Zoltán Kodály’s Inspiration and the Challenges of the 21st Century by Gilbert de Greeve

Keynote speech given at the 2005 IKS Symposum

In line with the Conference theme I would like to invite you to some reflection about Zoltán Kodály and the Challenges of the 21st Century.

Before saying anything else, let me emphasise the fact that these “challenges” do not relate exactly to the moment that the century started.

Of course the turn of a millennium, whether it was on January 1st, 2000 or 2001 – who cares – is a reference point that appeals strongly to our imagination. And, without any doubt, it is a good moment to deeply think about the future, about what is coming up and how one can deal with it.
Looking forward is a necessary and positive move. But let us also not forget “to remember” what we “had” and what “was” good. It may help to better understand the forthcoming challenges and prevent future generations from “re-inventing” the wheel over and over again.

As I mentioned already, “new” challenges are not depending on “historical timing” but on “historical happenings”. Most of the times it were “revolutions” or –in the better cases– “evolutions” of one or another nature.

Since this particular Conference is focused on the 21st century, I would say that the most important happenings of the last 50 years, causing new and big challenges, were the beginning of the exploration of space in 1957, generating an enormous technical and industrial revolution in electronics and informatics; 1968, when the happenings in Paris and elsewhere inspired the whole world to reflect on spiritual freedom, resulting in a number of new philosophical and ethical approaches of life and society, and 1989, when the Berlin wall came down and the whole political world landscape changed. Most probably, a number of the educational challenges of today are more or less directly related to these 3 “evolutions”.

The exploration of space drastically speeded up the invention of powerful and more powerful computers and smaller and smaller computer chips. And one of the important issues to be addressed nowadays is “how” to use this technology in a meaningful way in education. I also think that it is no longer a matter of “whether” computers should or should not be used. That question is completely past time.

The pro’s and contra’s have been well known for many years already. I can have sympathy for both as long as the “pro’s” give a clear picture on the didactics of using the tool and the “contra’s” do not only start from ignorance or aversion.

But personally I am tempted to think that the use of new technologies cannot and should not be avoided. Furthermore, intrinsically a “technology” is not good or bad; it all depends on how it is applied.

It will be an important challenge to investigate whether there has been enough consideration given and reflection done on this issue. Consideration and reflection going beyond personal opinion and based upon serious and profound research.

Do not expect clear answers from me today. I do not have them. My goal is to raise the questions, hoping that it will provoke the necessary thinking. In fact the questions about new technologies and their suitability in education is a topic that deserves a Conference on its own.

But two things I can say with great conviction: (1) computers should never be a “replacement” for the teacher (unfortunately these tendencies exist) and (2), computer programmes should not create false expectations, such as pretending that a child can be a “composer” by pushing button A for an automatic second voice to a tune or – even worse – button B for a full orchestration.

There must be good and meaningful ways to use informatics in music education. But the danger is again that in the development of the programmes the “commercial” objectives strongly prevail above the aesthetic and educational ones. Perhaps we are not aware enough of what is going on in that field and should learn from Robert Schumann, for whom Kodály –as we know– had a great admiration and often pointed to as a source for his inspiration. Therefore let me quote Schumann for a moment. He wrote: “I am affected by everything that goes on in the world and think it all over in my own way, politics, literature and people, and then I long to express my feelings and find an outlet for them in music.” (Unquote).

Musicians and music educators should be “involved” in the development of educational computer programmes, instead of waiting on the sideline to see what will come out. Already in 1953 at the so important UNESCO Conference on “The Place and Role of Music in the Education of Youth and Adults” one of the commissions wrote: (I quote) “In view of the technical developments of means for the mechanical reproduction and diffusion of music, and because of the influence which these can have upon the growth of the musical taste of young people and adults, this commission recommends that through the intermediary of Unesco and its National Commissions, strong representations be made to those public and private authorities responsible for production and diffusion in these media of mass communication that: Greater consideration be given to the choice and transmission of works of the highest musical quality. Programmes and recordings be prepared in close consultation with music education specialists so as to assure the best interest of community music education”. (Unquote). It is clear that it is not a “new challenge”. And it is also clear that the right answers have not been found yet nor have they been implemented. More, much more research and engagement of the music world will be needed. Perhaps yet another task for the International Kodály Society: to take a lead in this process and to continuously raise attention that “quality” should never be “optional”…

When in 1968 students in Paris and subsequently almost everywhere else began their philosophical and ethical revolution, soon it became clear that the world would never be the same again. Many books were published –and many more will be– about the “raise and fall” of the world since then. But not even the most nostalgic people can deny that the “spiritual liberation” of the second half of the 20th century was a blessing in many ways. However, it has also led in certain areas to an unfortunate decline of established values. That is quite understandable because the process concerned a “reaction” against the whole “establishment”. But, as it was so often the case in history, some of these reactions exceeded limits that cannot be exceeded without paying a serious price for it.

One of the most unfortunate reactions concerned “ethics”. Suddenly the word “ethics” became the enemy, a meaning associated with parental and school authority, often also with dogmatic issues and respect for the law.

Nowadays, even the greatest protagonists of 1968 have to admit that a society cannot function in a total and unconditioned freedom. There is more needed. For instance self- and mutual respect or professional integrity, to name just these two.
Again we can turn to the inspiration of Zoltán Kodály who was, as Professor Alexander Ringer wrote it so well, a “Vir justus”, a “right man”. Let me refer to o¬ne passage of that article: (I quote) Kodály was unfettered by extraneous considerations, answering only to the firm commands of his unswerving conscience and creative impulse and thus a lasting blessing to all who believe in music as the crucial cornerstone of the entire humanistic enterprise. (Unquote).
The way in which Dr. Ringer describes Kodály does not only refer to his writings and speeches but also to his compositions and research. In fact it concerns his complete lifestyle. A lifestyle that was “inspirational” to those who closely worked with him, a lifestyle that gave him the authority to stand up and speak freely at a time when these “human liberties” were not at all evident in his world.
This is another big educational challenge for the future: to find the most suitable ways of teaching “ethics” to children, especially in a media-dominated world with an overvalued focus on material things. Besides, there is this most dangerous evolution of “social isolation” –people retiring themselves almost totally before a screen, be it a television or a computer– and the sometimes extremely refined indoctrination of the media, promoting programmes filled with complete emptiness or, even worse, with violent, disgusting – so-called – “reality”. These presentations thoroughly denigrate the thinking and questioning capacity of the masses.

On the other hand the situation becomes even more dangerous when it concerns “steered” programming to plant seeds of fanaticism and extremism of whatever kind they may be. Only “education” can change that negative tendency, and to live in a more peaceful world by 2025, the process must begin immediately.

Again do not expect concrete suggestions from me. It will be a long and difficult time. But the role of the educator will be crucial and, without any chauvinism, the music educator’s contribution will be even more crucial, because ethics and aesthetics have to go hand in hand.

