EARLY History of the school

Diller-Quaile students rehearsing Toy Symphony with Stokowski for a Carnegie Hall concert.

Diller-Quaile students rehearsing Toy Symphony with Stokowski for a Carnegie Hall concert.

The idea for The Diller-Quaile School of Music began to take shape in 1899 through the early 1900s at the Third Street Music School Settlement, where Angela Diller was head of the Theory Department and Elizabeth Quaile became head of the Piano Department in 1911. The two women worked together at Third Street, and then followed David Mannes in 1916 to help him establish his own school, as well as join the Mannes faculty.  In 1920, Angela Diller and Elizabeth Quaile founded The Diller-Quaile School of Music. Since they believed that the capacity for understanding and creating music exists in everyone, it was essential that their music school provide a dynamic and well-rounded experience not just for select students, but for all.

Together, they initiated a comprehensive approach to teaching music, correlating individual piano lessons with classes in musicianship and theory. Their purpose was to develop musically sensitive and receptive individuals who played with the eloquence that comes from understanding the structure of music, and the inner relationships of musical elements within a composition. Through inspired teaching, they would awaken in students a responsiveness to the beauty of music and to the subtleties of artistic performance.

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Our Founders: Angela Diller & Elizabeth Quaile

Angela Diller (August 1, 1877 - May 1, 1968), the vibrant spirit behind the School, was a woman of imagination and vision. Born in Brooklyn and the youngest of four children of a church organist, Diller won a fellowship to study piano and composition with Edward MacDowell when he became head of Columbia University’s Music Department. She was brilliant at simplifying intricate harmonic rules to a few basic principles and at thrilling people with a new awareness of the wonder of music. She was also a master of organization and orderly presentation. These gifts were balanced with a warm and sincere interest in people. Along with Margarethe Dessoff, Diller co-founded the Dessoff Choirs, starting with a small group of Diller-Quaile teachers and students, with Diller serving as the accompanist.

Diller was also the first winner of the Mosenthal Fellowship in Composition at Columbia University. For some years, she was in charge of the teacher training work at the Mannes School of Music. She lectured extensively and conducted classes in many parts of the country, including the University of Southern California, Steinway Hall in New York City and San Francisco, Mills College, New England Conservatory, Brown University, at the Toronto Conservatory in Canada, and at several renowned schools of music and conservatories in Europe.

In contrast to the outgoing, enthusiastic personality of Angela Diller, Elizabeth Quaile (January 21, 1874 - June 30, 1951) was quiet and retiring. Born in a small town in northern Ireland, Quaile and her family emigrated to the United States settling in or near Philadelphia early in her childhood. She was truly at her best in individual lessons where she could inspire in students the ability to take on that which may have seemed well beyond them. While Diller tended to work from the sense of the whole to the detail, Quaile would build a cohesive whole out of a succession of exquisite small details in her piano teaching. They complemented each other beautifully.

Teacher Training Begins

The first teachers at the School were selected from among Diller and Quaile's adult students. As the School grew, so did the need for more teachers, and formal teacher training courses evolved, which remain a vital part of the School’s Teacher Training initiatives today.


Early Publications

Diller and Quaile became concerned with the lack of quality materials available for beginning music students. This prompted them to write the well-known Diller-Quaile Series. The First Solo Book and the First Duet Book were published in 1918, and became the first volumes in the Diller-Quaile Series.  Their carefully graded series was written for students of all ages and included piano materials for beginners; four levels of solo books; duet books; pedal studies; a first theory book covering the elements of music with a particular focus on ear-training; four levels of keyboard harmony texts created to help students to apply all that they are learning to the understanding of the music they hear or play; opera stories—The Stories of Siegfried, Lohengrin, Aida—re-told for young people, with narratives and easy piano arrangements; and additional materials developed with Kate Stearns Page including a pre-school music book, song books, and a carol book. 

In 1953, Diller won a Guggenheim Foundation Award, which helped to provide leisure time to write The Splendor of Music, her last book – a distillation of over fifty years of teaching experience.

Town Hall and Carnegie Hall Concert Highlights

Special concerts in the earlier years included the School’s Spring Recitals for large audiences, which were held at Town Hall in the 1930s. Two decades later in April 1959 at Carnegie Hall, Maestro Leopold Stokowski conducting the Symphony of the Air, gave a Concert for Children. The program included the performance of Haydn’s Toy Symphony in which Diller-Quaile students participated. The concert was sponsored by The Parents League of New York.

Renowned Musicians Associated with the School in the Early Years

Nadia Boulanger—French composer, conductor, and teacher who taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century—gave lectures at Diller-Quaile on the music of Scarlatti, Stravinsky, and Chopin. She served on Diller-Quaile’s Advisory Board, along with Norman Dello Joio, William Schuman, and Virgil Thomson.

James Agee—American author, poet, screenwriter, and film critic, and the nephew of Diller-Quaile Co-Director Paula Tyler— provided the inspiration for Aaron Copland’s opera The Tender Land, with his masterpiece, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The composer Samuel Barber set sections of “Description of Elysium” from Agee’s Permit Me Voyage, creating “Sure on This Shining Night.” At the School’s 2003 Spring Benefit, a Diller-Quaile faculty chorus performed this stunning piece at Merkin Hall.

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Leadership Transitions

Angela Diller retired from the management of the School in 1941. At that time Dorothy Weed became a Co-Director with two other pianists, Frederic Hart and Paula Tyler, and Mrs. G. Emily Lyons became Executive Director. Paula Tyler, pianist and teacher, joined the faculty in 1924.