3 minute read

Honor Societies

Pi Kappa Lambda

Pi Kappa Lambda is a collegiate honor society dedicated "to the furtherance of music in education and education in music." Its goal is to honor outstanding academic and artistic achievement on the part of music majors working at the college or graduate-school level and to encourage students to continue to strive for excellence throughout their careers.


The primary purpose of Pi Kappa Lambda is to recognize and encourage talented individuals working in the field of music by offering membership to qualified candidates. This honor is conferred by the election to membership itself, along with which the honoree is awarded an insignia of the organization (a symbolic key) and, on paying a nominal membership fee, is entitled to receive a copy of the society newsletter. In addition, the founding (Alpha) chapter at Northwestern University has underwritten several publications, most notably a series of monographs on American music. These monographs and similar studies have been published by Northwestern University Press.


Pi Kappa Lambda has enjoyed steady growth since its inception in 1916 and by 2002 enrolled 203 chapters, with 58,000 members, at colleges and universities throughout the United States and in Canada. A board of regents, elected from the official membership, oversees the business of the society during annual meetings. Every other year the society holds a national convention, to which local chapters may send delegates to express their concerns and interests. Every two years the regents commission a new composition.


Every year local chapters review the recommendations of their college's or university's school of music and choose from these candidates the students whose work, both artistic and academic, is judged to be outstanding. Students are eligible for consideration only if they meet certain stringent criteria: They must be at an advanced stage in their studies–junior or senior undergraduates or graduate students. They must have elected music as their major course of study. In addition, they must have the support of their faculty, whose recommendations are carefully considered. Finally, they must meet or exceed certain academic standards. All candidates for membership must maintain a grade point average equivalent to the top 20 percent of the current graduating class, and juniors must be in the top 10 percent of their own class as well.

New members are required to pay a small fee, a portion of which covers the cost of their insignia and subscription to the society newsletter. The remainder of the fee goes to support the work of the national office. The society also earns revenues from its periodic publishing projects.


In 1916 several members of the alumni association of the School of Music at Northwestern University met to discuss ways in which they could help to encourage future students to strive for excellence in both their artistic and their academic lives. Of particular concern was the marriage of music and education, which these founding members felt was too often underappreciated. The group agreed to organize an honor society devoted to these issues. Among this group was Peter Christian Lutkin, whose enthusiasm for the project earned him the distinction of being the very first member of the newly organized honor society. Professor Lutkin contributed more than his enthusiasm, however. When deciding on the name for the new society, the founding group chose Professor Lutkin's initials (in their Greek form), thus, Pi Kappa Lambda.

The society, though still only local, grew quickly, and in 1918 it was officially granted a charter by the state of Illinois. Soon chapters were formed at other universities, and by the early 1970s it had grown to more than 13,000 members at seventy institutions of higher learning. The 1980s and 1990s were a time of dramatic growth, and during this period the society went international, with the first chapters forming in Canada.

The national office remains at Northwestern University where the first chapter was formed. Also at Northwestern are the society's archives, where the very first Pi Kappa Lambda key, issued to Professor Lutkin, is kept.


ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGE HONOR SOCIETIES. 2002. "Pi Kappa Lambda." <www.achsnatl.org/pkl.html>.


Revised by


Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation EncyclopediaHonor Societies - Alpha Mu Gamma, Alpha Omega Alpha, Association For Women In Communications, Association Of College Honor Societies - ALPHA CHI