Once, when Kodály was asked: “what is that, a good teacher”? His answer was strikingly short and clear: “a good teacher is an inspired personality”. Reflecting on that sentence, there are two obvious key words: “inspiration” and “personality”, and one “hidden” meaning: “example”. A good teacher must be exemplary to his/her students. But to be exemplary requires a development beyond methodological and didactical skills. It requires great vision and the courage of permanent and continuing study. It is an enormous responsibility, in particular in a society that rather inclines towards hedonism instead of idealism.
Nothing new of course. I remember a survey done in New York City in 1969. One evening around 10 pm, about 300 homes were telephoned with the intention to research whether the parents knew where their growing up children were at that moment. In more than 70% of the calls they got hold of growing up children that did not know where their parents were. Today, with both parents working, almost a necessity in the present society, it may be worse, transferring the responsibility of educating children even more to the school and the teachers.

And then 1989, when suddenly the whole political landscape changed. Even more surprising than the fact “that it happened” was “the way” in which the evolution occurred. When the euphoria was over it became clear how big the challenges were and, unfortunately, because of many promises that were not kept, most of the challenges are even bigger today.

A good friend, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Belgium –and an excellent amateur musician– mentioned more than 30 years ago that the “problem” of the future would not be the West-East issue but the North-South one. How prophetic these words were can be witnessed today. A great part of the world’s population is living in poverty and every day thousands die of starvation or a lack of the most basic medical care. This situation would be terrible if it was unavoidable. But it is not, and that makes it criminal.

And again, the only way out might begin with “education”. Quality education for which –as so often stated nowadays by governments– is no more money available. In some cases it may be true; in other ones it is absolutely not. But in “all” cases it is certainly not the “only” problem.

Zoltán Kodály spoke wise words when he said that “not the emptiness of the purse is the problem but the emptiness of the mind”. Wise words indeed and a clear indication to the force of imagination and invention.

Long before CDs and DVDs were common goods, I attended a class of Music Analysis in the Antwerp Conservatory. The Professor, a composer and remarkable personality, had nothing but an old record player at his disposal. However, his way of illustrating a score, singing, humming, grumbling and whistling the different parts of the orchestra (depending on their timbre) whilst tapping with hands and feet different rhythmical patterns –all in real time– gave us, his students, a unique insight in the score. We became, as it were, “a part” of the performance. Whenever I hear Stravinsky’s Petrushka I am tempted to compare it with the one-man version of our Professor. And in many cases I am not sure who wins, thanks to his enormous enthusiasm that I remember.

All this said, it is time –I assume– to become very realistic. The Hungarian Music Education Model was –and most probably still is– an example for the whole world. It was and is the fruit of a vision and of great engagement of one of the most important composers of the 20th century: Zoltán Kodály. It was, and is also the result of those who were inspired by him –in Hungary and abroad– and carry on his educational concept, a process that has now spread all over the world.

The Hungarian model is built upon 3 major pillars: the use of quality materials, quality teacher’s training and frequency. It is “that” model that the whole world has wanted to copy after it became internationally known at the 1964 ISME Conference in Budapest. It is “that” model that has been implemented successfully in many countries –be it sometimes with a very different methodological curriculum. It is “that” model that is known as the “Kodály Method” or the “Kodály Concept” or –often also used– as the “Kodály Philosophy”.

I have never met one serious musician or music educator who questioned the value of the Hungarian model and I am sure that I will never meet one.

But there is a hard reality attached to it: it can only be optimal if the 3 pillars are intact. Every loss of quality (be it in the use of the materials or in the teacher’s training) or of the frequency will diminish the value of the Hungarian model. It does not mean that it becomes worthless. No, it can still be good, even very good, but it will “not” generate the “same” results as those that the Hungarian schools achieved for decades.

Interestingly enough, on 2 of the 3 pillars musicians and music educators can have a big impact: the materials and the teacher training. It is something where the involvement of the music world is direct and substantial. For the 3rd pillar however, the “frequency”, vision is needed of people outside the music world: politicians, administrators, school boards and principals and –not to forget– parents. Without any doubt it is the most vulnerable of the 3 pillars.

Of course, I know that there are countries that never had more than 1 or 2 music lessons a week. It is a mere “fact” and I have the greatest respect for teachers who achieve the best possible results in the given circumstances. But it should not stop the music world from advocating in every possible way the necessity of making music a “normal and fully-fledged school subject” of the curriculum, taught on a daily basis as an exquisite emotional counterweight against a more and more intellectual approach of smaller and smaller children. That was Kodály’s dream.

I am aware that in most places it might be a struggle for the next 50 years or more. But just imagine that there would be, somewhere, one enlightened politician –who knows– who would understand the crucial importance of a well-balanced “human” education and would have the statesmanship to pursue his conviction. It might be the first little snowball that could grow into something beautiful and extremely important for future generations. After all, when Zoltán Kodály launched his vision on music education, the situation in Hungary was worse than in many places today.

Therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, one should not only be inspired by his method or concept or even philosophy – if you want – but also and foremost by the “man” the “whole man”, of whom Professor Dénes Dille once mentioned to me, that he should be considered as the greatest human personality of the 20th century.

Is the “Hundred Year Plan” still timely in the 21st century? by Ildokó Herboly Kocsár

Keynote speech given at the 2005 IKS Symposum

Zoltan Kodály wrote his article called “The 100 Year Plan” in a music teachers’ periodical in 1947. Ever since its first appearance many different references have been made in many places questioning its strange title. What purpose did Kodály have in mind when he wrote these thoughts nearly 60 years ago?

The first words of his article are:

“The aim: Hungarian musical culture.

The means: making the reading and writing of music general, through the schools. At the same time the awakening of a Hungarian musical approach in the training of both artist and audience. The raising of Hungarian public taste in music and a continual progress towards what is better and more Hungarian.

To make the masterpieces of world literature public property, to convey them to people of every kind of rank. The total of all these will yield the Hungarian musical culture which is glimmering before us in the distant future.”

After this opening Kodály writes a short review of what had happened in the 50 years before. In the second half of the review he sets out the tasks; the changing of general attitudes and the importance of the use of the pentatonic scale as a focal point.

In the final paragraph he makes a reference to 1868 when Statute XXXVIII (38) was brought into force whereby singing lessons were made compulsory by law in every school curriculum.

The closing paragraph of the article:

“We cannot prophesy, but if the principle of expert tuition comes to be realised in practice by 1968, that is to say a hundred years after the birth of the primary education act, it may well be hoped that by the time we reach the year 2000 every child that has attended the primary school will be able to read music fluently. Not a tremendous achievement. This, however, will rightly bear the name Hungarian musical culture.”

It is evident to all of us that the thoughts Kodály put to paper in 1947 in connection to music education is relevant not only to Hungarians.
We have to admit and accept that the plan anticipated for the next 100 years has not yet been realised. Sadly, in 2005 not every 14-year-old Hungarian child can read music fluently although Kodály had done all that was possible to achieve this goal.

It has been proved that his concept and philosophy is a fine music-teaching tool. The effectiveness of Kodály’s philosophy has been backed by scientifically proven facts and results. The past fifty years have also proved that the “concept” can be realised not only in Hungary but also anywhere in the world from Australia to Japan to the United States of America.

What is the problem?

Why was this aim not possible to fulfil?

Was this only a dream?

László Dobszay was looking for the answers to the same questions in 1990 in his article entitled “the Actuality of the 100 Year Plan”.

