March 4, 1929 – March 27, 2021
Wilma Doris Simon Machover, a beloved music teacher, pianist, and author, died on March 27, 2021, in White Plains, New York. She had just celebrated her 92nd birthday a few weeks earlier. Her life revolved around her deep love of music and of her family – her husband, three children, and seven grandchildren, all of whom she infused with her warmth, creative spirit, and sense of adventure.
Machover was born in Troy, New York, the daughter of prominent attorney Morris Simon and Estelle Simon, who was a schoolteacher and choir member of Temple Beth-El that the two of them co-founded and helped to build. She started piano studies at an early age, commuting while in high school to Albany for lessons with legendary piano teacher Stanley Hummel. She attended The Juilliard School from 1947-1951 where she studied with Eduard Steuermann and Joseph Raif, earning a Bachelor of Music degree. Before graduating, she married Carl Machover, then still an undergraduate at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and eventually a well-known engineer and computer graphics “pioneer.” They were to remain happily married for 61 years in what their friend Andries van Dam, Professor of Computer Science at Brown University, fondly recalled as a “role model of utter devotion and abiding love.” Carl Machover passed away in 2012.
After Juilliard, Wilma Machover established herself as a private piano teacher in Westchester County, New York, adding comprehensive music theory training and creative compositional activities to her practice. She taught generations of young musicians, including Wayne and David Lewis (of the R&B band Atlantic Starr), Lee Dionne (of the Merz Trio), Jonathan Larson (creator of Rent), and composers Timothy Peterson and Emily Rissoff. Among her first students was her son, Tod Machover, who recalls his mother sending neighborhood children hunting around in the house for sound-making objects, coaching them to assemble the sounds into “stories,” and then asking them to make pictures of their stories so they could be recalled and replayed the following week, thereby turning them all into budding composers. Tod, a composer, inventor, and founder of the Opera of the Future group at the MIT Media Lab, says, “My mom showed us what true creativity is, in music and through everything she did.” Lee Dionne, who went on to earn four degrees - including a D.M.A. - from Yale University after studies with Machover, wrote: “With Wilma, music was so many things. It was reading the lives of the composers at her coffee table, it was sitting on the floor together and color coding a score to understand how composers thought, it was taking the time to listen together to a favorite recording of a new piece I was learning, and it was countless hours spent at the keyboard together, really listening, really hearing, patience and love. Growing up in an age of standardized testing and constant pressure on academic performance, Wilma always made music about the music, never the results. That fundamental approach absolutely shaped me as a pianist and makes me a better musician to this day.”
Besides teaching the classic repertoire, Machover was particularly interested in contemporary music - electronic and acoustic, composed and improvised, tonal to well beyond - and built a vast collection of new works of different levels of difficulty that she made a central focus of her pedagogy. Machover founded Celebration: The Music of Our Time in 1989; it is now an annual event of the Festivals in Styles at the Hoff-Barthelson Music School in Scarsdale. Her abiding interest in contemporary music and its role in a comprehensive music education led to an artistic collaboration between Aaron Copland House and Hoff-Barthelson’s composition department, which resulted in the annual HB Compose Youself! Project, which encourages students to create original works worthy of performance in the Music of Our Time Festival.
As Director of Artistic Programs at Hoff-Barthelson from 1985 to 2014, Machover created many educational programs designed to enhance the teaching skills and methodology of music professionals throughout Westchester County. These programs included Lessons in Progress, Focus on Pedagogy, Music at Midday, Seminars in Style, and the New Music Review. Perhaps her greatest contribution to the music school, in addition to the enduring legacy of Celebration, is the Hoff-Barthelson Teacher Resource Center, which opened in 1995 and is a preeminent music reference library for books, CDs, DVDs, audiotapes, and music materials covering all periods of Western music for instruments and voice, and for all levels of expertise and technique. Under her leadership, the resource center has grown to include sections devoted to chamber music, ensembles, musicianship, theory and composition, classical, jazz, folk music and experimental materials, as well as summer camp and college reference volumes.
Machover is the co-author of Sound Choices: Guiding Your Child’s Musical Experiences (Oxford University Press), which is considered a definitive text in the music education field. “I have found Sound Choices to be a wonderful and invaluable book,” wrote multi-Grammy winner Tom Chapin in the foreword to the book. “The authors are educators who believe that playing music is not only fun, but also a means of self-expression and self-development...Best of all, the authors outline the joyful ways in which we as parents can join our children in making that magic we call music.”
In addition to her work at Hoff-Barthelson, Machover taught on the faculty of the Westchester Conservatory of Music from 1960 to 1985, served as president of the New York State Music Teachers Association, and was active in the National Music Teachers Association as well. She was also a frequent contributor to Piano & Keyboard and American Music Teacher magazines. Describing Machover’s talents as pianist and pedagogue, Marienne Uszler - longtime professor of piano pedagogy at USC - wrote: “Wilma Machover was a remarkable pianist. She played, beautifully, with great respect for what she felt the composer intended. Yet she was also an intrepid improviser, eager to explore and stretch. Wilma was the consummate teacher—perceptive, inspiring, encouraging, and amazingly creative—ever ready to challenge her students and her colleagues with a coaxing what if, why not, or suppose. Her eclectic approach to learning—all learning—was the gold standard of what it means to be an artist and a human being.”
Wilma Machover is survived by her sister Alberta Simon Hauser (married to Jacques Hauser), brother-in-law Lewis Goldfarb (married to her late sister Ruth Simon Goldfarb), her son Tod (married to June Kinoshita), daughters Julie Anderson and Linda Samuels (married to Steve Samuels), and seven grandchildren: Allison Samuels, Cassie Samuels (married to Matthew Dezii), Ryan Anderson, Allegra Anderson, Halle Anderson, Hana Machover, and Noa Machover. The funeral will be private and held on Tuesday, March 30. There will be an online shiva gathering on Wednesday, March 31, at 7:00 p.m.
Tuesday, March 30, 2021