Music Research Institute

horizontal rule

horizontal rule

Rachel Eubanks, 83; Music Teacher Set High Standards for Her Students for 50-Plus Years

Los Angeles Times
By Jocelyn Y. Stewart
May 13, 2006

“She brought awareness of classical music way back then”

Among the first students to study piano under Rachel Eubanks were her two younger brothers, who learned in the living room of the family home during the Great Depression.

The boys soon discovered that their teacher was aiming high. She expected her students to focus, use proper hand position, appreciate the work of the masters - never mind that they were only 6 and 9 or that she was just 12.

'She wanted to direct us to a high standard,' recalled Jonathan Eubanks, who was 6 when he began studying with his sister. 'She was a disciplinarian. In other words, don't waste her time. We couldn't sit there and decide to play boogie-woogie if she was teaching us Beethoven.'

For more than 50 years, Eubanks taught music in Los Angeles in much the same manner. Many of those years were spent on Crenshaw Boulevard near 48th Street, where two converted houses served as the campus for the Eubanks Conservatory of Music and Arts.

At its height, the nonprofit institution was accredited by the state and each year offered hundreds of students classical training, pushing generation after generation to strive for musical greatness.

'It was like a community school,' said Sophia Katsnelson, a Eubanks teacher. 'I met a lot of people who say 'about 20 years ago I started at this place, and now I'm bringing my kids' or even the grandkids.'

Eubanks, a composer, ethnomusicologist and instructor, died at her home in Los Angeles on April 8. She was 83. The cause of death was colon cancer, family members said.

The school that Eubanks built was the byproduct of a passion for music and teaching that began in her youth, said her brother Jonathan Eubanks of Oakland.

Rachel Amelia Eubanks was born Sept. 12, 1922, in San Jose to Joseph Sylvester and Elizabeth Amelia Eubanks.

Though the Depression made life hard, the couple managed to expose their children to the arts: There were trips to the museum; concerts by Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson; and visits with family friends of varied cultural backgrounds.

At an elementary school in Oakland, where the family settled, Eubanks played the alto horn and clarinet. When she expressed an interest in piano, her father found a way to buy one.

Jonathan Eubanks said his brother 'Joseph and I would be outside on Saturday morning with our roller skates, going up and down the hill. And when we turned the corner, we heard Rachel practicing the piano.'

'She was into serious music and listening to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday morning while she helped Mother with housework,' he said.

To help pay for her own lessons, Eubanks taught piano and on Sundays played piano at a Baptist church in Oakland and a Pentecostal church in San Francisco.

She earned a bachelor's degree in music from UC Berkeley, a master's from Columbia University and a doctorate from Pacific Western University, which was based in Los Angeles and is now in San Diego.

She headed the music departments at what was then known as Albany State College in Georgia and at Wilberforce University in Ohio before settling in Los Angeles.

She began offering piano lessons from her apartment. In 1951 she opened a school at 47th and Figueroa streets, then moved to the Crenshaw location in 1963.

In the 1970s and '80s, at the height of its prominence, the school offered associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in instruments, voice performance, theory, composition and music history.

Margie Evans, founder of Los Angeles Music Week, called Eubanks an unsung pioneer whose work benefited students who otherwise might not have had exposure to the kind of training for which her school was known.

'She brought awareness of classical music way back then,' said Evans, whose nonprofit organization honors the contributions of local artists and seeks to provide equitable access to music education for children.

'Dr. Eubanks was very involved in helping children and even adults understand the arts and the diversity of this city musically.'

Over the years, Eubanks was often a student. She studied at various institutions, including the American Conservatory in France, where she spent a summer under the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger.

Eubanks wrote for orchestra, smaller instrumental groups and vocal ensembles, and her compositions included pieces that reflected her interest in the music of various cultures.

Her many works, secular and sacred, won her recognition in the International Dictionary of Black Composers and the National Assn. of Negro Musicians.

In 1993, thieves broke into the conservatory and stole several rare instruments that Eubanks had collected over 30 years of travel. It was a blow to the school's ethnomusicology department and to Eubanks, who was devastated.

'I was sick at heart for a long time,' she told a Los Angeles Times reporter that year. 'Now, I have hope that someone might come forward.' Jonathan Eubanks said the instruments were never recovered.

The conservatory, which was already facing tough times, never returned to its glory days.

Eventually Eubanks sold the Crenshaw property and moved the school first to Wilshire Boulevard and then to a church near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Western Avenue. Enrollment has dwindled and there is now no central location for the school.

Just before her death, Eubanks was running the school and teaching piano students from her home, but her standards for herself and her students remained the same.

'She was suffering from arthritis, but when she was sitting at the piano, she played absolutely perfect,' Katsnelson said.

In addition to her brothers, Jonathan of Oakland, and Joseph of Baltimore, she is survived by several nieces, nephews and grandnephews.


horizontal rule

[Home] [About Us]  [Intercultural Music]   [MRI Press]   [Publications]  [Purchasing Options]   [Distributor]   [Events]   [Memoriam]   [Contact]

horizontal rule