Sir Peter Maxwell Davies 1934 – 2016

With deep sadness we report that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies died on Monday, 14 March. The BKA has been honoured to have him as one of our Patrons.

Sir Peter was a great composer of music for children. From 1959 he taught music for three years at Cirencester Grammar School, where he wrote specific pieces for the pupils.

In 1981 the International Kodály Society commissioned Sir Peter to write for the centenary of Kodály’s birth. The resulting set of songs, to texts by the composer, was given its world première performance in Budapest on 13 December 1982, by a Hungarian children’s choir conducted by Janos Remenyi.

On that occasion Sir Peter’s description of his songs included homage to Kodály:

“Seven Songs Home was commissioned by the International Kodály Society and first performed in 1982 in Budapest on the occasion of the Kodály centenary. The work is a tribute to the great composer of music for children. It is scored for unaccompanied children’s voices, and the story line concerns events and adventures experienced by an island child between leaving school and arriving home for tea.”

For more details on Sir Peter’s life please visit his website at

BBC Radio 3 interview with Gilbert De Greeve

BBC Radio 3 interview with Gilbert De Greeve, then President of the International Kodály Society
Interviewer: Ms. Rachel Hopkin

In the following interview, Mr De Greeve addresses important questions and concerns facing Kodály educators in the 21st century. The future of Kodály music education is just one of many topics for discussion scheduled during the 17th International Kodály Symposium and 24th BKA Summer School, 13th-20th August 2005.

How did Kodály’s ideas come to international prominence?

The first question is WHAT does that mean: Kodály’s ideas? In fact, it is a “vision” (or it can also be called a “concept”) that ‘music ought to be an integral part of universal human knowledge” and that a thoroughly trained teacher, using the best available materials, should teach it on a daily basis as a normal school subject. It is very important to understand that the Kodály concept is not ONE specific method.

In 1964, when the world congress of ISME was held in Budapest, the international music world witnessed with growing astonishment the incredible results of Kodály’s vision on Hungarian schools and on the humanitarian upbringing of Hungarian children and youth. From then on it became a renowned example for the rest of the world. 1964 was 14 years after the first so called music-primary school had started in Kecskemét.

Immediately afterwards many musicians and music educators from abroad started to come to Hungary and to observe and study the, in the meantime, so called Hungarian Model. It resulted in study-groups staying in Hungary for a whole year and in the first Kodály programs outside Hungary. It also, necessarily, led to the first adaptations. To assist in these programs abroad very often so called Hungarian “master-teachers” were engaged for a certain period or sometimes even on a permanent basis.

That process emerged into the organization of the ‘First International Kodály Symposium’ in Oakland (California) in1973, followed by the ‘Second International Kodály Symposium in Kecskemét (Hungary) in 1975. It was at that Symposium that the foundation of the International Kodály Society took place.

Since then an International Kodály Symposium has been organized every two years: (1977 Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1979 Sydney, Australia, 1981 Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, 1983 Antwerp, Belgium, 1985 London, United Kingdom, 1987 Kecskemét, Hungary, 1989 Athens, Greece, 1991 Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 1993 West Hartford, Connecticut, USA, 1995 Assisi, Italy, 1997 Manila, Philippines, 1999 Kecskemét, Hungary, 2001 Helsinki, Finland, 2003 Newcastle, Australia.) In the past 30 years many books about Kodály and his music education vision were published and numerous articles appeared in scientific- and music magazines.

The International Kodály Society is a worldwide forum bringing together all working in the fields of music, musical research and music education. It supports their efforts to ensure children and youth the so necessary, and too often lacking, balance between the development of intellectual potential and emotional growth, through education in general and through music education in particular. At this moment the International Kodály Society has members in 34 countries, but the concept is applied in many more.

A very important factor in the success of the concept is of course Kodály’s fame as composer and researcher.

How relevant (or not) are the ideas in the ‘global classroom’ today?

