especially the pre-readers. I don’t prefer that, with no offense to any pre-readers out there. Maybe there are older siblings that are in the mix that make it… Accelerate the process. Sometimes that can really help.
So I’m not against that, but I think I am better suited for right now in my availability and my flexibility. I’m better suited to adults who are somewhat trained, who might have developed some bad habits along the way and want to check in with somebody, don’t know for how long, not necessarily for years and years, but want to have somebody to mentor them. Adults who are working on specific repertoire already or who have some background. I think that’s probably my favorite. Ones who know what it’s like to be motivated and not motivated. And right now they prefer to be motivated and carve out some time and give this a chance in their life. Because everybody’s busy. Everybody’s busy, but you do have to put in some effort to get back. So yeah, it’s kind of common sense.
I love helping out teachers or helping out preformed chamber groups, for instance. I like being able to… If there’s a preformed piano trio who wants pointers and they’re amateurs and wonderful in their professions, and they’re doing this and they really want some outside help, I love doing stuff like that. And sometimes that becomes a four lesson package rather than a semester. But I like to leave myself open to different kinds of needs out there. Because I think music is a need. I mean, the news out there is so frightening sometimes. And music can be very therapeutic. It can really give us a wonderful way to escape some of the stuff that… We all need a respite. So music is a gift you can give yourselves, that you can give your kids, give your grandmother. It’s good. It can only be good. I like to think of it that way.
Center: Wonderful. So is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you think would be helpful or interesting for prospective students? I mean, I think you’ve covered a lot of ground, including this chamber opportunity. I think that’s really fascinating. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you think would be important for students to understand before working with you?
Tamara: Thank you. One of the things that makes me a little bit distinct about what I love to teach, I had almost 25 years on as a staff pianist and a coach at the Aspen Music Festival in the summers. And I worked almost exclusively with string students there of a pretty high caliber. Some of them were young and gifted and wanted another… My role there was to incorporate what they’re doing on the violin, let’s say, into a violin and piano piece. And so something like that, that can be really useful at all ages too.
And I just want to put that out there as another possibility because I really have… I work with violin colleagues, for instance, who are in the Colorado Symphony and in some of the ensembles downtown in Denver. And what I find working with the string students is that the sooner, the better, that they learn to listen differently and they learn to learn their music a little differently through the chords and the piano part. And sometimes that can be very useful pre-college. And that’s also on a project basis. It could be in that kind of thing, a half a semester package or something like that, once they get established with their repertoire.
In terms of the piano students, I think we’ve covered a lot of it, except that a lot of pianists, they like to have church jobs or they like to accompany their friends on songs and vocalizing small groups, sometimes piano duets. And I would welcome any of those kinds of combinations. I love the piano duets, piano duos, and it really is very different from learning solo. So I like to think of myself as a patchwork.
Center: Yeah. I’m so glad we’re talking about this because typically I’m talking about an instrument in a vacuum. We really are just talking about learning violin or learning percussion, and it’s been wonderful to talk a little bit more about that collaborative process, and how that’s also something you need to learn, and practice, and study, and how that’s an entirely different sort of realm of musicality. And so it’s really interesting for me to hear about that and consider that as part of the music studies that we’re offering.
Tamara: Yeah, it’s fun when they’re friends outside or they’re siblings and they’re playing a violin and piano piece together. Or a mom and a kid. There’s parents who love to play for their kids. Well, some of them are more secure than others, and it’s great to have somebody to just play for sometimes. So that’s another part of the mix. Anyway, I don’t mean to confuse things. I love to play and I love to bring joy to the piano experience in whatever way I can.
Center: Yeah, it certainly sounds like you have all the tools in the toolbox to do so.
Tamara: Oh, there’s so much out there. I am, just a little bit. Just a little bit. I do like to keep it positive, and I guess that’s something that I’ve learned through my life. Lots of different approaches. So you have to find somebody who’s right for you.
Tamara: Yeah. As in the search for a teacher. There’s so many different kinds of personalities and approaches, so I appreciate you talking to me.
Center: Yeah, well, I appreciate you talking to me, and I apologize. I said Goldstein [Gold-STEEN] earlier. This is Tamara Goldstein [Gold-STINE] I’m talking with.
Tamara: Oh, it’s quite alright.
Center: I said it and I knew I’d messed it up, and I wanted to apologize for that. But Tamara, it has been so lovely to talk with you today and to get to know you. And I know that our students are going to be so excited to work with you and maybe see you perform with us in the future or something like that.
Tamara: Great. Yes. Thank you so much, Erica.
Center: Thank you very much.