My Opinion of Piano Teachers' Guild

Why I Don't Participate in PTG

National Guild of Piano Teachers — a Texas family dynasty run by the founder's son

NGPT has vestiges of organizational design from the 1930s which have little relevance to today's world of educational theory and practice. Membership in Richard Allison's club entitles one to the distinction of being enrolled in the "American College of Musicians," replete with certificate. The Guild is mired in antiquity, bureaucracy and over-structured formality. Though their tenets disclaim any such thing, in reality the basis of their so-called "auditions" is competition, the goal being awards, and the motivation--from what I've observed in Nashville--is self-promotion of the teacher's studio for prestige in the community. Judging is inconsistent and hastily administered, often by persons well beyond retirement age or of questionable credentials.

Anecdotally, I recently witnessed well-known Nashville piano teacher Enid Katahn (of the Blair School of Music) judging a guild audition. Before each group played, she prefaced the session by warning the children that the piano was "hard to play," referring to the action of the Baldwin grand. What a ridiculous thing to say to kids--as if they weren't nervous enough!

I do not wish to have one more parent complain to me that their child wasn't properly recognized when so-and-so got a superior mark, nor do I want one more student to gripe that they didn't get a prize. The point of learning piano is to learn piano...for fun, for entertainment of self and others, for the beauty of music, for discipline, and yes, for competition if that's the route one's training takes later in life.

For these same reasons, I dropped my membership in the TSMTA (Tennessee State Music Teachers Association), which was more aptly renamed TN State Music Teachers Competition in 2004. Their annual "festival," which began as a venue for constructive evaluation by a professional outside one's studio setting, quickly turned into a contest like the Guild auditions.*

*An interesting footnote...about two years after I wrote this, an email was issued from the Belmont Academy office congratulating one of the teachers for having several students compete in a local event where they (and I quote) "...played against each other." I kid you not. Pianos are now classified as weapons!
In the same vein, I do not participate in the National Federation of Music Clubs, or the so-called "Federation Festivals."

Since writing this little article in 2003, it has been copied and posted on various websites across the internet. I recently (1/08) received this interesting email from a reader:

I enjoyed what you said about The National Guild of Piano Teachers on the Internet. I had not thought of them in a very long time. When I was quite young, I taught piano in Decatur, Georgia, and was also organist for an old Episcopal church in Atlanta. A friend of mine was a member of the NGP, and so I became a member, too. Indeed, I quickly became a fellow of the ACM. All went quite well until the local NGP Chair (her name was Blitch!) let me know in no uncertain terms how very much she disliked me and my students. This was about an hour before my students--about 20, I think--were to be tested. I could not imagine anything that I had done or said to make this woman hate me so. Indeed, I had done nothing. At that moment, I used all my charms, whatever they may have been, not to make matters worse. I certainly did not wish to do or say anything to upset my students. All went well, and all my students received their National Certificates--I think that is what they were called. However, after the judge had finished with my last student and she had left the building, I went to the NGP judge and had her to call Mrs. Blitch into the room. I then told the judge what Mrs. Blitch had said to me, and Mrs. Blitch said that she did no such thing. That did it! I there and then told Mrs. Blitch just what I thought of her--and much more, too. I rather enjoyed doing so. Further, I sent a letter to the NGP and told them what Mrs. Blitch had done. They did not appear to be interested; hence, I never paid them another cent in dues.

It's sad how personalities and politics have invaded what should be a healthy, friendly and creative field. I helped this father find a teacher for his daughter closer to home:

"Throughout this long process of searching for a teacher, we have learned a lot about the music community in this area -- and believe me when I say that much of it is not flattering. It was refreshing to talk with you, who has this "unique" view that the love of music, and the individuality of the student should play a role in how the teacher should approach his/her job. It seems that many teachers view the student as a vehicle to enhance their own agenda, and it is very difficult to reveal whether any specific teacher is a good match for our child. Thanks again." - Greg H., Dept. of Economics, Vanderbilt University

And since I've mentioned Vanderbilt, what's up with Blair these days? Just this fall (2011), I have had two transfer students--independent of each other--come to me from Blair (where it costs $81 for a 45 minute lesson!). They both had been pushed to perform music way over their heads without having advanced upward through the levels of any method. The Blair approach seems to be to "challenge" the student to study pieces of great difficulty, learning by rote imitation over several months, with the apparent goal of performing or competing in order to make the teacher (and Vandy) look good. Neither one of these kids can read music to save themselves, and their knowledge of music theory is abysmal. I've moved both of them back into the Faber series, which they can just barely play and comprehend. It's so sad. The mom of one of these kids asked how this could have happened. I said what Blair did is comparable to putting an untrained athlete on steroids in order to win a race, bypassing regular workouts and the development that would normally result from proper long-term training. It's the same work-avoidance philosophy behind methods like Simply Music. Do I have an opinion on that? You bet I do!

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