The methodological concept (the use of folksongs, good materials, the teaching always starting from the musical source, etc.) is used worldwide and on a large scale. Unfortunately the philosophical vision (that music ought to be taught on a daily basis and as a normal school subject) is less relevant, due to educational options, subsequently budget cuts for art education, of governments.

Are any cultures particularly suited (or not) to the ideas? It is again a matter of making a distinction between the philosophical and the methodological side of the concept?

Philosophically the concept is not at all Hungarian. It is simply ‘universal’ and suitable for any culture. However, the methodological part is so to speak “local”, the result of research on the specific elements of the culture. But that issue is a “technical” one that only requires capable authorities to draft it. I think that it is rather a question of “society” circumstances. For instance a society focused primarily on the material and the vocational, won’t be interested much in adapting an educational system that requires time and space for a daily music lesson.

And there is also the misunderstanding that the Kodály concept would not be suitable in countries that use the so-called “absolute solfege”. It is not correct but it is hard to convince those that do not want to or cannot understand.

With the right attitude and the professional know-how the Kodály concept is adaptable to any culture.

Difficulties encountered by trying to use the ideas internationally (for example, the mother tongue issue, particularly in mixed classrooms)?

The mixed classroom is a real challenge, but again, it concerns the methodological side and not the philosophical vision. In Hungary, great attention was paid from the beginning to introduce the children also to songs from other countries as well as to the “great” music.

By the way, the extensive report of the First International Conference on “The Role and Place of Music in the Education of Youth and Adults”, held in Brussels in 1953, sponsored by UNESCO and the International Music Council, already mentioned the following: ‘as a step towards understanding between the peoples, school songbooks should contain songs selected from all over the world’.

Thus it is a matter of finding the greatest common devisor among the various cultural traditions present in the class. As I said already it is a real challenge because it requires great craftsmanship of the teachers and their principals, as well as the flexibility to adapt their materials every year again. But it is not an insuperable problem.

Difficulties encountered by trying Kodály’s vision in modern music?

Well, the Kodály concept is not used IN certain kinds of music. It USES music to start up a process of music education. However, I assume that with modern music you are referring to the different kinds of pop; rock; etc., the so called “entertainment music” and that the question is whether this music (in fact we should rather speak of “musics”) can be used as materials to teach the Kodály concept. Strangely enough, and many may be surprised, I would say yes. But, for a number of reasons it would not be “wise” to use entertainment music for teaching purposes. For instance, because even the best of these “musics” are usually very “time-linked”, containing often one aspect of a fugitive musical expression. Besides these musics are usually conceived following commercial intentions and, certainly nowadays, rather focusing on rhythmical patterns than on genuine emotional expressions.

So, the question should not so much be whether it is good or bad to use modern music but rather how “suitable” this music is in a music education program. And then the answer is that much better materials can be found in the folk music and in the so-called “serious” music.

How do you decide what is good music?

Music nor art in general are exact sciences. It is impossible to define in a formula what is good and what is bad music. On the contrary music is subjective and whether it is experienced as good or bad is a matter of taste. It is perfectly possible – how unthinkable it may be – that someone does not like Beethoven, or Mozart or Bach, not to speak about Schoenberg or Hindemith.

The only trustable judge is time. We often seem to forget that Mozart and Haydn, for instance, to name just a few, had hundreds of colleagues’ composers. Yet their colleagues creations have not sustained the time in the same way. Folk music, however, often passed on orally before it was finally produced in written form, has been purified by the time. On top of it, it mostly has texts referring to historical, social or professional happenings, introducing the children to the history of their own culture and many of the songs for the very little children are also plays, facilitating the learning process. That is why they make so good materials.

So, I would not dare to say that this is good and that is bad music. In every genre are good and less good. And although there are certain criteria that cannot be neglected, it remains a matter of personal taste.

What kind of opposition does face Kodály’s vision?

Every creation always also creates opposition. If I would list the major reasons for criticism I would say that the top three are “ignorance”, “misunderstanding” and “envy”.

– For instance the thesis that Kodály’s vision could only prosper in a totalitarian regime, which is, of course, completely wrong.

