Kodály’s Legacy: The Power of one – The Power of a Few – The Power of Many by Dr. Jerry-Louis Jaccard

Keynote speech given at the 2005 IKS Symposum

Welcome to the other G-8 Summit! We are here to discuss Music, which for the cultural anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, was “the supreme mystery of human knowledge. All other branches of knowledge stumble into it; it holds the key to their progress” (Claude Lévi-Strauss quoted by Gardner, 1982, 91). This suggests to me that if we could get the music part of our world right, then we could probably easily get the peace part right. We, as humble musician-teachers, are the peacemakers of our world.

Have not you been on the school playground lately? Have not you reached out and helped two belligerent little boys put their world back right again? And did you not bring them together to unite in singing something beautiful in music class? Are not many nations of our world behaving like such boys on the playground who need the softening effect of sweet music in their hearts? So here we are gathered together in perhaps one of the most important international meetings of the world in order to discuss how to unify mankind through something beautiful called music. We are asking the leaders and followers of the world – if only they were listening! – to join us in an exploration of the supreme mystery of music. United in such a cause, there could only be peace, for that mystery will keep us all so busy that we won’t have time to fight! As our friend and colleague, László Dobszay, has reminded us, music is a mirror of the order of the Universe that “reflects order” and “creates order” within us (1992, p. 83). And, from Zoltán Kodály, “Souls cannot be reshaped by administration. But souls reshaped by beauty and knowledge are easy to administer” (Kodály, in Bónis, 1964, 147). You can see how we already have some concrete solutions for what is troubling the world.

We are gathered in this hall today most likely because we have personally benefited from the gifts of one the great minds and souls in the history of music, Zoltán Kodály. His legacy to us is constructed upon five pillars:

  1. A vision of the role of music for the individual, society and the world
  2. The heartfelt belief that music is for everyone
  3. The relentless quest for musical literature of enduring value
  4. A nationwide example of Music for Everyone in action
  5. His example of personal integrity

Kodály was indeed a remarkable individual – the power of one – whose lifework continues to motivate us. The inheritance we have accepted from him is a work yet unfinished. We are the power of a few through whose hands his work is being continued. That is the raison d’être of this Society. My presentation today intends to explore how the strength of these pillars continues to increase with the passage of time. I declare today that we are standing on a firm foundation, we are not alone in our position, and our cause is just. “We are standing on the threshold of a new era, in which music will play a greater part than ever before” (Kodály in Ádám, 1944, 1971, p. vii).

A Comprehensive Musical Vision…

We live in the fickle Age of Possession, where price is confused with value, outward appearance is judged instead of interior depth, immediate gratification is substituted for lasting rewards, and a fulfilled life is equated with having lots of things. How slow we moderns are to remember lessons understood millennia ago. When his grieving people built Beowulf’s memorial mound, they wisely decided to bury out of sight and out of mind the hoard of gold he had wrested from Grendel, the dragon:

Into the hill then did they the rings and bright sungems

And all such adornments as in the hoard there

The war-minded men had taken e’en now;

Beowulf’s treasures let they the earth to be holding,

Gold in the grit, wherein yet it liveth,

As useless to men as e’er it first was

Unlike gold, genuine music cannot be possessed as a material commodity. It is to be lived and enjoyed as a condition of the human spirit. And that is why there is such a tension between what we are trying to share and the world’s general disinterest in it or commercial corruption of it. We live in a world that has forgotten how to live a musical life.

The cause is confusion about what constitutes lasting value. Kodály proclaimed: “Powerful sources of spiritual enrichment spring from music. We must spare no effort to have them opened for as many as possible” (in Bónis, 1964, p. 120) and “Music is not a recreation for the elite, but a source of spiritual strength which all cultured people should endeavour to turn into public property” (in Szabó, 1969, p. 4).

We almost daily confront those who would like to see music disappear from the curriculum. According to Alfred North Whitehead, the attempt to develop barebones intellectuality by economizing the curriculum only results in “a large crop of failure” (Whitehead, 1929, 1957, p. 40). He sees this happening because “you cannot, without loss, ignore in the life of the spirit so great a factor as art” (Ibid). For Whitehead, “the claim for freedom in education carries with it the corollary that the development of the whole personality must be attended to” (Ibid). Without undue outlay for material resources it would not be difficult to ensure that our schools “produce a population with some love of music, some enjoyment of drama, and some joy in beauty of form and colour” in their general life (Ibid, p. 41). Otherwise, ” …our concentration o¬n technology threatens to push to the periphery of education those aspects which nurture the feelings and the spirit…” (Dobbs in Bachmann, 1991, v).

