Jane Allen 1928-1998

The following memorial by Jeffrey Chappell appeared in Piano & Keyboard Magazine, November/December 1998 issue.

Jane Allen once told me that she woke up each morning thinking about what she would work on with her students that day. Her true focus in life was on teaching, although her performing career included concerto appearances with major orchestras and international tours with her husband, violinist Melvin Ritter. At the end of her life, she was teaching seventy students a week.

When she accepted me as a student in 1966, she was already overbooked. Because of that, she set a condition: “You’ll have to work.” Pretty soon, I was working. She would assign seven pieces at once in addition to scales, arpeggios, and exercises, and the lessons were lasting two hours. Her predilection was for virtuoso repertoire — Chopin and Liszt etudes, MacDowell and Prokofieff concertos, Schumann and Ravel toccatas, and the Barber Sonata. By the time I entered the Curtis Institute four years later, I could play anything, and my own performing career has lived off the interest of our work ever since.

But she taught more than music. She was a living example in her actions and attitudes. She expected students to match the standards of dedication and industriousness that she demanded of herself. She was also very level-headed and practical. About competitions she said, “The students work hard because they have a goal. The winning or losing is incidental.” And she could differentiate the pretentious from the genuine. She would talk about behind-the-scenes “intrigue” and “politics” that she observed in the music profession; from her viewpoint, it was an unfortunate hindrance.

And she was magnanimous. When I was 15 years old, my family moved from Missouri. She invited me to stay behind, living and working with her while finishing two years of high school. During that period, she gave me countless hours of instruction. She made arrangements with officials at my school to maximize my practice time. She traveled with me to Buffalo and to Miami for competitions. And she cooked great meals.

Now, every time I give some extra time to a student, that student is the inheritor of the generosity of Jane Allen.

Listen to Jeffrey Chappell being interviewed about a life in music and his studies with Jane Allen in this half-hour “Muse Mentors” podcast from October 2020.