Piano Division Is "Key" Component of WVMEA

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

September 2001

Teachers in West Virginia have long known the value of playing solos or performing in an ensemble. The Bandmasters Association held region solo and ensemble festivals during the 1950s and early 1960s. While the festivals were mainly for wind and percussion students, a few regions also invited piano students to perform.

On September 7, 1963, WVMEA president Elinor Copenhaver met with the WVMEA Executive Board to discuss plans to organize a Piano Division for WVMEA. A constitution was written for the organization that stated the purposes of the Piano Division. The purposes included: developing the advancement of piano music in public schools, educational institutions, and organizations; improving piano teaching and performance through festivals, clinics, and workshops; and developing greater recognition for piano class as an integral part of the school curriculum.

The first Piano Division Festival was held on May 1,1965 at Morris Harvey College in Charleston. Russell Falt from Princeton served as the Piano Division chairman. The festival was approved by the Secondary Schools Activities Commission, and all public school students were eligible to participate in one of three divisions: elementary, junior high, or senior high. Arno Drucker of West Virginia University served as adjudicator. The ratings were indicated on MENC rating sheets and were non-competitive. The registration fee for each student was $2.00.

In September 1965, Russell Falt accepted a position at Ithaca College and resigned as chairman of the Piano Division. Joanne Drescher of the Marshall University School of Music was appointed chairperson. Piano workshops were added to the WVMEA spring conference. Alison Demarest of the Baldwin Piano Company and Dr. Lawrence Rust of the Wurlitzer Piano Company held workshops at the 1967 conference.

The first WVMEA solo and ensemble festivals were held in 1967. These festivals included wind, percussion, voice, and piano students. Margaret Lorince became Piano Division chairperson in 1969, and interest grew as piano students continued to participate in solo and ensemble festivals. A further development was the appointment of a selection committee to choose a student accompanist for the All-State High School Chorus. The runner-up would serve as substitute and would also turn pages for the accompanist.

In the early 1970s, interest began to dwindle once again, and the Piano Division became inactive from 1971 to 1983. It was difficult logistically to have pianos tuned and ready to play at all region festivals. In June 1983, the WVMEA Executive Board discussed the prolonged inactivity in the Piano Division and concluded that piano students would be served better if a separate piano festival was held. In September 1983, Kathryne Williams from Beckley wrote an article for Notes A Tempo on behalf of the WVMEA Executive Board that included a questionnaire designed to determine the interests of piano teachers in the state. The results showed that there was enough interest for the Piano Division to once again sponsor festivals.

The first of the revived festivals was held at Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley on Saturday, April 22, 1989. Twenty students from eleven schools participated. Students who had participated in solo and ensemble festivals received a discount. Piano festival winners were invited to perform at the 1989 WV County Music Directors Association fall conference, which was held at the Oak Hill Holiday Inn.

Betty S. Wilson was appointed Piano Division chairperson in 1990. The following year, the Piano Division festival was held on the Wednesday before the WVMEA conference. At the conclusion of the day, all participants were invited to attend the WVMEA conference piano master class, and festival winners were invited to perform the following day at the WVMEA conference. This arrangement continues today.