The National Guild of Piano Teachers, founded by Irl Allison, Sr., to promote music appreciation through national piano-playing auditions, is the largest nonprofit organization of piano teachers in the United States. Allison, a pianist and music teacher, introduced an all-Southwest piano-playing contest in 1929 under the supervision of the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music. At the time, he was head of the music department at Hardin–Simmons University in Abilene.
The purpose of the tournament was to stimulate better teaching and to inspire pupils to self-development. Forty-six entrants, thirty-five of whom were Allison's own students, were rated on the basis of individual merit, not in competition with each other. In 1930 the tournament drew 100 contestants. By 1933 there were 400 contestants, and Abilene, Dallas, Tyler, Waco, Beaumont, San Antonio, Lubbock, El Paso, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, and Shreveport had auditions. A Texas oilman donated $4,000 to the project, enabling Allison to expand the organization beyond the state.
In 1933 he moved the guild to New York City to gain prestige. The next year the first guild-sponsored national piano-playing contest was held in Steinway Hall in connection with National Music Week; it was open to students of elementary, high school, and college age. For the next eight years Allison traveled the country trying to interest music teachers in holding local contests under guild auspices. His wife, Jessie, remained in New York as secretary. By 1937 there were 150 guild centers nationwide. Monetary problems forced the Allisons back to Texas in 1943, but their move did not diminish the guild's growing reputation. By 1949 NGPT membership had risen to 26,000 teachers and pupils, with practically every major American city holding annual contests. Membership exceeded 70,000 by 1962. In the 2010s the guild has grown to more than 118,000 participants who enroll annually in international auditions, which are held in more than 850 locations throughout the U.S. and abroad.
The basic aim of the guild is to establish attainable goals, honors, and cash awards for piano pupils of all grades and talent through noncompetitive evaluation in the Annual National Piano Playing Auditions. Pupils entering the auditions are heard and rated by qualified examiners who are members of the American College of Musicians, a guild-sponsored organization also founded by Allison. Student performance is graded on the order of conservatory tests, with emphasis on rhythm, tempo, tone, pedaling, interpretation, and technique. In addition to the auditions, the guild sponsors an annual composition contest and an international piano-recording competition, as well as giving awards to teachers for excellence. Allison also founded the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
The NGPT publicizes its members and events through Piano Guild Notes, published since 1951, and an annual yearbook. Membership includes the National Fraternity of Student Musicians, composed of the pupils of guild members who are enrolled in the auditions; active and associate teachers and retired teachers subscribing to the Guild Code of Ethics; and faculty, who usually hold degrees, serve as guild judges, and belong to the American College of Musicians. Allison's belief in the ennobling power of music contributed the guild motto: "May pleasure in piano playing be our goal, our guide the Golden Rule." The guild is headquartered in Austin.