A Short History Of Piano Lessons In Toronto

If you’ve had a chance to read our earlier blog post you know that Toronto and Canada have a rich history of both piano builders and pianists. How amazing is that! What’s also amazing is the number of groundbreaking music educators Canada, and specifically, Toronto has called home throughout the years. 

Boris Berlin

Perhaps the most famous of all of these pedagogical professionals was Boris Berlin. Born in Russia in 1907 Berlin studied piano as a child and as a young man became a performing artist. In fact, it was on tour with a trio that he first visited Canada. 

He fell in love with the country almost immediately and soon took a full time teaching position with the Hambourg Conservatory of Music in Toronto. After teaching there for several years, he moved on to a faculty position at the Royal Conservatory of Music, a post he kept for several decades until he joined the University of Toronto in 1970. 

Berlin reinvented the way piano is taught. His lesson books of scales, exercises and etudes he composed himself became bestsellers worldwide, and have sold more than 4 million copies! His techniques are still used today, with many of our teachers here at Toronto Arts Academy implementing his methodologies in their practice. 

In his older years Berlin became known as the “teacher’s teacher” thanks to his commitment to holding workshops for other music educators. In honour of his importance in Canadian music he was awarded the Order of Canada before he passed away in 2001. 

Boris Berlin at his piano, who taught piano lessons late into his life.

Alberto Guerrero

Another important character in the history of Canadian piano education was Alberto Guerrero. Originally from Chile, Guerrero already had an established career as a virtuosic pianist performing and composing across South America. As his reputation spread across the globe he was offered a teaching position with the Hamburg Conservatory of Music. His pedagogical focus on the connection between the mind and physical technique entered into new territories only before touched at a surface level. Guerrero even taught Canada’s biggest classical music export Glen Gould! 

Gould around age 12, with Alberto Guerrero, his only professional piano teacher, with whom he studied at the Toronto (later Royal) Conservatory of Music from 1943 to 1952. (GGÕs only other teacher, before that, was his mother.)

Lubka Kolessa

Yet another famous example of an exemplary musical pedagogue was Lubka Kolessa. Born in Ukraine in 1902 she began her studies at a young age thanks to her Grandmother, a successful pianist in her own right who had been a student of none other than the legendary Chopin! As a young adult Kolessa regularly performed across Europe as a featured pianist with numerous orchestras. 

After getting married she moved to Canada and took teaching positions at multiple schools, most notably as a music professor at McGill University. Kolessa’s playing as well as her teaching focused on the clear and unobstructed expression of a performance. Her goal for her students was for them to be able to play with the fluidity and naturalness of simply having a conversation.

The Hambourg Conservatory Of Music

Just as important as fantastic teachers are the educational institutions that makes it possible for them to share their knowledge. One of the original schools of music in Toronto was the Hambourg Conservatory of Music, which both Boris Berlin and Alberto Guerrero taught at. 

The conservatory, which ran from 1911 to 1951 and had locations on Wellesley, Roncesvalles and Queen Street was responsible for bringing many of Europe’s finest musical minds to Toronto. Beyond just music, the conservatory held such a high cultural status that artists of other disciplines, such as the poet E.J Pratt and Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer would drop by for stimulating conversation about the arts. 

Another important musical institution was the Royal Conservatory of Music which opened in 1886 and is still active to this day. The school is of such cultural importance that it was named a National Historic Site of Canada, and with alumni that include Glen Gould, Randy Bachman, David Foster and Diana Krall it’s easy to see why! 

Toronto Arts Academy

This Toronto tradition of fine music education continues in lineage with our school, Toronto Arts Academy

Whether you want to play jazz, classical, pop, rock, or any other genre on the keys, guitar or drums we have got you covered! Our faculty consists entirely of active musicians performing and writing in a diverse range of styles. Whether it’s your first time touching an instrument, or you want to try out a totally new genre we are the place to be. 

Give us a call today! We’ll be more than happy to help you get the best out of your music education experience! 

Recent Blog Posts

Check out our new posts below!

Call us today to connect
with a top music teacher in Toronto