– The discussion about what is the best, “relative so-fa” or the “absolute solfege”. There are even people who think that Kodály “invented” the relative so-fa or the so-called “hand-signs” or “rhythm-syllables”.

– One of the most incredible statements I recently heard is that the Kodály concept is an “historical” one that is not suitable for the modern time.

So, to answer your question, to my knowledge there is no opposition that is grounded on scientific research or that should be taken seriously. By the way, what opposition could there be against the idea that music should be a part of the general education of every human being? Opposition is nothing to worry about. The greatest danger for the Kodály concept, as far as I can see it is in its permanent evolution. Many outstanding ideas have been ruined at the end through so called “amelioration” and “personal interpretation”. The challenge will be to never loose sight on the sources of the concept, which can be found in the Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály and, in a simplified form, also in ‘Music Should Belong to Everyone’, a recently published book by Ildiko Herbóly-Kocár and the IKS.

Where next?

Unfortunately that is a question that is depending on the statesmanship and brightness of many. It is not a favorable time for the arts and certainly not for art education. That is a great pity because the most important remains of any civilization are its expressions of art.

So, if “where next” means “quo vadis musica” I would like to quote one of my dear friends, the late Professor Alexander Ringer, who once referred to the famous sentence “can art save the world” as being totally wrong. It should be, he said, “can the world save the arts?” It will be an enormous responsibility for politicians and other responsible in the educational field to care for programs that not only develop the brains but also the human feelings. If that will be their concern, which it should be, the arts and music in particular will have to be taken as seriously as the ancient Greeks did it.

But if “where next” is referring specifically to the Kodály concept, I am convinced that the musical world will continue to have great interest in his compositions, in his unique research and in his humanitarian vision on the importance of music as a cornerstone of the entire humanistic enterprise.

A Year in Kecskemét by Barbara Jenkinson

from BKA Newsletter, Summer 2004

I first visited Kecskemét over ten years ago, and although I had already heard of the Kodály Institute, after looking around it, I realised how much I would like to study there. It was only after several subsequent visits, the summer school in 2001, and the award of the IKS scholarship, that I could finally achieve this ambition. I took the advanced pedagogical course there between September 2003 and May 2004, and have just returned to England. It was a great experience. The solfege class of Zsuzsa Kontra proved to be quite demanding and yet there were many times when I thought how lucky I was to be sitting within the walls of this beautiful old Franciscan monastery singing Renaissance motets and much more besides! Somehow there is a timeless quality to life in Kecskemét and long may it last. Of course as a new student I had to follow the whole pedagogical programme and one of the things that struck me first was how full that programme was compared to an English university or music college course. Well over twenty hours of classes a week in both semesters meant a busy schedule and lots of work! At the same time I was really impressed by the real love of good music that all the teachers demonstrated. (NB. Kathy Hulme described the contents of the course in detail in the last issue of the newsletter).

Of course Kodály’s approach means that all the areas of study are integrated, and through singing comes the development of musical skills and inner hearing. The study of conducting, for example, is so sadly neglected from most English music teachers’ preparation and yet here it is not only central but taught with an emphasis on good and exacting technique. I feel we have gone far too far down the road here in England of allowing students (at 16, 18 and beyond) to opt for areas they feel are their strengths, thus allowing such things as aural skills to be sidelined. It was a most salutary experience to see children in the third grade at the Kodály School memorising easily and in the sixth grade (our Yr7) being able to do tasks many of my A level students would have found a struggle. The standard of musicianship demonstrated by the children at this school is breathtaking, to say the least, and their dedication even more so.

My previous association with the Kodály School meant that they invited me to stay in a small flat in the school. As well as the many concerts that all the students are openly invited to, I often found myself in other interesting situations as well. For example, the auditions for entry into the school’s first grade, the kindergarten after-school music class, numerous choir rehearsals and concerts, lessons in the Gimnasium (secondary school) and the specialist music school. Here I could watch conducting classes for the pupils and the Music in English Class, an option for the oldest pupils (age15-18), where Kata Ittzes teaches a most impressive syllabus of English music repertoire and history, from the Old Hall manuscript to Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Britten and beyond. Later in the year, the János Starker cello competition occupied a whole weekend with outstanding cello students from all over Hungary taking part and a few weekends after, a seminar on music education took place with demonstration classes and concerts.

