The Chicago School for Piano Technology was born in 2004, out of our perception of a need for more highly trained and professional piano technicians, and that this need was not being directly met nor adequately addressed. For this reason, we created the following mission:
The mission of The Chicago School for Piano Technology is to foster the next generations of piano technicians by providing complete foundation skills for those aspiring to enter into the life-long task of mastering all of the aural and technical aspects of the acoustic piano as a whole instrument, in order to serve the needs of the entire musical community--performers, music lovers, and those who love the piano for its intrinsic value as part of the arts culture.
We put together an 11 month curriculum in which we taught, and continuously tested our students, to work always at and toward the highest end possible; our standards were aimed at a level to exceed any of the known association or other school standards. We taught aural tuning only; our students passed all tuning tests aurally or not at all. We created proprietary scoring programs for students to use to self-test so that they could practice continuously. We tried to teach all of the “best practices” we could determine. The school was structured to be open and available to students twenty-four hours a day, every day. We regularly had students in the classrooms at all hours of the day.
While being forever and always available, we treated our students as adults and expected them to achieve the goals we set for them without constant attention. Our curriculum covered all of the skills necessary to be a high-end technician and tuner; we not only taught facts and procedures, but imbued our students with deeper skills such as diagnostic capabilities and problem-solving strategies. We taught a ten-week business course covering all of the basics of running a business from start-up and business organization, to accounting, taxes, client management, client relations, ethics, and a required final project of creating a full five-year business plan with full financials. We required our students to do a research project and paper over the final three quarters in order for them to realize that piano technology held larger mysteries which they should be prepared for and able to investigate.
In the second-year curriculum, we offered two courses of study: Rebuilding, and Advanced Piano Preparation and Institutional Management. In the Rebuilding curriculum, we partnered with willing client owners to fully restore Steinway and Mason & Hamlin grands, including new soundboards, fully recapped, carved, notched, and pinned bridges, and everything else that goes with fine rebuilding, while acknowledging the ever-changing technical views of the finest rebuilders in the country and around the world. In the Advanced Piano Prep curriculum, we forced our students to ever higher and higher standards of tuning, regulation and voicing; the final tuning test involved such things as having to fine tune after a pitch raise and pass at (our standard) 85%, tune all of the unisons in 45 minutes to (our standard) of 85% or better. These students also participated in at least four outside internships at colleges, universities, and cultural institutions in the tri-state area.
Structurally, over the years, aside from the required state approvals, CSPT became a not-for-profit organization, sought and received accreditation from a major accrediting agency, was approved to take non-immigrant students by SEVIS, ICE and Homeland Security, was approved to accept veterans, and approved by the U.S. Department of Education to offer financial aid to students. We have done all this with a core faculty of four technicians from the Chicago area, and only two staff persons (also faculty) to run the school on a day-to-day basis.
The results have been overwhelming. Our graduates now occupy major positions at colleges and universities, and work for the highest-end piano names either at the manufacturer or dealer level. From the first graduating class on, in 2006, a graduate from CSPT has been selected every year to be one of the interns at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and usually at the advanced intern level, if not as a technical instructor in the internship program. We have graduates from and working in Malaysia, Japan, Pakistan, Australia, and Qatar. One of our graduates currently holds a new position at Steinway with the ostensible goal of technically improving that piano. Our graduate in Qatar has trained at Steinway Hamburg and other technical venues. Many of our graduates have participated in Steinway New York technical training.
We have been operational for only 9 years. We have not had the support of an umbrella organization for the administration and marketing of the school, nor any institutional affiliation with other educational institutions. We have been a totally stand-alone operation. We have tried to remain small in a world that demands big, and to keep our classes small so that we can do what we aimed to do: pay attention to our students as the singular and brilliant individuals that they are. We continue to pay attention to them after they leave, as well, and to watch their amazing progress in an industry that continues to undervalue their skills, and which still has yet to set and insist on standards of craftspersonship we have always felt necessary to the pursuit of piano technology.
Unfortunately, while we will be ceasing operations in September 2014 due to the economic pressure of remaining small, we are deeply grateful to countless people who have supported us over the years and without whom the quality of our venture would have suffered. We salute our graduates, now sixty-one of them, and continue to believe that CSPT was, indeed, a gem whose aims are yet to be fully achieved.