László Dobszay is a professor and musicoligist at the Music Academy in Budapest, a practising musician and the founder of the Schola Hungarica vocal ensemble.

As a solfege teacher he wrote in the 1960’s a series of solfege (exercise) books that are still the finest today. They are called “the World of Sound” and follow Kodály’s pedagogical philosophy to the smallest detail.

I would like to quote a few thoughts from these writings of 15 years ago.

“…Kodály found the way to teaching through his own experiences of value alone, through being affected by the intellectual values found in folksongs, the masterpieces and music in general, (what ‘deserves to be called music’), and the love deriving from it. Love is just diffusivum sui (something that strives after its own diffusion) and only this quality can inspire any genuine teacher and teaching.”

“…Kodály represents an age old European tradition in this respect, which may be one of the reasons why his message seemed to be so new. The meaning of ‘humanism’ is, however, very clear in this tradition. It signifies something other than charity work, sympathy or nobility of thinking. It stands for an attitude that asserts the rights and demands of humanity. Humanity includes all those values that make man human, raise him above the level of other living creatures and safeguard the integrity of the spirit and the coordination of the spiritual and physical life. This humanity is centred around four values: truth, goddness, beauty and holyness. They embrace a cultivated mind, the properly oriented and disciplined will, the well-ordered emotional sphere and the reverential openness of man towards a being higher than himself.”

“…the role Kodály entrusted to music cannot be exclusively justified by its refreshing qualities and communal character, nor with the value of musical heritage alone. No genuine spiritual life can be conceived without music or, as Isodorus’ book, this encyclopeadia of the Middle Ages, stated: Without music no discipline can be perfect. Without music man remains uncouth and unrefined.. In contrast, music makes him more generous, polite, joyful, amiable, more apt to create loving relationships, or as the medieval pupil learnt: ‘reddit hominem liberalem, curialem, laetum, jocundum et amabilem’. No one would deny that this holds true for good music representing spiritual values. To reverse this statement: bad music destroys man’s spiritual integrity, renderes his inner being friable and disrupt the structure of humanity. This pedagogical hierarchy has an effect on music education as well. Though the infiltration of dilettantism wounds the very heart of music teaching, the final objective is not the transmission of the knowledge of the musical profession. It is the integration of the intellectual force of music, or more precisely, as Kodály put it, of the masterworks, into the human spirit.”

“…the Kodályian educational model could not score outstanding results in its days of glory because it remained isolated within school, culture and society alike. To be more precise, a certain presentiment of belonging came to be expressed by a spontaneous respect of many and for other the Kodályian achievement could have been a model and an inspiration in their own field. But the conscious recognition and the thorough intellectual and practical elaboration that could have raised the Kodályian inspiration to a cultural movement were missing.”

“…the state takes eo ipso a stand in matters of culture and the values represented by it whenever it functions normally. A national curriculum or examination system makes sense only if there exist a standard which is the expression of values considered to be positive. The contribution granted by the state for the maintenance costs of a museum is an expression of the appreciation of Rembrandt’s paintings, for example. The issue at stake that must be continually clarified, both in principle and in everyday affairs, is to what extent and in which area it is fair that the state should support cultural-humanistic values.”

We have to admit that the past 15 years has not brought about any changes either.

With the speeding up of economic and technical advancements at the forefront, culture is continually forced to be the last to be considered.
Social recognition and the aim for a higher quality of life are all measured by purely materialistic means. Education is like a servant of culture and less and less significance in countries with a wealthy society.

A new set of values has developed at the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st. Instant result have become the units of measure so that long term investment and nurturing of the arts has become unprofitable and superfluous. In the view of the people who have control over these matters, music education is becoming dispensable.

These people (who themselves as children, have clearly missed out on the magical effect of music) do not recognise the effect of music education towards the development of healthy, even-tempered, well-balanced harmonious human beings.

This tendency is unfortunately a world phenomenon. We can draw some interesting comparisons between peoples general daily timetable of 100 years ago and today. In the old days most people worked all day and for most people that was physical work.

With technical advances modern workplaces have allowed people a lot more free time. To fill this leisure time, a new continually expanding industry developed: called the “entertainment industry”.
The feeling of well-being and of achievement resulting from successful work satisfaction was replaced by a “live it up” attitude. This new lifestyle has received a continues to receive a great deal of support from different forms such as media attention, films, TV programmes, video games etc. Unfortunately much of these are full of aggression and negative forces. The bulk of our teenagers are daily consumers of this new “culture”.
The “so called” music that accompanies these films, TV programmes and video games is typically very brassy, full of weak harmonies and unimaginative melody and all played at a thumping volume with overpowering drum beat and bass lines.

It is almost impossible to find public places, shops, shopping centres and even transport that are not contaminated by this form of music.

What can schools do to counterbalance this? Can they do anything at all?

One of my favourite professors at the Music Academy, Lajos Bárdos, told us as students to observe people after a concert and how they never quarrel at the cloakroom, at the bus stop or in the street.

We now have to redefine the term used 40 years ago “after a concert” to after “serious music concert”. In the old days we only called these events “concerts” (Today all events where instruments appear are called concerts).

In a single sentence of Professor Bárdos an entire philosophy of upbringing had been summed up: “people who have been brought up in a suitable musical doctrine do not violate the rules of harmonious social living”.

Let us compare a 45 minute long music lesson of 30 – 40 years ago with one of today’s 45-minute lessons. The experience gained during a music lesson then, made a much longer impression, remembered longer by the student, had other strong positive effects and had a lasting impression till the following lesson.

The experience, or adventure, of a music lesson of today, – leaving aside the school building – immediately seems substandard by comparison.

The youth of today are part of a “mob culture” and equipped with state of the art equipment and listening to the most modern products of music. These “innocent”, not yet matured, easily lead consumers are the largest commercial marketplaces. They not only want to fulfil the trendy musical ‘culture of the day’ but they mimic the example of their peers with their dressing, behaviour and even their speaking.

The music teachers are providing a low quality service when they try to compete with this thankless challenge. Lets just think about what tools are available for the teachers to counter these modern trends so that they can seduce the teenage students with a Mozart melody.
In many cases they can only rely on their influence as a teacher as the family background provides little or no support.

The numbers of students who bring from their families the love of high quality and important music are minimal. The minority for whom the enjoyment of reading a good novel is more important than the watching of some inferior TV programme, and those who have the need for culture, or a cultural life.

We have to admit that the task of the music teachers’ appears to get increasingly difficult in everyday life.

It is not the Kodály concept that has got tired; it is not the Kodály method that has become drained. On the contrary! This is the very thing that could be the cure for this dying society whose soul is becoming extinct.

The number of music and singing lessons should be doubled, not reduced in the schools. We know that the correctly applied Kodály principles reap higher achievement results in other subjects too and that we could have a healthier society.

Intensive occupation with good music most certainly provides an antidote against inferior and cheap imitation music. It provides protection against the pollution of decent taste and the morally corrupting musical terror surrounding everyone today.

The experience and joy of music making together, singing together, safeguards against the infection of indifference. It develops attentiveness in young children towards each other, the responsibility to look out for each other and the perception and feeling of solidarity.

Kodály had formulated the importance of this more than 75 years ago: “Is there anything more demonstrative of social solidarity than a choir? Many people unite to do something that cannot be done by a single person alone however talented he or she may be.”