Another fascinating experience was accompanying the Miraculum Children’s Choir to Budapest to rehearse with the conductor Iván Fischer in songs for a memorial concert of music by the composer Pál Kadosa (1903-1983) in the new Millennium Concert Hall. Just before Christmas another trip with the choir was to the Austrian Embassy to sing seasonal music in the most beautiful setting, and in March I was fortunate to be invited to the performance of some works by Emma Kodály at the Kodály Museum.

There were many other concert trips, notably to hear András Schiff at the Jewish synagogue in Szeged, the Tallis Scholars and the Robert King concert at the Mathias Church in Budapest, the St Matthew Passion at the Liszt Academy, and in Kecskemét, the Banchieri singers, the Japanese Radio Children’s Choir, the Bohem Jazz Festival, the Spring Festival, Marta Sebestyen and a wealth of fantastic choral and instrumental concerts in the school. There always seemed to be something interesting happening even in the depths of the Hungarian winter!

The eminent composer Miklós Kocsár (born 1933) celebrated his eightieth birthday by a series of concerts across Hungary. The concert in Kecskemét in January consisted of choral and instrumental works, including the Salve Regina and Four Madrigals sung by the Miraculum Children’s Choir and culminating in a performance of his Magnificat for choir and orchestra with the Institute’s Pedagogical Choir and the Kecskemét Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Petér Erdei.

In June it was the turn of Erszébet Szönyi (born 1934). Two of her children’s operas were performed for a whole week in the Cultural Centre by the children of the Miraculum Choir, and a wonderful celebration concert (including a superb performance of her songs, by Katalin Szutrély) was given in the school as well.

The Ars Nova Choir was founded in Kecskemét by Dr Katalin Kiss and although the choir now performs more regularly in Budapest, on 16th March the choir gave a concert in the old Kodály School, celebrating the fiftieth birthday of Miklós Csemiczky. He is one of a group of ‘four’ composers whose work Dr Kiss champions, and the evening ended with three pieces written for the occasion by the other three (György Orbán, János Vajda and György Selmeczi).

With this feast of music making, I am wondering how I managed to do any work! But all these experiences seemed to enhance the coursework somehow. Seeing the practical implementation on a day-to-day basis made it all come to life. In any case, I did manage to do plenty of study and one thing of particular interest was the individual class I had with Kati Kiss, studying the choral music of ‘The Four’, and with Mihály Ittzes, studying other contemporary Hungarian composers.

It is most interesting to see how the work of Kodály has developed over the past fifty years, not only in the music of contemporary composers, but in the ‘Singing Youth’ Festival for Secondary school choirs (featuring eleven choirs just from the town!), the Bacs-Kiskun (County) Festival for primary school choirs (featuring even more but from a wider area), and two festivals I attended in the Hungarian-speaking part of Slovakia, where it is continuing energetically as well. There are so many excellent children’s and girls’ choirs in Hungary, and some boy’s choirs as well.

Ironically, it was Kodály’s visit to England in the 1920’s, when he was so impressed by the standard of choral singing and music training in schools, that led him to start his pedagogical movement. Drawing on his already established position as folk-music researcher and composer, he was in a unique position to establish a system that was all-embracing. Fifty years on the Hungarians have the advantage that their music education is now a strong and unfaltering tradition and whatever is happening elsewhere in Europe, they, at least, continue to train and develop good musicians in the most musical way.

So to Éva Vendrei, Sarolta Platthy, Orsolya Szabo, Roland Hajdu, János Klézli and those I already mentioned, enormous thanks for a ‘wonderful’ year and my thanks to László Durányik for inviting me to absolutely everything at the Kodály School. Check out the new website for more information, including a reunion of old Kodályan students in August 2005.

