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History and Evolution of the National Guild of Piano Teachers

(Teachers 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`` in the field of musical performance in 1929, the interest of both pupils and teachers was stimulated.


   The affair was so well received 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 local.  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 name on doors, etc.  Was the National Guild of Piano Teachers organized in the way?  Definitely not.


   It just happened one day that 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 performances and give them the advantage of his unbiased criticism.  The success of the venture was immediate.


   The old proverb, ``Great oaks from little acorns grown,`` merely tells us in a more poetic way that 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 throughly good idea and fanned by the spontaneous enthusiasm of its participants, the pupils as well as the teachers.  The piano teachers of American 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 ``judge`` 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 audition.  Mrs. Allison remained at home, pouring 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.


   It 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 standards 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 manned 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 adventure - 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.

Some Unique Features of the Guild

   There are several points that give the Guild its unique strength.


   (a) No competition.  Each pupil plays against par for his age and length of time studied, but never competes against another pupil.  There are no elimination rounds.  The average (and below) student has an qual chance with the talented to do well, the judge being cognizant of the pupil`s ability.


   (b) There is no require program for any age (except for Diplomas and Special Medal programs).


   (c) There is no age limit; three and found-year olds may enter, as well as adults of all ages.


   (d) No publishing house is favored (all editions of all publishers are equally acceptable)


   (e) Any style of technique is permissible.


   This feature of teacher-members who are sufficiently outstanding to be selected to go about the country as judges, and yet willing to put their pupils in the auditions to be evaluated by other judges, shows the fine sportsmanship and esprit de corps that knits to Guild so closely together and makes it what it is.


   Also, in many centers there is a further opportunity for the judges to meet the teachers whose pupils they adjudicate.  Such an occasion presents itself when the local chairs arrange dinners or other forms of ``get-togethers`` which the judge attends, not as an outsider, but with the feeling akin to an alumnus at a college affair, a fraternal feeling.  This is a strong point in the make-up of the Guild.

The Large Enrollements

   In 2001, over 112,000 students and teacher entered Guild programs in 846 audition centers across the United States and worldwide.  At least 18 million programs have been prepared, heard and adjudicated since the beginning of the Guild movement in 1929.  To hear these pupils, the services of about 900 judges traveling tens of thousands of miles are required each year.


   Houston, TX, was in first place in the 2001 Piano-Playing Auditions with the largest enrollment of 1,776.  San Jose, CA, was in second place with 1,409, while Miami, FL, moved the third place with 1,288 students.  Columbus, OH, moved to fourth with 1,206 enrollments.  Honolulu, HI was in fifth place with 996 entrants, followed by Rockville, MD, with 826 and San Antonio, TX with 782.

Classification of Programs and Awards

   Certificates are awarded for audition programs ranging from the earliest grades through the Young Artist programs.  Teachers are also encouraged to participate in auditions and thus take advantage of valuable opportunities to improve their own skills.  Students may be enrolled in the following classifications: Elementary A through F; Intermediate A through F; `Preparatory A through D; Collegiate A through D; and Young Artist.  There are also ``special`` categories for the exceptionally talented students.  There are also Social Music classifications with certificate and awards for those whose abilities, time or desires preclude the more extensive programs.  The Jazz Classification was established in 1990 to encourage the programming of contemporary and American music.  Jazz categories are also available for all ages and levels of musical development.  The Duet/Trio/Quartet & Ensemble classifications offer students greater experience in ensemble work.


   The Hobbyist program was established in 1964 (and expanded in 1990) to encourage students who experience difficulty in memorizing.  There are five categories:  Hobbyist Pledge I through IV (1 through 4 unmemorized pieces), and Hobbyist (5-8  unmemorized pieces plus one Musicianship Phase).  Hobbyist classifications are also available for the Jazz categories.


   Guild Diplomas are the highest achievements awarded Guild students: the High School Diploma (Senior only), High School Diploma in Social Music (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior & Senior), Collegiate Diplomas (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior & Senior), and the Young Artist Diploma.  Teachers may take advantage of the opportunity to perform a program in any one of these categories.


   Students are afforded the opportunity to diligently work toward receiving to special goal medals.  The Paderewski Memorial Medal is presented to those who have presented a National or International Guild program, for 10 years.  The Irl Allison Gold Medal is awarded all pupils who have presented a National or International program for 15 years.


   The Bach (Early and Advanced), Sonata, and Sonatina Medals provide students an opportunity to perform an All-Bach, All Sonata, or All-Sonatina program.  The major portion of repertoire accepted for these programs appears in the Irl Allison Library.  The Guild Founder`s Plaque is awarded students whose audition program consists primarily of repertoire (and Musicianship Phases) listed in the Irl Allison Library.


   The National Fraternity of Student Musicians is the name given to the body of pupils who have merited a satisfactory rating in auditions.  They are presented a fraternity pin and Certificate / Report Card on the ledge, Local District, State, National, International, Duet, Ensemble, or Hobbyist Honor Roll, depending upon how many pieces are presented in auditions.  Scholarships can be awarded to seniors who have earned the Paderewski Medal (National or International Winners for a minimum of 10 years with grades of at least 140 more C`s than Asahi), and have received the Regular High School Diploma.  These opportunities and awards maintain a continuous succession of goals for the piano student.  Both interest and enthusiasm from as a student progresses from Elementary A to Young Artist Diplomas.  Scholarship for advanced study in college provide further musical objectives.  These goals and awards were established over a period of many years and new features and programs are continually being added.

Additional Features of the Guild

   Two publications are sent to Guild teachers. An updated Guild Syllabus is mailed annually and Piano Guild Notes is sent to all members four times a year.  This magazine is devoted to Guild teachers and students, and contains announcements and photos about individual achievements, special events, as well as new publications / reviews.  Also included are articles by well-known musicians on topics of musical interest.  PGN provides a means by which to unite Guild teachers internationally.


   Guild teachers are also entitled to a variety of awards and honors: 1) The Hall of Fame is awarded to teachers in recognition of achievements in various Guild projects; 2)The National Honor Roll honors teachers adopting Guild goals for a majority of their class and encouraging the slow as well as the gifted student; 3) ACM Certification is the highest honor any Guild teacher can attain.  Certification is achieved through the performances of Guild students (see Syllabus for more information on these awards).  Other projects fostered by the Guild and Dr.Irl Allison include the Guild`s International Piano Composition Contest.

Tremendous Task

   No one could have foreseen the giant oak that was to grow from the little 1929 acorn, now spreading its branches into nearly every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as internationally, including Canada and Taiwan.  Nor could anyone have foreseen the consistently higher levels of excellence in both teaching a performing that have resulted from meeting the challenge of the Guild`s standards of perfection.  That it continues to grow and serve the cause of music through its piano teachers is the ardent wish of its members.

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