Along those same lines, Keith Swanwick said “This is where the ultimate value of music lies. It is uncommon sense, a celebration of imagination and intellect interacting together in acts of sustained playfulness, a space where feeling is given form, where romantic and classical attitudes, intuition and analysis meet; valued knowledge indeed” (1994, p. 40)

“Of what value is imagination?” micromanagers might ask. The answer came from the American 9/11 Commission after three years of investigating how the U.S. intelligence services could have missed the possibility of such an attack: “This was…  above all, a failure of imagination” (MSNBC, 2004, npn). Make no mistake; their report was not about placing blame but about fixing a societal problem, the inability to think in many directions at once, to foresee consequences, to follow a theme to its ultimate cadence. Who knows but what some well-taught sol-fa lessons on the Art of the Fugue could rectify that weakness! “Man without music is not complete, but only a fragment of a person” (Kodály, 1966, p. 74).

Music is for Everyone!

Kodály made it clear that “Music must not be the exclusive property of the few, but should be accessible to everyone. This is the supreme idea, which, for several decades, many of us have tried to find ways and means to put into practice. This we have tried to do through children” (Szabó, 1969, p. 4). And, “every sound child with good eyes and ears is able to learn music and should learn music. The ancient Greeks made us believe that” (in Herboly-Kocsár, 2002, p. 3). These were bold declarations in their day and it is now very gratifying to observe how recent discoveries continue to verify and uphold them.

Educational psychology has shifted to a more constructive, developmental view of individual musical capacities that support Kodály’s implication that all people are naturally predisposed to music. For example, Frederick Turner reports how “Behaviorism as a tenable explanation of human psychology has completely collapsed; human beings do appear to have a nature after all. Studies of newborns show that we come into the world with a formidable array of predispositions” (1995, p. 20). Moreover, those predispositions include music.

[C]ross-cultural and neuropsychological studies of the arts reveal that the classical genres of the arts – pictorial representation, musical scale and tonality, poetic meter, narrative, and so on – are built into our makeup as human beings and cannot be lightly ignored by a culture without damage to its young and a loss of meaning and value for its adults. A natural classicism is emerging, which implies greater canons of value in the arts” (1995, pp. 20–21)

Kodály’s colleague, Hungarian piano pedagogue Erna Czövek, wrote that “…Virtually everyone can be useful in some capacity in the field of music, it is a matter of finding where…  one must know the music, know the pupil, and work towards and coordinate the essence of each” (1979, p. 90). The answers are in the student, the teacher and the music, or, as Howard W. Hunter reminds us: “’The learning process lies within.’ Five little words. Learning is a drawing-out, not a pouring-in process. The word ‘education’ has its roots in the Latin word educere – to draw out” (in Wadhams, 1986, p. 9).

Others, too, have determined that musicality is a universal human trait. Psychologist Helmut Moog defined musicality as the “ability to experience music… not a ‘special ability’ but… the application of general abilities to music” (1976, p. 45). Victor Zuckerkandl elaborated on this theme:

[M]usicality is not the property of individuals but an essential attribute of the human species. The implication is not that some …  are musical while others are not…  [M]usicality is not something one may or may not have, but something that …  is constitutive of man…  Music is the concern of all, not of a privileged elite, and if musicality represents an asset, it is not the prerogative of a chosen few, but an endowment of man as man (1973, pp. 7–8).

You can see that the power of one has indeed become the power of a few as Kodály’s singular voice has been joined by other great ones. The conclusion can only be as Kodály stated:

Outstanding talents will always be rare, and the future of a musical culture cannot be based o¬n them. People of good average abilities must also be adequately educated, for in the near future we must lead millions to music, and to this end we shall need hundreds if not thousands of good musicians and teachers (in Szabó, 1969, p. 33).

Musical Literature of Enduring Value…

Kodály’s mandate for the education of musical taste and the discernment between good and bad music flies in the face of today’s anchorless moral relativism. It is not a popular stance to take. Throughout history, popularity has rarely had anything to do with rightness. As the folk proverb goes: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, ” especially where such great laws as govern musical taste are in effect. These great laws are the grand themes of Kodály’s lifework: “Feeding on art results in spiritual health. Those who develop a taste for what is good at an early age will become resistant later to what is bad” (Szabó, 1969, p.4). “The elementary schools will fulfill their purpose when they teach not only how to read but also how to distinguish between good music and bad music” (in Herboly-Koscár, p. 79). “Perfect morality always projects true art, while the cult of trash is always an indication of moral unrest” (p. 81). “Strictly speaking there are only two kinds of music: good and bad” (p. 87).