Congratulations to Barbara for being awarded an Advanced Diploma from the Kodály Pedagogical Institute! Barbara has over twenty years experience of music teaching at primary and secondary levels. She is now hoping to continue teaching part-time, whilst developing a free-lance career with Kodály workshops, classes, inset etc. She is also planning another tour for the Aurin Girls’ Choir, June 2005 and the Miraculum Children’s Choir, June 2006 If you are interested in hosting the choir(s) or with any other aspect of her work, including workshops etc please contact her on 01749 812708 or by email

Reflections on a Year in Kecskemét by Kathy Hulme

from the BKA Newsletter, Summer 2004

I first studied Kodály musicianship with David and then Yuko Vinden in London. Although their teaching was of the highest quality I wanted to pursue a more intensive course of study in order to acquire the skills that the Kodály approach can bring. The obvious next step was to come here to the Kodály Institute in Kecskemét.

The Kodály Institute is an international college catering for up to 40 students a year. They offer courses at four levels, introductory, basic, general and advanced. In the first week of the course students are graded by written and aural exam and placed in the appropriate solfege group. On the basis of an audition in singing, piano and any other instruments, we are assigned to a piano teacher, a singing teacher and a chamber group. Depending on the course there are classes in methodology, Hungarian music literature, folk music, general music literature, conducting and score reading.

Overall the teaching is of a very high standard, particularly in the core subjects of solfege, singing and piano. I am fortunate to be in Éva Vendrei’s solfege group: BKA Summer School students will know what a skilled and patient teacher she is. I am a complete beginner at the piano and yet my teacher Roland Hajdu has taught me so much, he too is patient and never patronizing. All the teachers here demand the best performance whatever level one is at. They never divorce the theory or the technical from the music and never let you forget that music is the language of the soul and the emotions, something you’d rather forget on a dreary morning when your stomach is rumbling.

The methodology observations at the Kodály School are truly inspiring. A testament to what can be achieved when all the elements of the Kodály approach are in place. Hungarian language lessons are offered twice weekly, although progress can be slow as English is the lingua franca of the Institute. Trips to the local restaurants, cafes and swimming pool offer limited opportunities to practise the language. I’m proud to say I can now confidently order a cappuccino, and make sure it doesn’t come with a blob of synthetic cream in it, in Hungarian. That is no mean feat I can assure you.

Students have the option of living in the Institute or arranging their own accommodation, which is cheaper, but fraught with complications. I have opted for the luxury of living in, mainly tempted by the piano in every room. Apart from this luxury the accommodation is basic but fine. The main inconveniences for me are the tiny kitchen and the lack of a sofa.

At weekends Budapest provides an escape from Kecskemét. Going to the baths is a favourite trip and in the winter, ice-skating. It is easy to get to by bus, which takes about 1 hr 20 mins (unless you have the misfortune to get the slow bus, which takes 2½ hours).

Spending a year in Hungary is not as cheap as it used to be. The Hungarians are getting ready to join the European Union in May 2004 and will eventually join the Euro, so the exchange rate is not as favourable to Sterling as it was. While many basic things are much cheaper than in Britain, foreign imported goods are more expensive because of heavy sales tax. The fees for the year course are about £4-5000, and living expenses are about the same amount again. Scholarships are available from the IKS, details are posted on the Kodály Institute website

I am finding my year here very interesting and it is wonderful to have the time to practise. It is fascinating to be immersed in Hungarian music and culture. It is both an education in what makes Hungarian music particularly Hungarian, but also in what makes my background in Britain particularly British.

I would recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in Kodály and would be happy to answer any questions from potential students. You can contact me at See you in Kecskemét!


Inspiration from Hungary by Liz Alexander

from the BKA Newsletter, Summer 2004

With the help and encouragement of Mary Place, I finally realised an eight year dream in February of this year, when I travelled to Hungary to spend a week observing Kodály inspired music classes in two schools and a Kindergarten. Having watched videos of Helga Dietrich and Eva Vendrei teaching on courses organised by the BKA, I was excited about the prospect of observing how teachers in Hungary were continuing to develop Kodály’s philosophy in the 21st Century.