The world is in constant momentum. Huge distances are easily reached, faraway destinations can be reached within hours. With the lifting of border controls people have become mobile. Millions of people travel daily covering vast distances. Having reached their goal, many of these people return to their original starting point, while others look for a new home and embark o¬n a search in the world for a new home. These people settle in new countries and try to assimilate to their new surroundings.

We often see that assimilation is not so easy. The vast number of people find it very difficult to combat their feeling of loss of belonging, the trauma of replanting their roots and this becomes the basis of much conflict. Should they give up their ancestral traditions, should they adopt the customs and behavioural habits of their newly found hosts or should they stick strictly to their own heritage and foundation and traditions going back many thousands of years? These questions have become very prominent in the past few decades but unfortunately we are still unable to give a reassuring answer to them.

The results of the arrival of the previously mentioned technical wizardry, the discovery of scientific wonder-machines has a bewildering affect on the average person. It becomes progressively more difficult to handle the increasing new knowledge and technical information available daily and ones loss of identity and insecurity becomes increasingly prominent. Many people turn to psychologists, psychoanalysts to find the answers to the loss of their identity.

We can confidently say that this is the sign of our time in the so-called well off and comfortable society.

Can these spiritual problems be prevented; can any type of school education give any help towards this?

The answer is certain: the school cannot do this alone; preparing our children to handle and deal with the difficulties of the future can only be achieved by parental co-ordination and family involvement.

A good family background gives stability and well-balanced behaviour, it helps to answer questions of morality and to find ones’ way in the labyrinth and hierarchy of values (not prices). The family is the smallest and the strongest cell in the body of a nation. This is where a child learns and learns to live the meaning of belonging, the meaning of paying attention to each other, and the responsibility of looking out for each other. This is where they breathe in the traditions and customs of their past. If they arrive at the school bringing these foundations with them, then it is much easier for the teacher to continue to broaden this culture.
The music teachers’ place is a special one in the 21st century.

It is our experience these days – and in this I am sure we all agree -, that we receive less support in our work to achieve our goals than we used to.

I often wonder whether if those people who inflict pain and grief upon their fellow human beings have ever experienced or heard the music of Bach or Mozart? Could or would it have influenced their personalities if they had been touched by Gabriel Faure’s song of After the Dream, or the closing scene of Puccini’s” La Boheme”?

We all know that the best method of teaching, the best thought out syllabus and the best teaching books are useless in the absence of a good teacher.

Only those music teachers who have been blessed with musical talent and are well prepared for their lessons, are able to inspire children’s interest. only those teachers, whose personality reflects rays of sunshine are able to induce the musical emotions and open the children’s souls, to embrace music. only those teachers with these attributes and untiring enthusiasm are able to carry Kodály’s concepts into practice.

The ‘common denominator’ between those people, who have discovered the magic of music, is the individual magic that each one of them contributes to this magic and the radiating energy that passes between each one of these magical people.

The responsibility of the music teachers-training establishments is a great one: selecting, educating, and preparing the teachers for the future for this thankless but at the same time wonderful task.

As Kodály wrote 50 years ago:

“A man who has talent is required to cultivate it to the highest degree, so as to be of the greatest possible use to his fellow-creatures. Every human being is worth as much as he can turn to the advantage of mankind and to the service of his country. Real art is one of the most powerful forces for the uplifting of mankind and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of mankind”.

How Loud Is Too Loud? by Betty Power

from the BKA Newsletter, Summer 2002

Unless we are fortunate enough to live and work in an environment of peaceful, natural beauty, it is likely that most of us would agree that today’s world is a much noisier place than ever before. Our hearing is constantly exposed to a chronic din at the least, and noisy workplaces the worst – some by choice, others by chance: DIY, wearing personal headphones, smoking (!), children’s toys, the sounds from the street and underground…

Organisations have been established to raise public awareness of the dangers of noise and noise pollution, to help young and old understand the mechanics of the ear, and what they can do to prevent premature hearing loss. In May 2005, a European-wide Awareness Campaign was launched to raise awareness of one of Europe’s most persistent workplace health problems – noise at work.

As music educators, what are we doing to safeguard our students’ hearing in the classrooms, in the practice rooms, in the concert halls? What are you doing to protect your own hearing in your working environment? We have a responsibility to learn about the long-term effect of loud music on children’s hearing, and what we can do to ensure that the musicians of tomorrow will still be able to function in the future. Schools, youth orchestras, conservatories all have a vital role to play in providing information on hearing damage and protection, which could start as early as age seven, e.g. simply by eliminating fear of hearing tests.

Did You Know That……?

  • Students often play in environments with worse acoustics than professionals, but that the inner ear of the child is more sensitive to noise and may be susceptible to hearing loss for noise exposures that are safe for adults.
  • Noise levels when teaching are theoretically much lower than when in performance but still significant. (A peripatetic brass teacher was successful in a legal case against his local authority for hearing damage which was apparently caused by working in small practice rooms!)
  • Modern instruments are getting louder.
  • Research in audiology (hearing science) has documented a higher incidence of permanent learning loss in classical musicians than rock/pop musicians – incidence increase of 30% in rock/pop musicians and 52% in classical musicians!
  • Over 80% of musicians when tested following a performance had a temporary music induced hearing loss – damage will be permanent if exposed to loud noise too long or too often. Effects of too much noise may last for a few hours or even a few days.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Protecting your hearing starts with understanding how noise works. The classic “formula” for assessing the risk of hearing loss is the intensity of the noise, measured in decibels (the danger starts at 85 decibels, roughly the sound of a lawn mower), multiplied by duration, the time of exposure. In other words, the louder the noise, the less time you should be exposed to it. Prolonged exposure to any noise above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss.

Some common noise levels:

Whispering: below 35 dB

Talking with friends: 50-60 dB

Hair dryer low speed / 82 dBA

Flute playing lively folk tunes / 88 dBA

Underground train at 200 ft / 94 dBA

Output of bagpipes / 109 dBA

Music in a disco: 110-120 dB (amplified at 8 feet)

Symphonic music peak, some health clubs & aerobic studios: 120 dBA

Noise levels surpassing 140 dB will result in immediate and irreversible damage.

An EU directive has determined the legal limit for sound exposure is 85dB.

What’s That You Say? Signs of Hearing Loss

  • Reduced understanding of speech and accessibility to sounds
  • Tinnitus (i.e. ringing, or other perceptions of sound in the ear) that is associated with hearing loss and pitch perception problems, i.e. “A” heard as a “B”

Children might describe the following experiences:

  • Feels like you’re hearing through cotton wool
  • Difficulty understanding what people are saying
  • Ears feel like they want to “pop”
  • Hear ringing, or high whistling sound in ear.

What Is Being Done to reduce the risk of hearing loss due to exposure to loud music?

