Piano Teacher's Professional Handbook, by Gordon Terwilliger

October 1, 1967

Piano Teacher's Professional Handbook, by Gordon Terwilliger. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965. 254 pp. [$6.95]

Among new books how rare it is to find a new kind of book. Gordon B. Terwilliger's Piano Teacher's Professional Handbook is an authentic example of this rare species.

Just what its title indicates, so far as I know this is the first comprehensive guide for the piano teacher. Part by part, the contents relate to numbers of books in various fields, but taken together they form a unique whole. There are chapters on the college pianist, the college piano department, the private teacher, piano teacher's organizations, as well as piano maintenance and teacher certification. Tables and other compilations of facts are interspersed with brief essays on certain aspects of piano teaching which are intended to serve as introductions to more thorough treatments of their subject elsewhere. The range of topics is incredibly wide. Parent-teacher relations, professional ethics, even prices for lessons are given attention together with ideas on the pedagogical value of class teaching of piano. And yet, opinion is at a minimum. For the most part, Mr. Terwilliger remains with verifiable facts.

The book is intended for individuals who "are or expect to become piano teachers," a wide group including private teachers, college teachers, and students aspiring to be one or the other. For the initiated, much of the material may seem obvious. For the student or the inexperienced teacher there is a surprising fund of information. After more then twenty-five years of college teaching I find myself wondering how any instructor could be unfamiliar with most of the material discussed in the collegiate section. Then I recall my first position, and realize how much enlightened advice a book of this sort could have offered. Undoubtedly the experienced private teacher will have a similar reaction. But since the field of private teaching is even more anarchic than collegiate instruction, there is probably more to be gained by more individuals in this section than in any other.

For me the most interesting section concerned the college music department in its relations with a college administration. All the problems of degrees, grading, and academic diplomacy that harass the college musician and are probably inescapable in this confrontation of the artistic with the academic are dealt with in understanding fashion. Mr. Terwilliger writes as though he has had his share of troubles.

The private teacher might find especially useful the listings of ensemble music, concertos, or contest pieces. Here Mr. Terwilliger has performed an important service in recommending appropriate music of high quality which should displace the showy fluff so often heard in these competitive displays.

The piano student can learn from almost any page. The nature of the profession has for too long been clouded by parents and well-meaning teachers. The myth of the "concert career" still competes with reality through the early years of many talented young pianists. Mr. Terwilliger's discussion should be of service in dispelling such myths by presenting clearly the basic truths about an honorable calling, diverse as its practitioners may be.

It is no doubt unfortunate that parts of the book needed to be written at all. A group of distinct individualists, piano teachers are often reluctant to learn from each other. And we are usually remiss in reading the pertinent literature. Consequently, we incline to professional illiteracy and one of the more important services that the author has performed is in calling attention to a few of the more important books in the field. It is regrettable, however, that in place of such trivial volumes as Josef Hofmann's Piano Playing with Questions Answered, he failed to mention such really important contributions as Ortmann's The Physical Basis for Piano Touch and Tone. The latter work should have, but hasn't so far, cleared up much of the nonsense still taught concerning piano tone and its control. In similar fashion another volume by the same author, The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique, long ago should have helped to convert the few remaining disciples of the high-finger technique of the 1870's.

I have known few piano teachers who wished they were doing something else, but would it not be more sensible to learn at least a few of the facts of our professional life in some manner less painful than experience? Mr. Terwilliger's book offers this opportunity.

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