Profile of Harold “Rusty” Goddard, former violinist with the Argenta Trio

Conducted by Forrest Hartman

Name: Harold “Rusty” Goddard

City of Residence: Reno, NV

Years with Argenta: 1961 - 1984

It happened in the fall of 1945, but Virginia Goddard will never forget the day a handsome, young Naval officer walked into orchestra rehearsal at the University of Colorado.

“The conductor put his baton down, and greeted him with open arms,” Virginia said. “I thought, ‘Who is that?’ not having any idea that he was going to become my husband.”

That Naval officer was Harold “Rusty” Goddard, freshly returned from a stint in the U.S. Navy where he spent two years training to become a dive-bomber pilot. World War II ended before Rusty flew a combat mission, but that didn’t stop him from leaving an indelible mark on the world. He not only went on to marry Virginia and have two children with her, he graduated from the University of Colorado with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and gave generations of string players the skill and confidence to succeed. He also became one of the founding members of the Argenta Trio.

Long-time Argenta pianist Ron Williams came to the University of Nevada, Reno the same year as Rusty, and he remembers the genesis of the group. At that time, in 1959, the university only had five faculty members in the music department, and none of them played cello. So, he and Rusty started playing sonatas and other small-group pieces that didn’t require the typical piano trio instrumentation. Then, Rusty learned that the founding director of the Desert Research Institute, Wendell Mordy, was a trained cellist. Not long after, the trio was born, but it would be years before it took the name Argenta.

“It began as a social thing, and then we began performing for various groups in town,” Williams said. “It was really a very, very pleasant arrangement.”

In the 1950s and ’60s, UNR music professors didn’t have outside performance time built into their contracts, but Rusty and Williams played because they loved it. Rusty died in 2006 at age 82, and Virginia says she still cherishes the memories of their adventures together… even those that took place decades ago.

“In my garage are boxes full of recital programs,” she said. “He enjoyed the trio work, and the sonata recitals that Ron and he used to do.”

Former Argenta cellist Louie Richmond played with Rusty for two years, and he said he always enjoyed working with the violinist.

“What I remember was… he had a very sweet – and I don’t use this word a lot – sweet sound, very refined,” Richmond said. “It wasn’t forced or rough or anything like that. It was just sweet and lovely. That was nice. I think it had to do with his personality.”

Williams worked with Rusty during his entire tenure at the university, and he said it was hard to watch the violinist leave when he retired in 1984.

“He was just really a great guy,” Williams said. “He was all around happy and genial. He never seemed to be under pressure, but he was always busy. He’s probably one of the most pleasant collaborators I ever had.”

Although Rusty was one of the longest-tenured players in Argenta, many remember him more as an educator than soloist. When he and Virginia moved to Reno in 1959, he was already a seasoned academic, having spent nine years at Texas Western College (today known as the University of Texas at El Paso). Virginia said she and Rusty didn’t like the flat desert in El Paso and were looking to live in a more mountainous region. So, when a job opened at UNR, he applied. Needless to say, he was the winning candidate and he wound up staying 25 years. During his lengthy UNR tenure, Rusty taught countless students, including many who weren’t old enough to attend college. One of his first accomplishments, in fact, was starting a program designed to teach elementary school children to play.

“Parents with young children who thought it would be nice for them to learn to play a stringed instrument would come to the university after school hours and after my husband’s classes,” Virginia said. “He gave free instruction in group form through this project… In fact, he held a night class for parents to come and learn about the stringed instruments and what their children were going to be doing.”

Williams said Rusty’s program was instrumental in giving string education a foothold in Reno’s public schools.

“It would be fair to say that Rusty was primarily interested in teaching, and that the playing that he did was involved with the teaching,” Williams said. “He was a lovely soloist, but he never pushed himself forward as a soloist. And his solo opportunities such as playing with an orchestra would be rare since he was the (university’s) orchestra conductor.”

Although his work in education may have limited his performance opportunities, Virginia says her husband loved his work. He was also constantly on the lookout for talented youth that he could plug into the university orchestra. Longtime Reno musician and former Argenta cellist John Lenz was one of those child standouts, and Lenz credits Rusty with changing his life. Not only did Rusty give Lenz his first orchestral experience, he invited him to take part in the Lake Tahoe Music Camp where students played chamber music.

“That was quite an experience for me,” Lenz said. “After a year or so, he would let me play in quartets with him and his wife and others. So, I got to play a lot of Mozart quartets and Haydn quartets and so on when I was just 11, 12, 13 years old.”

Lenz calls Rusty the most significant figure in his musical upbringing. He even believes the man’s influence is the main reason he landed a job at UNR in 1972. At the time, Lenz had just completed his master’s degree, but Rusty was convinced he was the right cello teacher for the university.

“He sort of helped form my whole life,” Lenz said. “I think he, in a way, almost helped put together my marriage… My wife was a student of his from the time she was a teenager, and he was a strong influence in getting her to the university.”

When Lenz became a full-time professor, he found himself in the interesting position of having transitioned from one of Rusty’s students to one of his colleagues. Virginia laughs when she remembers this because she said Lenz struggled to call her husband anything other than “Mr. Goddard.”

“He was so respectful of the professor,” Virginia said. “It was very hard for him to refer to him by his first name or his nickname.”

Lenz laughs about that as well.

“I was always taught to be respectful as a kid by my parents, and he was always Mr. Goddard to me,” Lenz said. “It took me awhile to get over calling him that.”

Lenz said he also remembers a lot of the analogies Rusty would use when talking about music or life in general.

“He always told me that being a pilot was easy for him because when you’re trained as a musician, you know how to practice things and practicing to be a pilot is a lot easier than practicing to become a violinist,” Lenz said. “You don’t have as many things to learn, and it’s much less complicated.”

After Rusty retired from UNR in 1984, he and Virginia spent two years travelling in an RV. Then, they moved to Washington because he always wanted to live by the ocean. Virginia said they spent a lot of happy years in retirement before Rusty succumbed to emphysema, likely caused by the smoking habit he picked up during his time in the Navy.

“We were married for 59 years,” she said, “and believe me, I still miss him.”