The professionals…

Last year the Musicians Benevolent Fund in cooperation with the Association of British Orchestras began a series of training seminars for orchestral players and management dealing with the issue of noise damage in orchestras. Initiated in response to the research project ‘A Sound Ear’ which was commissioned by the Association of British Orchestras in 2001. This thought-provoking report tackled the issues of potential hearing damage to orchestral musicians and the training seminars go some way to offering solutions. Many orchestras world-wide are affected by laws regarding noise levels and other countries look to the ABO for guidance on the subject. (The complete report, “A Sound Ear”, is available through the Association of British Orchestras (£10) and online ABO website “Symposia”)

(In) May 2005, the San Francisco Opera began providing each of its regular musicians a pair of custom-fitted “musicians’ earplugs”, originally created by Etymotic Research for members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This new benefit program is in conjunction with H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers, a San Francisco-based non-profit hearing preservation organisation). Hear Tomorrow seeks to educate and promote awareness of the danger to our hearing from continued exposure to loud sounds.

What can we do for children?

  1. Reduce noise levels at source: raise the brass, reduce the amount of ‘noisy’ repertoire, choose lighter repertoire for smaller venues, hold sectional rehearsals whenever possible, establish the (correct) use of ear plugs and/or screens, never double rank the brass when it’s noisy repertoire, re-design pit orchestras
  2. In extreme situations, reduce noise levels at individual level by using hearing protection devices, e.g. ear-plugs or in-the-ear sound monitors
  3. Teach children that their ears are their most important musical instrument.
  4. Ensure that students receive age-appropriate hearing-health information at all stages of their development. Refer them to up-to-date websites, leading news articles to help them understand that investing in hearing health is just as important as investing in healthy eating and daily exercise! And that NOW is the most important time.
  5. Enlist the advice of an accoustical consultant at your school or music organisation, to approximate the noise risks. (NOTE: Danish primary schools have installed noise monitors in their classrooms).

NOTE: The BKA provides links for information only and does not endorse products or companies. All links open in a new browser window.

1) For Parents, Teachers, Adults: Online factsheet available from RNID website:
www.rnid.org.uk/information_resources/ to find out about:

  • how we hear
  • different kinds of hearing loss
  • hearing loss caused by noise
  • tinnitus caused by noise
  • how can I prevent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus?
  • what are the Noise at Work Regulations?
  • can I get compensation for noise exposure?
  • equipment to protect your hearing
  • reusable earplugs
  • where can I buy ear protectors?

2) For KS1-2

“Keeping Ears Safe From Noise”: www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetailsKids.aspx? p=335&np=152&id=1442

3) For Teens

www.hearnet.com a non-profit hearing information source for musicians and music-lovers.

4) For Music Professionals

British Performing Arts Medicine Trust (BPAMT)
196 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JF
Telephone: 020 7240 4500 (London) or 0845 602 0235 (outside London).
Fax: 020 7240 3335
Email: bpamt@dial.pipex.com
Website: www.bpamt.co.uk

The Musicians’ Union
60-62 Clapham Road, London SW9 0JJ
Telephone: 0207 582 5566
Fax: 0207 582 9805
Email: info@musiciansunion.org.uk
Website: www.musiciansunion.org.uk

New Developments
(As printed in Hearing Health, volume 19:2, Summer 2003)

Sennheiser is taking a step toward taming fatigue-inducing ambient noise for commuters, travelers and pedestrians in urban or noisy settings. PXC 250 “Streetwear” mini-headphones for portable music players reduce noise above 1,200 Hz by 15 to 25 decibels. The foldable set tucks away into its own bag and comes equipped with Noise Guard™ compensation that can be switched on to lessen environmental noise on aircraft, trains and other motorized vehicles. It has the ability to cut sounds below 1,000 Hz, such as engine noise, by 15 decibels.

SoundEar® from SoundShip, a Danish company, is a noise indicator that uses a unique light display to warn of exceeding pre-set decibel limits. Awarded the Danish Design prize in 2000, the wall-mounted model is universally used in Swedish school cafeterias and in many European classrooms and workplaces. Recently introduced in the U.S., it seems an eminently sensible approach to teaching about the dangers of exposure to loud noise as well as safeguarding against them.

PocketEar®, a nifty little personal noise monitor, lights up when sounds exceed a decibel setting selected from three choices on the meter. It comes with a neckstrap, keeping it handy for checking for warnings, and also acts as a carrying case for earplugs! Great for concerts or workplaces that have variable noise levels.

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 b.jenkinson@ukonline.co.uk

Musical Experience – from Cradle (and before) to Grave? by Janet Hayward

A look at the power of music in old age when the mental functions may diminish by Janet Hayward (BKA Newsletter, Spring 2003)

A little while ago, I watched a television programme which I only came upon by chance but which made a considerable impression on me. It was a short Open University programme about the impact of songs, i.e. the combination of words and music, on our lives and our memories.

It started by illustrating the ability of babies to hear and remember music which has been played to them frequently while they are in the womb. Those of us who have been on the Sound Beginnings course know that there is now a wealth of research evidence to support this thesis. Several mothers talked about their own experience of playing a song to their unborn baby, and finding that after the birth, this song had the power to calm and quieten the child at times of distress.

The programme went on to remind us how learning in childhood can be enhanced by setting words to music, and cited examples such as trying to teach a child the alphabet, and finding it can be learnt in next to no time if it is made into a little song. I can bear this out from my own experience as a primary school teacher.

However, the time when songs have their greatest impact on us, according to this programme, is during our teenage years, and these songs are most likely to be the pop songs whose words echo the passion, joys and tears of adolescence. But in order for them to be remembered, we need to recall the music as well as the words. As evidence of this, a number of “baby boomers” i.e. those now in their fifties, were asked to recite the words of the Beatles’ song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Most of them had difficulty with saying the words, but once they were reminded of the tune and started to sing it, the words came back with little effort.

So great is the impact at this time, apparently, that the words and music of these songs stay with us for the rest of our lives. Further research has been undertaken on elderly people who are suffering from dementia, and therefore have some damage to their brain cells. This research has shown that they can still recall songs they knew from their youth, even when much else is lost in a fog of confusion.

I was particularly interested in this part of the programme, as my mother, who is 92, has recently been diagnosed with a condition known as Lewy Body Dementia. This strange name refers to a doctor called Lewy, who discovered in post mortem examinations that there were microscopic “bodies” on the brain cells of patients who had died after showing particular symptoms. These symptoms were confusion and loss of short term memory, as with other types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, but also hallucinations, which might be aural or visual, and Parkinsons’-like symptoms, i.e. shakiness and mobility problems. In addition to these symptoms, my mother is suffering from an untreatable eye condition known as macular degeneration, so she is nearly blind.

With all these problems, it is really difficult now to know how to amuse her. Her conversation is muddled and repetitive, and she refers constantly to the instructions and information, much of it malign, from voices she can hear. She has been a lifelong churchgoer, so we always try to watch “Songs of Praise” with her and have a number of CDs of her favourite hymns. Not only do these seem to calm her and give her enjoyment, but she also makes a very passable attempt, for someone of her age, to sing along, and manages to get much of the words and tune correct. She also seems able to express herself through rhymes and songs she learnt in her childhood and youth, although other language is an effort for her. For example, I recently pointed out to her that the sun had come out after a long spell of gloomy weather, and she began to sing: “The sun is a-shining to welcome the day, hey ho, come to the fair!” A little later we decided to go for a walk outside. As we rounded a corner, a cold wind hit us and she recited, word perfect, this little rhyme:

“The north wind doth blow and we shall have snow
And what will the robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in the barn and keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.”