Helga Dietrich had organised a morning in a Music Kindergarten and a morning in a Music Primary School in Budapest for me. There are about 20 Music Primary Schools in Budapest – there used to be nearer 40. There are also fewer Secondary Music Schools than there used to be. Some Kindergartens, (like the one I visited), also use Kodály teaching as part of their philosophy, but not all children attending a Music Primary School will necessarily have had Kodály experience in their Kindergartens. Children start school at the age of 6/7 years old, (our Year 2), and attend Kindergarten from 3 years old.

Helga had arranged for us to spend an hour in the Kindergarten at the beginning of the day, before the music class took place at 9 o’clock. We arrived at about 8 o’clock, but some children had been there since 7 o’clock. At this time of the day, the classes are organised so that there are mixed ages in each one. A family atmosphere exists, and talking to Helga, an important part of the Kindergarten programme, set up in 1972, is to develop children’s’ social skills and cultural awareness in these early years.

The children are allowed to choose from a range of activities, many of which reminded me of my own early years experiences: making a collage using rice and dried pulses of a snowdrop, (in flower at this time of the year); spinning using a traditional loom; working a puppet show; organising a kitchen; playing with large wooden bricks. The focus was on traditional activities; developing an awareness of nature; encouraging children to explore individually and in pairs with help if they needed it from their teacher. Everyday the children explore different activities through a set of 6 subjects: maths, singing, gymnastics, literature, and drawing/craft and environmental knowledge.

However, the children are not taught formally to read and write – they wait until they attend school. There is so much to explore and develop, and I couldn’t help reflect on the stress and pressure which children in the UK are continually being subjected to and at what cost to their personal development?

At 8.30, the teacher directed a gymnastics class, since the children have to do some kind of obligatory exercise every day. This included activities such as walking over bean bags and through trays of small pebbles; picking up the bags with the feet and carrying them to a central point; drawing circles with the feet; drawing with the feet – fascinating!

After breakfast, in which all the children are encouraged to help serve, (including 3 year olds carrying mugs of steaming hot chocolate and baskets of warm bread), the 5/6 year olds filed off to their music class with a specialist teacher. They have two classes a week, with the specialist teacher. Their kindergarten teacher also sings with them every day.

The class was almost an hour long, and yet the children remained focused and participated enthusiastically throughout the lesson. The main objectives of the lesson were to:

  • Reinforce conscious understanding of the crotchet rest.
  • Develop experience and understanding of form: 4 phrase song structures consisting rhythmically of ta, titi and ta rest units.
  • Practise interval relationships between pitches within do pentachordal and diatonic major scales.
    To achieve this, the lesson would be planned to incorporate movement as well as “thinking” work.
  • The children began the lesson by sitting in a circle and sang a greeting song based on s-l-s-m phrases.

A rhythmic clapping game followed. This was extended to include repeating the rhythms using the feet whilst keeping the pulse with the hands. Claves and two-toned woodblocks were then incorporated into the same activity. The teacher then clapped a known song, which the children were asked to recognise. They played the rhythm of the song on their instruments whilst singing. The song consisted of four phrases which included a crotchet rest at the end of the 1st, 2nd and 4th phrase.

The children were asked to show the rest by touching their heads, tummies or shoulders.

  • Next, the teacher introduced some puppets to help create and build a story through, which the next song developed. She introduced individual A5 size note cards with either a ta, ti-ti or ta rest on the front. The children were encouraged to build the rhythm of the song using the cards. She asked the children what the meaning of the rest was: “a silence” they replied. The completed song was sung with the rhythm tapped, clapped, stamped and sung to rhythm syllables.
  • A circle game followed which the children knew well. It involved 3 children playing a role in the game and singing short phrases. The song was based on a minor hexachord, and at the end of the game, the children were asked to order six large chime bars from lowest to highest, thus making the hexachord. The teacher then played a new song on the bars, which the children were asked to identify. Children then sang individual pitches of the song, accompanied by the chime bars played by the teacher.
  • A new set of puppets create a song based on la, so and mi. The teacher brought out a wooden tree, which she placed in front of the children. The tree stood on an A frame, about a metre high, and the song involved placing three bears on three of the tree’s branches to represent the three pitches. The children sang the song as the teacher pointed to the bears. She then changed their position to three new branches, therefore changing the pitch of the song, and the children sang again.

