History and Evolution of The National Guild of Piano Teachers
(Teacher’s Division of the American College of Musicians)
There seems to be some hidden characteristic in Americans that causes us to develop pronounced interest in IQ tests, quiz programs and games, knowledge tests in the newspaper, and other similar methods of finding out where one “stands” in the mental field, the physical, the artistic, scientific, or some other field. When this short and direct piano-playing experience presented the opportunity of finding out “where they stand” ill the field of musical performance in 1929, the interest of both pupils and teachers was stimulated.
The affair was so well received that the following year it was repeated by request, when about 100 pupils presented programs for critiques. As inquiries began pouring in by mail, Dr. Irl Allison pounded out typewritten duos with his wife on postcard replies, and it soon became evident that the crowds would be too large by the following year to be taken care of in one locale. In 1934, Dr. Allison visited other cities for the purpose of explaining the audition plan, and he organized 29 centers, which were spread across the continent from Boston to Los Angeles.
Usually, movements that are expected to become large are organized in advance under present-day high pressure methods—a whirlwind stirred by campaign managers, suites of offices in tall buildings, stenographers, supplies, press representatives, publicity directors, contacts with chambers of commerce, gold-letter names on doors, etc. Was the National Guild of piano Teachers organized in this way? Definitely not.
It just happened one day that a quiet piano teacher in Hardin-Simmons University in Texas had an idea. As a novelty for his pupils, why not have some good teacher come from some place, hear the pupils play and tell them candidly what he thought of their performance. Yes. Why not? Try it out and see how it works. The class will not come to the master but the master will come to the class. That was in 1929, and the affair was called the “All Southwestern Piano Playing Tournament,” with a few pupils from other teachers having been invited to participate as well. The judge, or critic, was John Thompson, who had been invited to come down from Kansas City to hear the performers and give them the advantage of his unbiased criticism. The success of the venture was immediate.
The old proverb, “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” merely tells us in a more poetic way that great movements develop from inconspicuous beginnings. The National Guild of Piano Teachers, or named in its larger significance, the American College of Musicians, may be called a “great oak,” or a great movement that grew from a small beginning.
The Movement Spreads
The success of the movement is due to its being founded on a thoroughly good idea and fanned by the spontaneous enthusiasm of its participants, the pupils as well as the teachers. The piano teachers of America needed a stimulating organization of this kind; they needed it for themselves and for their pupils; even the parents of the pupils welcomed it. Better parent-teacher understanding and cooperation resulted. Naturally, the parents wanted Helen and Junior to do their best when being “judged” and they were glad to do their part in seeing that practice periods were regularly and properly spent. The Guild started from its beginning to bring good results.
Dr. Allison continued going about the country in what had once been a new car, visiting more cities and towns, interviewing more piano teachers and heads of music schools, telling how to organize their centers for next season’s auditions. Mrs. Allison remained at home, pounding out typewritten solos on postcards, replies to inquiries. Once, in Minnesota, a hurricane caught up with his car, rolling it over on the roadside without injuring the occupant. Being a sturdy car and seemingly aware it was working for the Guild, it was soon in condition to continue speeding Dr. Allison about the country. The Guild was by now spreading like a prairie fire.
Its succeeding history could be written in five words—”each year bigger and better.” Bigger because more and more teachers joined each year; more centers were established; more pupils entered the auditions. Better because the standards of teaching and the standard of playing were constantly improving. The teachers, taking advantage of the opportunity, usually apply for a criticism from the judge on the results of their teaching. The standard of repertoire has improved. Bach, often merely a name to a pupil, has become, through an entry requirement, a part of every student’s program, and not only a part of it but frequently the favorite number. Difficult sonatas, fugues, movements from concertos, formerly seldom attempted by pupils outside of music schools, are often played in auditions by pupils of no more than average ability, played in an artistic manner and without the slightest slip in the memory. Better because the system used in judging has been made more detailed and uniform.
A distinguished feature of the Guild—and a great advantage—is the Guild’s own system of grading of the pupils in the auditions. Judges are naturally of different types and temperaments, covering the entire gamut from very lenient to very strict; and this system has proved a successfully ingenious method of overcoming the inequalities usually encountered in grading, and it offers a satisfactory solution for both teachers and pupils to this formerly vexing problem.