Not only did this amuse us both, but it seemed to give her a great sense of satisfaction that she could recall these words, when so often she struggles to string a sentence together.

So it may be, that, as we are involved in Kodaly learning and teaching, and building up our “bank” of songs and rhymes, we are doing more for ourselves and our pupils than we realise. Perhaps in addition to the more obvious benefits of a good music education, we are also preparing ourselves and those we teach to cope with the mixed blessings of living well into old age.

Teaching Tips: Two Activities by Helga Dietrich

by Judy Brindle (BKA Newsletter, Spring 2003)

1. “Hey Jim Along”* A song I new but never used because I lacked a “game”. Here is Helga’s: Stand in a circle & each think of a one syllable action word + action. In turn we set off the next version by singing our word & doing the action. Immediately everyone joined in performing the action (I think) at the beginning of each phrase. There were about 20 participants & we had “Ski Jim a long”, spin, drink. eat, as well as the usual walk, clap, and stamp. It was a relief when it came to my turn & no-one had pre-empted my version but then Helga let it run round the circle a second time. (I think the song had 4 phrases ABAB) So the song was repeated 80 times. We were all engaged, having such fun & maintaining the beat throughout.

2. The other idea that stands out was how Helga introduced a new singing game. I’d learned from Helga previously that in the Early Years “we don’t teach a song by echoing phrases”. But what exactly do you do? Standing in a circle, Helga sang a song with an action to the beat. Immediately, she repeated the song. Each time the song was repeated the action to the beat changed. We joined in with the actions & gradually joined in singing with increasing confidence. This was immediately followed by the game and of course we continued to produce a high standard of singing.

It is interesting to note that my SEN course has been well received by Early Years practitioners. I feel there is much common ground. We do lots of repertoire appropriate for mainstream EY KS1 & a little for KS2. We look at using the repertoire to develop musical skills & understanding with progression by small steps. I incorporate movement wherever possible.

Just before starting teaching in my special school I received some excellent general advice. “Imagine pupils with special needs are younger than they are.” My mainstream early year’s material was just right for my 11 year old pupils with moderate/severe learning difficulties.

Note: *”Hey, Jim Along” and other wonderful songs for pre-school and KS1 settings can be found in 150 American Folk Songs by Peter Erdei.

The Christmas Nightmare in the Nursery School by Angela Tilly

BKA Newsletter, Winter 2003

This is often a ‘thorny’ subject between vocal specialists and teachers with no musical skills. How many of us have had to put our children through the traditional musical nightmare because of parent pressure and listened with clenched teeth to the appreciative comments of those who don’t know any better when we know how well children can perform when given the chance? And how many of us whose teeny songsters have reached fantastic vocal heights during lessons, have been sabotaged at the eleventh hour by well-meaning but ill-advised colleagues at the Christmas concert?

Having spent a weekly session for a term at a Montessori Nursery school carefully building up vocal and musical concepts within a strict pitch range and achieving enchanting singing by 24 tots between the ages of 2½ and 4½ years, imagine my horror when I found that two days before the Christmas concert, the teachers had “tampered” with the pitch – their reason being that they could not sing “that high!” Not being able to rehearse with the pianist beforehand, I had written out the songs for her – all of them simple and with a small range for very young voices. She and I had conversed on the telephone and agreed on a recommended pitch and one line introduction for each song to avoid the need for “Start now” and other disturbing utterances. She informed me ten minutes before the show that she had been asked to put the pitch down as it was too high for the teachers to sing. My objection was that at a major third lower it was then too low for the children to sing. However, she “could not go against the Director” so it would have to stay! (My reply is not repeated here!).

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the children responded beautifully by bawling their heads off in a raucous rendering of “Bye, bye, baby.” There was no tune whatsoever and the volume was deafening. I decided action was needed and resorted to “Start now!” and other suitable cues at the original pitch for the rest of the performance. The pianist gave up, the piano was silenced and the result was magical. The children sang like angels. Hankies were in abundance with not a dry eye in the audience. A musical disaster was averted and all agreed afterwards that the children cannot cope with a pitch too low or too high and will shout so that they can hear their voices. At a pitch frequency between D and B in the octave below above middle C, most of them can hear and control their voices very well. There is no need to shout. (Shouting belongs to the speaking range). There are few things that sound more beautiful than very little children singing sensitively and in tune, enjoying the experience and knowing that they are performing well.

Another problem that rears its ugly head during the autumn term is that of the type of Christmas entertainment for parents. Most little ones cannot cope with the stage, curtains, numerous scene changes and endless text that they do not understand. From about half term onwards the teachers go into creative Christmas mode, the parents start making costumes and gathering family forces for the big performance, the children switch off completely. After that, panic sets in and all else is forgotten in the nightmare of organising extra rehearsals, last minute music lessons, stage-fright and appeasing stroppy children who ‘do not want to do it.’

Many teachers have asked me, “Is it necessary to put ourselves through all this every year? My answer is a resounding, “No!” I offer the following solution. Careful planning on the part of the organisers is essential to avoid over-rehearsing and starting the Christmas play too early. When it comes to the big day, the end product should be just that – a product made from the material of the curriculum. One week should be sufficient to ‘glue’ it all together. If a Nativity is required, it should be a very simple ‘one-liner’, preferably put together by the children. The rest can be done in song, incidental music and dance.

During the autumn term I teach a variety of songs and musical concepts that can be learned easily. They are based on topical subjects, such as the seasons, animals, special events, but some can be re-cycled at a later date, sometimes with different words appropriate for Christmas. Many children do not realise at first that some of the songs have the same music. There is nothing wrong in that – it is a bonus for those that do. A song that can be mastered quickly often becomes ‘new’ with different actions or movement. Previously learned skills such as walking on the beat, the spiral walk, thread the needle, follow the leader can be repeated with a completely new song. Thus concepts and music are being cross-matched constantly and the children’s skills being exercised throughout without any risk of boredom. Their delight knows no bounds when a new song is learned for Christmas and they find that they can already do the activity required.

I use the piano as enhancement, but only if I have the services of a good pianist. It can be an instrument of beauty that the children like to listen to, but I do not allow it to prop up or hide the singing. If you would like samples of tried and tested favourites and ‘tricks’ that can be used a short cut to the Christmas entertainment, I can supply some on request.

Good teachers will find many more songs and ideas and use them wisely. Please note that sort cuts to music education are not allowed. In the words of Ildikó Herboly: “Things not learned properly in the early stages take their revenge on a musician later.”

Singing: An Emotional Language by Carolyn Spencer

One teacher’s moving account of the power of song in the classroom,
BKA Newsletter, Winter 2003

As a year one class-room teacher I have recently had a close encounter with the power of singing with small children. A five year old girl in my class who has been deeply saddened and disturbed by events in her young life had broken down one day. I had the feeling that things had simply become overwhelming. The rest of the class went off to lunch and Anna sat on the floor with her head in her hands weeping. I remembered reading in Vivian Gussin Paley’s The boy who would be a helicopter (1990) about a time when she had sung a lullaby to a desperate child. I felt this memory whispering to me to encourage me to meet Anna’s needs. She came and sat on my lap and I sang “Go tell Aunt Sally.” She closed her eyes and for a moment her tense body let go a bit. I repeated the song several times, just as I would with a small baby. Then she uncurled and went off to lunch. I was left wondering if that had been the right response or not.