This activity was developed, as the teacher brought out eight birds, which she proceeded to place, first on five branches, to represent a do pentatonic scale, and then completed the branches to make a do diatonic major scale.

The children were encouraged to practise their understanding of interval relationships as the teacher pointed to the birds. The children sang in sol-fa with both hands, hand signing the relevant sol-fa. (The possibilities for developing interval work using the tree and puppets are endless. My partner Bill has made me an MDF version of an English Oak tree, complete with felt birds, which I have glued onto wooded clothes pegs. I am so excited about such a simple, but effective tool.)

The final activity of the lesson was a listening game. The children listened to a Tyrolean folk dance and moved round the room in any way they liked. As soon as they heard a specific rhythm, which the teacher clapped at the start of the game, they were required to freeze. The rhythms were based on ta and ti-ti units.

In discussion with Helga after the lesson had ended, she talked about the connections, which the teacher was developing in the children between brain activity “thinking”, and movement. She talked about how we had observed that the learning took place through oral, visual and kinaesthetic means, and that the teacher was developing a certain way of thinking in the children, which involved both the vertical and horizontal experience and understanding of musical concepts.

The following day I spent the morning at one of the Budapest Music Primary Schools, observing Zsuzsanna Molnár. The school ranges from First to Eighth Grade, and Zsuzsanna teaches the first four grades. A second music specialist teaches the fifth to eighth grades. Although the school is state run, parents apply for children to attend. The teacher carries out a simple assessment: it is important to have a clear voice; a simple rhythm is clapped and the children are required to clap it back; a simple s-l-s-m phrase is sung, and the children sing it back; the children are encouraged to sing a folksong if they know any from their Kindergarten; and the teacher also discusses parental attitudes to the value they place on music.

I observed a 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade class. Each class had on average 26 pupils. In the First Grade, (our Year 2), pupils have a lesson on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 45 minutes. The class teacher sits in on lessons, taking notes to back up what has been taught. From the 2nd grade, children have lessons every day for 45 minutes, and again, the class teacher sits in on the lesson. A choir takes place twice a week, from the 2nd to the 4th Grade.

Lessons take place in the pupils’ own classroom. Zsuzsanna carries round a roll-up blackboard, keyboard and glockenspiel, plus any teaching aids. However, there are 15 minutes between each lesson, and this gives the teacher some reflection time on the previous lesson, as well as subsequent lesson preparation time. (This would be so useful!)

Second Grade: known – do and la pentatonic and pentachords; syn-co-pa rhythmic element.

Recorder work:

  • Class started with circle game in the hallway – folksong – identified folk dance movements.
  • In class: interval work – all pupils have a set of interval cards: m2 M2 m3 M3 P4 P5 P8. Teacher sings 2 notes, and pupils hold card representing the interval they think it is.
  • Sing song with syn-co-pa. Identify song and rhythm. Sing song – clap rhythm and walk pulse. Draw syn-cho-pa on the board. (perfect notation – obviously very important to be neat and precise in notation). Sing several songs with rhythmic element. Includes Kodály Bicinium.
  • Text books: identify tonality of song as being “lah pentachord”. Pupils perform on recorder. Write notes on stave. Mi=A
  • Rhythmic dictation – includes syn-co-pa and quaver rest.

Third Grade: interval work; Ionian, Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygian modes known.

