According to Ciana Esplin, anyone who can make Primary songs sound amazing is incredibly talented. Esplin isn’t referring to herself, but to her family’s 90-year-old piano teacher, Gay Goaslind, whose mastery of Primary hymns is just one of countless accomplishments achieved throughout her 72-year — and counting — musical career.
Esplin first met Goaslind in her Linden, California, ward where Goaslind would come play musical numbers for her grandsons’ missionary farewells.
“(She always played with) no music. ... She would take three songs and put them together in a beautiful arrangement, and I was really impressed by her. … She doesn’t just play what’s written; she does her own thing,” Esplin said.
Goaslind officially moved into their Stockton, California, neighborhood about six years ago and has since accumulated 58 students, whom she teaches Monday through Friday at her Brookside ward building in the Stockton stake — all for free.
One of those 58 students is Ciana Esplin’s son, Jacob.
“She expects a lot,” 17-year-old Jacob Esplin told the Church News. “If you don’t practice enough, she’ll just look at you and shake her head.”
But it's no surprise that Goaslind expects a lot — she hasn't held a driver's licence for years and makes personal sacrifices to get to her lessons.
“I get up in the morning, walk a half a mile and take two buses to get (to the church) and walk another half mile (back) — as long as I can keep doing that, I’ll do it,” Goaslind said.
Despite this daily trek, Goaslind finds it completely worth it. “It’s such a pleasure, it’s such a privilege for me to be able to do that.”
Gay Goaslind’s musical career began at the age of 5 when she attended a conservatory of music throughout grade school in Bell, California. She played her first public concert when she was 14 and has continued to publicly perform for over 70 years. Throughout her career, she has taught at high schools and colleges in the Bay Area, including working as a choir accompanist and putting on musicals every semester.
But Goaslind’s musical expertise isn’t just limited to piano. She started playing the organ when she was 18 after being trained by a University of Utah music professor. She was also the temple organist in the Oakland temple for eight years.
In fact, Goaslind loves the organ so much, that within the last three years, she hasn’t just been requiring her students to learn the organ, but their parents too.
“She’s got almost all of her students' parents taking organ lessons, partly because you don’t really tell her no," Ciana Esplin joked. “She doesn’t limit herself. … (It makes me think), 'What am I going to be doing at 90-years-old that I’m so passionate about and love so much?' ”
Ciana Esplin explained that since she has taken organ lessons, she feels more confident in her ability to play, and if called to be the ward organist, she would feel comfortable growing into that role.
Christine Fleckenstein, Goaslind’s daughter, added that many people believe the organ is a dying art, but since her mother has started teaching organ lessons, several families in their ward have bought one for their homes.
“Mothers and fathers now play the piano and the organ. … That’s a huge impact, not just on the kids,” Fleckenstein said. “Our old bishop and his wife played for the (ward) choir … and his wife played the organ for sacrament meeting.” Fleckenstein added that now they both play organ and piano duets at Goaslind’s semiannual recitals.
Goaslind finds joy in teaching her young students to play an instrument that is usually thought to be played exclusively by elderly people. That is why she’s not afraid to push them out of their comfort zones and let them shine.
Jacob Esplin remembered one instance where he was playing organ prelude music at stake conference and, all of sudden, the stake president said they were going to start singing a prelude hymn.
“I looked over at Sister Goaslind and I said, ‘I think it’s your turn now’ and she said, ‘Oh no, you got this! ” he said. “It went all right. … I hit a few wrong notes, but it was terrifying.”
Fleckenstein said that this is nothing new; her mother has been encouraging young students to perform in Church meetings for years.
“(One time) I walked into sacrament meeting, I looked up and saw a (young man playing) the prelude. … You wouldn’t even know it was a 9-year-old playing,” Fleckenstein said.
For Goaslind, her purpose is all about maximizing her students' and their parents' ability to serve in any capacity.
“(I do this so) they can serve on their missions or so that they can serve in the Church,” Goaslind said.
But she doesn’t limit her teaching just to ward members. Sister Goaslind also accompanies a community choir, and has been playing at rest homes for as long as Fleckenstein can remember.
“Even though she worked an 8-hour day job and taught, she made time to play for assisted living homes,” Fleckenstein said. “It’s been a huge blessing (to our family).”
Goaslind's influence has clearly spread to her entire community, considering nearly 100 friends, family and Church members attended her 90th birthday party this past January.
“It was fantastic!” Goaslind said. “It was the party of all parties.”
Though Goaslind admits she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be able to teach and that her body is slowing down, she is just as passionate about music as she was the day she started.
“This is my mission. This is my payback time. ...(If I wasn’t teaching), I’d be sitting watching TV and drooling into my bed wondering why I was here," Goaslind joked.
“Music is keeping me alive.”