For John Goldsmith

I was a member of the Heinz Chapel Choir from 1988 to 1992, which is to say that I was a member of John Goldsmith’s first choir at Pitt. In the year before he arrived, we had done little as a group to deserve a man of his caliber. We had fun, to be sure, and we loved singing together, but we were not always the most serious about our music.

That changed suddenly, although probably not as quickly as Mr. Goldsmith would have liked. He indulged us our fun, but he also made it clear that we were in the process of getting clearer and better at every rehearsal. He had an optimism that, on the available evidence, might have been, well, optimistic. As a musician his gifts were easy to spot. As a teacher he was approachable and generous.

And he laughed with us, even when he didn’t have to. I remember one rehearsal we were working on Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo” and it was pretty clear we didn’t have the emotional aspect right. He stopped us, and asked us to picture an older Russian woman, ravaged by war and an oppressive government, voicing this tribute to the Virgin Mary. At one point, with the choir quietly absorbing his words, he asked us to imagine her “crying out,” and it was precisely at this point that I chose to blurt out “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!

Mr. Goldsmith collapsed in a fit of laughter, the gravity of his lesson dissolved. I loved him for that.

The obituary for John Goldsmith says that among his survivors are no children. We know that’s not true.

If you sang in the Heinz Chapel Choir for him, you are a child of John and Elaine Goldsmith. If you left the choir – whether by graduating, a problematic academic schedule or some bout of temporary insanity – when you returned, you were welcomed back as a son or daughter. And if you sing with your children, or bring them to the Heinz Memorial Chapel – our home – then in a very real sense they too are Goldsmith kids.

To Elaine and to the Goldsmith family: thank you for sharing this wonderful man with us. We did nothing to deserve the great gifts of love and music that he gave us, and all we can do to repay them is to sing on.