by Len Lear
Barbara Golden, who has lived in Chestnut Hill since June, 2015, so she could be close to her daughter and her family in Wyndmoor, may not be a symphony orchestra soloist, but a listing of her audience-delighting performances would literally take up this entire article and much more.
Golden, 67, a music professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown since 2007 (and before that an adjunct professor of music at Temple University, the University of the Arts and Moravian College and a music teacher at numerous schools in New Jersey and Massachusetts), has performed as a pianist, harpsichordist and conductor since childhood and continues to collaborate with other musicians.
The Hill piano master, who grew up in Bayside, Queens, and then Great Neck, New York, graduated with the highest possible honors as an undergraduate at Brandeis University, while getting her master’s degree at Columbia University Teachers College and while earning her doctorate degree in education, also from Columbia, in 2003 with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
But despite her vast experience as a music educator and classical music performer, Golden these days enthusiastically offers to play for any audience that loves classical music without any compensation whatsoever. Why would any professional who has worked and studied so tirelessly for decades to perfect his/her skill level be willing to accept no compensation?
“It is because it is important for me at this point in my life to give back,” she explained last week. “People do volunteer work all kinds of places to give back to others and community. This is what I have to offer — music — so why not give that?”
For example, Golden so far has two performances scheduled with a flutist and possibly an opera singer on Feb. 3 at Atria, a senior living facility in center city, and Feb. 19 at Ronald McDonald House in University City. Most likely their first performance will include some Mozart, Bach, Boccherini, Debussy, Faure and Bolling. “We are also preparing to sing along with the audience, and we have prepared lots of Broadway show tunes, popular tunes and old jazz songs.”
The musicians whom Golden herself admired the most are “Arthur Rubinstein, who played the piano with such emotion and communication; Jacqueline DuPres, who played the cello speaking from her powerful heart; Leonard Bernstein, who embodied every note and nuance of music and understood it on a level that was other-worldly; and YoYo Ma, who tells a story with every note he plays.
“I enjoy playing so many composers, and every day there may be someone different whose music I want to play. It depends on what is touching my soul at that moment. At any time on my piano you would find books of the following composers:
“Bach; I need that every day to get my head and fingers focused. Brilliant music.
Beethoven; rich opportunity to be expressive and strong. Chopin; such emotion.
Schumann; melodies and expression. Debussy; breaking all the rules of music theory to get his story across; I’m living the story as I play his music. Gershwin; fun and a challenge. Liszt; rich and all over the place and very challenging, sometimes too much of a challenge. Scott Joplin; for fun just to play through some rags.”
You might say that musical talent and the love of performing are literally in Golden’s DNA. Her father is a cellist, and the relatives on his side of the family are/were all musicians. Her cousin is a violinist who is two years older than she is. “We studied together and started playing together when I was 5 and she was 7. She is still my favorite musician to accompany. We seem to have our own secret unspoken music language, and it is so much fun and so intimate to make music with someone who is in my head, as I am in hers.”
Since most students in public schools are not going to pursue music as a career, why spend so much time and effort teaching them music, as Golden has done for decades? “We want to help people appreciate and enjoy all kinds of music because it is so important for all of us,” she replied.
“When students in a junior high general music class would say that music wasn’t important to them, I would give them an assignment: Don’t listen to music at all this week. They came back and laughed and explained why they couldn’t do it and didn’t want to. And that was the door that opened the opportunity to educate them about music.
“I used this technique even with my college students, and it always had the same result. Humans have chosen music throughout history in every culture, in every part of the world. Music is powerful and touches us at the deepest level. It is a gift for me to have music as a central part of my life and be able to share that and help others enjoy the power of music.”
One of the most important people in Golden’s life was her grandmother, Yetta, who “brought music to my father and his sister, which was then passed along to my cousins and me. She was the one who sat quietly and knitted as I practiced the piano. Just listened and didn’t criticize or judge, just knitted. When I was done, she offered love and appreciation, and that was the best.”
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