Remembering Stanley Lock (1920-2000)

(Back in the spring of 2001 I was asked to speak at a celebration of my piano teacher Stanley Lock’s life. I hadn’t thought about this moving event in years, but just recently I stumbled upon my written remarks, and I’d like to share them with you. After all, many of us carry our mentors and teachers with us through lives; I know still do.)

Remembering Stanley Lock (1920-2000)

For many years Stanley Lock was a good friend as well as a teaching colleague at Sarah Lawrence College. But when I first met him in 1973, little did I know that just three years later he would be playing a decisive role in my musical life as the most important piano teacher I would ever have. I was 16 then, and had just applied for admission to Sarah Lawrence as an undergrauate. The woman who interviewed me recommended that I go to the music department, located in a mansion called Marshall Field. Maybe I’d be able to meet Professor Lock. I nervously knocked on his studio door. Within seconds after Stanley invited me in, Sarah Lawrence became my first choice school.
Stanley’s musical pedigree is rich. As an adolescent he made his orchestral debut with his hometown Detroit Symphony under its then music director Ossip Gabrilowitsch. At the Juilliard School Stanley studied with Olga Samaroff, who also taught Stanley’s friend, the legendary American pianist William Kapell. He worked with the redoubtable French pedagogue Marguerite Long during his Fulbright Scholarship year in Paris, and participated in Artur Schnabel’s master classes. For a brief time in the late 1940s Stanley actively championed numerous American contemporary composers on the scene. And, of course, from 1949 to 1991 Stanley graced the Sarah Lawrence College Music Faculty.
What was a piano lesson with Stanley like? First and foremost, he made you feel at ease. Once you sat down and played through the piece you had prepared, you weren’t a student anymore, but a fellow pianist, albeit one with less knowledge and experience than Stanley. He wouldn’t say “that’s too fast,” but perhaps “Boy, that’s almost breakneck speed, my friend” or “you really want to play it that fast?” Tone production was not a mystical, private enterprise, but something tangible that could be communicated. My dog-eared sheet music collection abounds with Stanley’s suggestions, many that he penciled in, be it an easier fingering for a tricky passage, or a mark that drew particular attention to dynamics or accents. It wasn’t about your doing Stanley’s bidding, but rather about discovering things for yourself. Sometimes the advice could be drastically pragmatic. Once I had to learn a difficult and rather mediocre student piece literally overnight, and, on top of that, it was poorly scored for the instrument and profoundly unidiomatic. Stanley’s advice, “Look, don’t worry, you’ll get it, just put the pedal down, or this fast section here, just dust the keys.” Not terribly professorial, but definitely a professional’s point of view. He could be easygoing on the surface, but believe me, nothing got past Stanley’s ears.
Nor was Stanley a waffler. He cut to the chase. We went together to hear Alfred Brendel at Carnegie Hall. There was some wonderful playing, but the Beethoven Diabelli Variations left a mixed impression. After the concert I hemmed and hawed. “Well, Stanley, certain variations were OK, but it didn’t quite project the feeling of…”
Without missing a beat, Stanley cut me off. “Jed, face facts. The man is dull.” (In fairness, the same recital also featured a hair-raising performance of Liszt’s Weinen, Klagen Variations where Brendel shed his Clark Kent suit and changed into Superman. When Brendel was on, his sound truly engulfed any given venue.)
One time Stanley and I sat through a student concert with a very talented classmate singing Poulenc songs. I enjoyed it, but Stanley expected more. He pulled me aside at intermission. “You know, you really can’t sing Poulenc until you’ve really gotten pissy-eyed drunk”

I haven’t yet spoken about what a wonderful pianist Stanley was. Or, more accurately, what a wonderful musician who happened to play the piano. The music ruled above anything else. Stanley’s rubatos and fluctuations of tempo were rooted in common sense, not in potential effect. His voicings and color shadings were clear, never quirky. Even in the softest passages, Stanley maintained a full, centered, and masculine tone. Private concert recordings, fortunately, back up my memories. Even plagued by arthritis during his “farewell” recital before he retired in 1991, he played beautiful things. I remember his Mozart D Minor Fantasia, with the poignant melodies not just singing but speaking. And breathing. Stanley used to tell me that Kapell was jealous of his Mozart. Then again, Stanley revered Kapell’s Rachmaninov Third, so it evened out!
Sometimes Stanley had students over for dinner, and we’d listen to recordings of his piano idols: Rachmaninoff, Josef Hofmann, Kapell, of course, the great Liszt pupil Moriz Rosenthal, Josef Lhevinne. My friend and fellow Stanley pupil Gordon Reynolds used to imitate his voice, which sounded like a suave version of Burgess Meredith. After plying us with more Scotch, we did our Stanley imitations for Stanley. Then Stanley imitated us back, and very accurately!
In 1996 I played a recital program on WNYC in New York. I hadn’t spoken to Stanley in a while. Later that day he called me at home. He had heard the broadcast, and said the nicest, most thoughtful things. I nearly cried. After we spoke, my mind flashed back to that first day in Marshall Field, the extra long lessons, Stanley accompanying Kitty Rowe and Paul Ukena in Stephen Sondheim songs with the composer present. Stanley knocking off Albeniz’s El Puerto with such insouciance (“boy, that’s one tough son of a bitch, no joke!”). These are good memories to have, and they fill me with joy.

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