A few weeks later I decided to teach the lullaby to the rest of the class. At the end of the lesson every one lay down and I invited someone to sing to the class. Anna stood up and putting her head on one side and rocking from one foot to the other she sang “Go tell Aunt Sally,” she had us all captivated and it was very moving. I have no idea if she remembered the feeling from the previous time I had sung it to her, I suspect not consciously.

There is something about these songs and rhymes that have a very special quality. Similar to Fairy stories and dreams they seem to come from the unconscious and speak to the unconscious. As we sing these songs to small children and babies we must surely be furnishing their minds with the emotional language of music, just as fairy tales furnish their minds with the emotional language of stories from the collective unconscious (Bruno Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment: 1976.)

In a Quaker meeting recently I had going through my mind the song:

Mr Rabbit Mr Rabbit, your ears are mighty long/ Yes in deed they’re put on wrong/ Every little soul must shine shine shine,/
Every little soul must shine shine shine.

The words and tune of the song seemed to be “speaking to my condition” and rather like a dream it felt like it had a message for me and perhaps the meeting too. In a moment of madness I stood up and found myself singing this song into the silence of the meeting. A bit shocked I then found the meaning of the words speak to me. It seemed to be saying that the bits of us that seem to be “put on wrong” are perhaps the bits that make our little souls “shine shine shine”. A web literate Friend then found the rest of the song on the web and e-mailed it to me: so for Mr Rabbit fans, here it is:

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your tail is mighty white.
Yes, my lord, I’ve been gettin out of sight,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your coat is mighty grey.
Yes, my lord, it was made that way
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your ears are mighty long.
Yes, my lord, they were put on wrong,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine.

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, your ears are mighty thin.
Yes, my lord, they’re a-splittin’ in the wind,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine.

Mr Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit, I’ll bid you good day.
Yes, my lord, and I’ll be on my way,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine,
Every little soul’s gonna shine, shine.

These moments of connection with children or with ourselves seem to be possible with music, and in our over stuffed classroom life I feel that these moments need to be used wherever they can be found.

Music Education in the Early Years by Celia Waterhouse

First published in EYE Magazine in February 2002

All quality pre-school institutions profess that music is an integral part of their programme. The recent pre-school expansion in Britain has seen a corresponding expansion in demand for a properly structured approach to music education. Where can teachers find a high quality, educationally proven and affordable early years music scheme?

The Kodály Approach

Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967) transformed music education in Hungary. The ideas he developed gave rise to a systematic and holistic approach to musical training, from pre-school stage to diploma level, which has become world-renowned. Kodály believed that music is “part of human nature” and that, given the right input, everyone could become musically literate and articulate.

So what is “the right input”? The main characteristic of Kodály work is the use of singing. Kodály believed singing was the best medium for teaching the language of music. Singing actively engages the whole person and develops that essential musicianly attribute, the inner hearing. Kodály teachers train themselves to the highest standards and, acting as a good role model, pass on the ability to sing well, rhythmically and in tune to the children they work with. Nowhere is this more important than at the early years stage.

Kodály believed in starting musical training as early as possible, not only nine months before the birth of a child, but even, as he once said, nine months before the birth of the parent! Early childhood education has always been a top priority for Kodály educators.

It is generally assumed in this country that learning a musical instrument is the best route to musical training. But instrumental study is not widely available until Keystage 1 or 2. The conventional path to learning an instrument in the UK can leave many essential skills underdeveloped. Kodály teachers are first and foremost preoccupied with training the whole musician: playing an instrument musically is the “proof of the pudding”. The pre-school stage, when children are at their most receptive with rapidly developing memory, is the best time to start the ongoing process of musicianship training. A Kodály programme gives all children an equal opportunity to develop foundation skills, using nature’s own built-in musical instrument, the singing voice.

Kodály work focuses on engaging children in enjoyable, practical, carefully structured musical activity relevant to their physical, intellectual and emotional stage of development. This builds up a bank of memorable repertoire, which roots children’s understanding in real experience, and becomes a seedbed for future musical growth. Some early years music programmes focus instead o¬n the written language of music. Colourful and attractive materials have been designed to teach children to recognise and name notes o¬n the stave. Undoubtedly children can learn very complex written symbols, but what does this mean if unrelated to musical experience? To Kodály teachers this seems like “putting the cart before the horse”.

The importance of a good role model

A child learns his mother tongue by listening to and copying the speech sounds surrounding him from before birth. Gradually, through playful interaction with his primary carers, the baby’s interest is first aroused, the attention focused, and the seeds are sown for rapid development of the memory. Through frequent repetition, sounds become associated with meanings, and particular sounds become the means of coherent communication. Adults are an integral part of the process, functioning as an ongoing role model and actively engaging the child in regular exchanges. Adults provide appropriate material for the child to mimic and copy, and convey meaning to the complex sounds being repeated.

The same organic process is true for music, and nature has supplied the means. Every parent knows that some of the earliest vocalised sounds made by young babies are more like singing than speaking. Babies have a special sensitivity to the frequency of the mother’s singing voice, and respond to a spontaneous gentle lullaby and the soothing rocking motion of the mother’s body. These are quite simply the basic musical ingredients of pitch and pulse. Mothers who sing to their children provide a role model for musical development, and material that becomes the child’s musical vocabulary. This process can so naturally be continued through the early years by both parent and early years professional alike.

Sadly, for a good number of adults in modern Britain, spontaneous unaccompanied singing is not a natural and joyous means of self-expression. Some adults are inhibited about singing with their own children beyond the baby phase. Others are insecure in pitch, have never acquired a sense of pulse, and are diffident about the lack of confidence they feel about singing specifically and active music making in general. As we know, children are wonderful mimics, and all this is unwittingly passed on to them, acquired just like the local accent wherever they happen to be born. one of the best investments in music a nursery can make is to ensure that all staff are unselfconscious and enthusiastic about singing, and that they can sing well. In following a Kodály training programme inhibitions about singing are soon lost, and students (be they three or fifty-three) learn to sing confidently in tune, rhythmically and musically, and best of all, with a real sense of enjoyment, the key to all learning.

Recipe for success with young children

Kodály teachers start from the premise that everyone can learn to sing. Most young children have a limited singing range of about a musical sixth (from about Middle D to the B above). Best results are achieved by beginning with songs of limited range, starting from the simple “coo-ee” or “cuckoo” singing pitches (the solfa pitches so and mi) that children – and adults – spontaneously use in calling to each other. The universally known playground chants, Rain, rain, go away, Ring-a-roses, It’s raining, it’s pouring and Mary had a little lamb, are examples of songs which young children can successfully cope with as a first diet. There is no shortage of good repertoire. The teacher also chooses a comfortable starting pitch, ensuring that the song fits within the children’s range.