Recorder work:

  • Vocal warm-up: do hexachord – drmf drmfs d lsmfrd; do scale: drmfsltlsmfrd; d d’ s m r d; interval work: dr dm df ds slsfmrd – move up a semitone.
  • Interval work using cards.
  • Teacher sings “do” – then notes above or below. Pupils have eyes closed and hand sign note they think she has sung. Repeat starting on “so”. Teacher plays recorder – repeats activity.
  • Hand signs known song; identify; play on recorder; work out tone set of song, and write notes on board. = C to D’. Sing from board – F, G and B can be sharps and flats.
  • New song – Aeolian. identify -sing – play
  • 2-part song – sing in pairs
  • Sing walk pulse and clap rhythmic ostinato round the room.
  • Game – folksong

Because the pupils have music so regularly, I observed a huge development in skills between each year group, especially between the First and Second Grade. In the Music Kindergarten, I observed: ta ti-ti and “sh” as conscious rhythmic elements, plus sol-fa d – d’. At the school, Zsuzsanna starts with pre-conscious work, but can move more quickly since some pupils have conscious experience of rhythm names, (ta, ti-ti and “sh”) and sol-fa.

In the First Grade lesson, I observed lots of rhythm work including the minim (ta-a), and pitch work involved developing experience of l-s-m on a 5-line stave.

Rhythm activities:

Teacher taps 4 beat rhythm on tambour using tas and ti-tis: pupils are encouraged to make the rhythm using their bodies, (one person would be a “ta”, two people would form an arch to make a “ti-ti”), at the front of the class. One pupil would be in charge of organising their fellow classmates.

  • “Chinese whispers” with rhythms – teacher plus 6 pupils. The teacher taps a rhythm on the shoulders on one pupil. This pupil taps the rhythm they think they have felt, on the shoulders of the person in front of them, and so on. The last pupil claps the rhythm they think they have felt. The rest of class can see what is happening, and can judge the effectiveness of their fellow pupils’ ability to transfer the rhythm they think they have felt, correctly.
  • Each pupil had a set of single rhythm cards, and was encouraged to make clapped rhythms by the teacher.
  • Identify songs with given rhythmic phrase by the teacher.

Pitch work: use of felt boards with 5 black lines and felt note heads.

  • Place “so” on the board and make “mi” in correct place below, in a space or on a line.
  • Teacher plays a 4- note phrase on a glockenspiel and the pupils make it on their boards. They hold them up for checking.
  • Add in “la”. Teacher’s demonstration board has different colours for la, so and mi.
  • Identify a song with opening phrase that they have made. Stand to sing and hand sign. Find song in text books. Colour “la”, “so” and “mi” in different colours. Sight read a new song and colour in the notes. Sing the song to sol-fa and hand signs; sing to rhythm names; sing to words.

In the work of all the Hungarian teachers I observed, both in Budapest and Kecskemét, I was struck with the beauty and craft of their lessons. Teachers gently guided the children through each activity, and even though the lessons were in Hungarian, it was possible to see what skills and elements were being developed in each part of the lesson. Each activity dovetailed into the next with the preparation for subsequent work being completed in previous activities. There was always a sense of purpose throughout the lessons. Every child was involved and focused. The lessons were intensive, but all the children participated fully and enjoyed what they were doing, because they were fulfilled and more significantly, they were achieving.

The lessons were to me, perfect models of what I am trying to emulate in my own teaching. I don’t think I ever will reach such perfection, because it is not in my blood in the same way as the Hungarian teachers, who have grown up being educated this way. However, a gifted teacher such as Cyrilla Rowsell is an example of how a British teacher is able to achieve this. For anyone who has been in one of Cyrilla’s classes, you will appreciate her calm, systematic approach. She makes it look deceptively easy, but this is the true craftsmanship of a Kodály teacher. It is knowing what you are trying to achieve and being able to deliver a lesson in such a way, that all your pupils know exactly what they are learning at each stage of the lesson. Interest and concentration is maintained at each stage of the lesson through a multi-sensory approach, and pupils learn through individual, paired and group work.

For me, the more I learn and discover about this philosophy of music education, through courses, my own research and through the experience of actually teaching, the more I want to know and find out for myself. It is a journey, which I am enjoying immensely, and will hopefully, take a lifetime to fulfil.