My Summer School Experience by Louise Cooper

Louise Cooper is Head of Music at William Perkin C of E School in Greenford, West London.

I want to learn about this Hungarian school of music. What is the method by which I can achieve great results in my classroom? There is no method. There is no rule book. But go to the Summer School and you can find out more.

Looking back on it, attending the Summer School was akin to developing your mind in the way of the great spiritual traditions. Alongside rigorous scholarship (in our case, endless classes, study, homework, classes, study, homework), I learned as much by being in the presence of those who carried a great light for music education. Although I did not know much about Kodály the man himself, listening to Orsolya (and others) speak about him made me consider what an incredible gift he left us and what an incredible vision this man had. Cecilia Vajda was one of many who were so inspired by him that she carried a beacon for music education to this country. Through her endeavours, my education had been made possible. In my own humble way, I saw myself as part of this tradition of music educators: how would I carry that vision forward? What were my responsibilities to help others share the joy of music?

Making GCSE music accessible
As head of music in a secondary school, one of my challenges is how to make the study of GCSE music accessible to those who wish to study it. How can I teach them to read notation, carry out dictation, identify cadences and analyse scores when their ears (and eyes) may not be trained in Western Classical music? And how can I get them to love this?! About ten years ago a friend of mine recommended the Kodály approach and I went to evening classes with David Vinden. I immediately understood that this approach gave me a framework for introducing students to notation so I began to replicate many of the exercises with my students. Ten years on, I had embedded this approach into the curriculum and it was working. But I had a feeling there was more to learn…

There are no rules, but…
The Rule Book does not exist. But what did I learn? I can summarise my learning about this philosophy of music education in three points. My points may not be the same as yours and I reserve the right to change the points in another ten years! But this is where I got to:
1. Learning music should be fun! It can be learned at a desk, but the learning does not have to all be intellectually-based. Learning can be multi-dimensional: through movement, through singing, through games. Learning can be audio, visual, kinaesthetic, social. There are so many ways to explore music which are applicable with older students as well as younger students.
2. Through a well-planned, systematic, step-by-step approach it is possible to train students’ ears (with particular focus on the ‘inner ear’) in order to appreciate art music at a deep level. The ultimate goal is not a GCSE grade or even a class of perfect sight-readers; the ultimate goal is to share the joy of music with our students. If the methodology is good, we can get there.
3. We should have high expectations for our students. Frankly, I was blown away by the videos of the Hungarian primary school children as what they were able to achieve would be challenging with an A-level class. It has made me consider that I need to set the bar higher for my own students.

I came back from the Summer School buzzing with ideas. (I also momentarily considered retraining as a primary school teacher: how effective could this approach be if used in the early formative years?) Then back to school and dealing with the usual deluge of work which has swept me through September. Realigning my secondary curriculum with this approach will take me some time to effect. But as I carry the light of that inspiration I gained from the Summer School with me, there is no doubt in my mind that it will happen.