Songs are taught by rote from the teacher’s unaccompanied singing voice. Children hear only the sounds they need to imitate, uncluttered by the different timbre of a piano or other distracting accompanying instrument, or the insistent drum rhythms of modern backing music. Songs are repetitive, rhythmically simple, and easily memorised. Many repetitions, both on first exposure and on subsequent hearing, ensure accurate internalising of pitches, rhythms and words. Daily singing is the best approach, even if only for 10 minutes. once memorised, songs provide core material with which other music skills are developed.

Variety is achieved by adding accompanying actions performed on the pulse or on cue words, appropriate to the song content. Actions focus and engage the whole attention, and fix the song and its essential mood and components more firmly in the memory by anchoring the experience in different parts of the body. Pulse actions programme in from the word “go” that essential component of music, its steady beat. Cue word actionsare one of the first stages in rhythmic awareness. Numbers, names and animal noises are the most obvious starting point in early years repertoire. Towards age 5, as the child grows in musical experience, he or she learns to clap the rhythm (word pattern) of whole lines of well-known songs and rhymes.

Body actions develop co-ordination: this is where children and teachers can have a lot of fun! It also lays important foundations for a skill which musicians need in abundance, the ability to deal with several things simultaneously. Once a body action is established with any new song, it can be transferred to a percussion instrument. Children take turns to accompany the song with instruments such as claves, finger cymbals or jingle bells.

A well-developed memory is the key to any successful learning, and listening and concentration are essential to this. Kodály teachers make creative use of external stimuli to harness the imagination. The passing seasons, festivals and visits are an obvious source of inspiration for repertoire. Puppets, pictures and favourite storybooks or nursery rhyme books can be woven into music lessons to attract, focus and extend children’s attention.

What is good repertoire?

In considering repertoire appropriate for teaching, Kodály said, “only the best is good enough”. Young children actively experiencing good quality music unconsciously absorb good musical vocabulary. This influences their musical development and choices for the rest of their lives. Kodály believed teachers should look to the indigenous folk repertoire of their native country and traditions, and draw inspiration and material from there. These songs and rhymes have stood the test of time. Their essential elements are building blocks for all musical experience and understanding.
This does not mean that all our most popular Nursery Rhymes are suitable for a structured programme of early years music training through singing: far from it! Many of the best-known British tunes are in fact settings of traditional rhymes with melodies composed for the Victorian nursery. Sing the following aloud, and appreciate the inherent difficulties:

  • Humpty Dumpty
    high at the end
  • Jack and Jill
    impossibly low at the end
  • Ride-a-Cock Horse to Banbury Cross
    wide range, huge melodic leaps, no melodic repetitions
  • Hey Diddle Diddle
    no melodic repetitions, some difficult rhythms
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
    tricky word-setting in second line (one-syllable words on two rising notes), low at the end.
  • I Had a Little Nut-tree
    wide range, awkward melodic shape

Surprisingly, even contemporary early years song repertoire, including that specially compiled or composed, frequently contains similar difficulties, or is set in keys too high to suit the singing range of a typical 4-year-old. Although some young children have amazingly high, agile singing voices, and big vocal ranges, this is not the norm. Most need a diet of carefully selected material, starting from limited range, gradually extending the boundaries as singing skills develop. Kodály teachers look analytically at songs, and are concerned with planning programmes where material is introduced systematically, allowing learning to occur cumulatively. The success following this approach is self-evident.

Kodály programmes at the early years stage make particular use of singing games. These are part of folk tradition, and children learn them as easily and naturally as they learn to speak their mother tongue. Singing games, usually in circle formation, give opportunities for social interactions such as turn taking, choosing partners, or role-play. Games help to develop essential skills such as listening, concentration, memory and co ordination, in an enjoyable and emotionally satisfying way. Children perform musical actions as a group, according to the rules of the game, walking skipping or clapping to the steady beat, taking turns as the leader or soloist. They learn unconsciously and spontaneously through being actively involved in a structured play situation.

And those tricky Nursery Rhymes? Kodály teachers often use them in their original form as rhymes. Awareness of words is one of the earliest stages of rhythmic training. With their straightforward metre and rhythm, rhymes provide valuable material for rhythm work, and later improvisation and composition. The teacher chants with exaggerated intonation and mouth movements, focusing attention o¬n the individual syllables, the rhythm pattern, and the balance of each line. Children unconsciously absorb the natural metre and word pattern, as well as the form and structure of music inherent in the rhyme. This kind of activity undoubtedly aids speech and language development.

Training and resources

The British Kodály Academy runs an annual programme of courses for teachers and interested adults. Early Childhood Methodology is always available at the BKA Summer School and o¬n o¬ne or two weekends through the year, and in addition musicianship training is offered at various levels. These courses, delivered by top experts in the field, are a valuable source of inspiration and teaching repertoire. Students do not have to be musically trained at the outset, and learn by active participation, just as children do.

The beauty of the Kodály approach is that it can be begun immediately: no expensive technology or equipment is required. Teachers can introduce it in a small way within their current situation, and gradually phase it in as they become confident with the aims and develop their own skills, understanding, and teaching repertoire. This is in fact how most Kodály specialists in the UK started out.

And the learning never actually stops! The Kodály process is organic and interactive, so there is always something new to learn at whatever level one is operating. That is what makes it an exciting and creative way of teaching music, as all Kodály enthusiasts will tell you.

Books and Resources for Early Years work

Apple Pie and Custard / Knives and Forks and Spoons (Vera Gray)
Songs and rhymes for all the year round, for playgroup, nursery, home. (Lindsay Music, 01767 316521)

Children’s Songs* / Fishy, Fishy in the Brook* (Helga Dietrich)
Songs / Rhymes for young children

Five and Twenty Rhythmic Games (Dorothy Pilling)
(Piano music for the development of free movement, for use in Nursery and Junior School) Forsyth 1936

Moon Penny (Bill Meek)
Rhymes, songs and play-verse (Ossian Publications, Cork, Ireland 1985)

Music in Pre-School* (Katalin Forrai)

Singing Games and Rhymes For Early Years* / Singing Games and Rhymes for Tiny Tots* (Lucinda Geoghegan)

This Little Puffin (Elizabeth Matterson) Finger plays and nursery games (Puffin Books 1969).

*Compiled and written by Kodály specialists, and available from the BKA from our BKA Shop.

Celia Waterhouse trained as a piano teacher and works both in private practice and as a visiting teacher in Cambridge. She has been independently running musicianship classes for Early Years and Keystage 1 since the late 80s, and has worked as a visiting music teacher at a local Montessori School, and at Day Nurseries in Cambridge and the Newmarket area. Through the mid-90’s she ran her own Summer Music School for children and adults, with musicianship and singing as core elements.

In the early 90s she became interested in the Kodály approach which tied in closely with her own practice. She later began her training with the British Kodály Academy, and attained the Certificate of Kodály Music Education in 1999. Since then she has used a Kodály approach in her piano teaching practice and currently teaches Kodály musicianship at Keystage 1 at St Faith’s School Cambridge. She headed the Editorial Team working on the BKA’s Millennium Songbook, a resource book for class and instrumental teachers working at Keystage 1, 2 and 3. In 2002 she gained the Certificate of Professional Practice (Early Years – Kodály) through the BKA’s new ‘Sound Beginnings’ Course.

Celia served on the BKA committee from 1998 – 2003, and was Chairman from 2000 – 2003.