There are many musical trends and voices in the world around us. We must be careful not to back the wrong horse where there is so much at stake for our young ones. Frederick Turner wrote “One of the fundamental assumptions of avant-garde art is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is a denial of “the classical position, that beauty is a reality in itself” (1995, p. 16). It is also a denial of spiritual values, for “The way that art changes society is through hope …  [H]ope uplifts us. Hope involves an imaginative estimate of possibility, an intellectual leap into the future” (pp. 28–29). Curiously, that future leap is anchored in the past, for the original music of society is folksong. “Folkmusic is not a class art. As into a reservoir, many springs have flowed into it during the course of centuries. There is no layer of humanity, no experience, which has not left its trace in it. It is the mirror of the people’s soul” (Kodály in Vikár, 1969, 5).

I never thought I would see the day when a pop star would reinforce our cause, but while waiting to see the dentist one day, I read an astonishing article in a magazine. The singer Natalie Merchant, in describing her new CD release The House Carpenter’s Daughter, told of her discovery of traditional music and its influence on her new CD:

“I had been doing research through the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts [at Lincoln Center], and I’d listened to a lot of old field recordings. I also took a course in American folk music… People have told me, ‘I don’t know this music but I feel like I do and I feel like I should.’ This is the foundation of the music we listen to today and we’re drifting further away from it…” (2003, p. 10).

Whitehead stated another great law of learning related to values inherent in the microcosm of folksong: “The best education is to be found in gaining the utmost information from the simplest apparatus… ” (1929, 1957, pp. 9–10). Kodály applied that law in this way: “Logical teaching methods demand that we should start from what is simple and proceed towards what is complex…  Our ear must first get accustomed to simple musical experiences before it can pursue more intricate forms (in Szabó, 1969, p. 5). It is easy to recognize how completely folksong fulfils these requirements. The “simplicity” of folksong makes a direct connection to the “complexity” of masterworks in three ways: 1) “A good folk song is a perfect masterpiece in itself” (in Herboly-Koscár, 2002, p. 23); 2) Folk music and art music are not “two different businesses; during the whole history of music, they never missed finding each other’s voice” (VIkár, 1993, p. 4); and 3) “[M]usic history and folk music are such twins that they really belong together [and] complete each other. All research into music history sources end up in folk music, and all the peculiar national styles can be traced back to folk music” (Vikár, 1969, p.5) or, as Kodály said it, “The national musical culture of every people rests on a healthy relationship between folk music and composed music” (Kodály in Bónis, 1974, p. 222, edited for clarity).

I have come to understand another reason why folksong and its companion customs, celebrations, rituals, dances and games are so important to education. They simply constitute the natural way human beings make and learn music! They are the genuine product of mankind making music intuitively. How was that astounding Old English epic, Beowulf, handed down to us? All three thousand one hundred and eighty-two lines of it were handed down for centuries by oral transmission before ever being written down. Like all other epic poetry, they were most likely sung and danced, if the great linguist, Edouard Sievers, was correct (1912, p. 36). Neuroscience is discovering why we tend to make music, meter and rhyme out of everything, because we all seem compelled by “the deepest tendency or theme of the universe,” including “complexity within simplicity,” “rhythmicity,” and “hierarchical organization” (Turner, 1995, pp. 218–219).

However, the most compelling argument for seeking out the very best music of our civilization is because of the lasting impression it makes deep within the individual, especially during the impressionable years we call childhood. An experience of Gustav Eckstein’s, a renowned animal physiologist at the University of Cincinnati, illustrates this point. He had spent eleven years researching the relationships and behaviors of a family of canaries through several generations of their existence. The birds were so accustomed to him that they were not kept in cages, but allowed to fly free in his laboratory. Dr. Eckstein loved music and often listened to symphony broadcasts o¬n the laboratory radio or played the piano in his laboratory, both to which the canaries would enthusiastically sing along in their own way. He also noticed how the canaries had developed a habit of poking seeds through holes in the window screen to feed sparrows on the outside. This caused Eckstein himself to fall into the bad practice of opening the screen once a day to throw out leftover birdseed to the waiting sparrows. He later wrote “I was aware of the danger, because you could see how the canaries were getting interested in being out there with the sparrows.” one night, someone left the screen completely open and almost all of the canaries flew out. “What was I to do?” wrote Eckstein. “At least it seemed good sense to start playing the piano, and this I did.” At first, nothing happened. on the second day, he noticed that the canaries were coming nearer. Eventually, the oldest male canary flew in and began singing “as if to burst his throat” after which all but one of the others came back inside. This was no easy feat, for in order to come back into the laboratory, the canaries had to pass through the sparrow’s territory, “and that took great courage” (Eckstein, 1942, pp. 31–33). I find this to be a powerful metaphor for why we want our children to learn the best music of our civilization, to take the high road of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. We cannot control all of the musical input into a child’s life, but we can make sure they are regularly instructed so that their view is of the highest peaks of the art; we have to give them something to come back to even if they are temporarily enticed away by socially “in” music or succumb to the fickle trendiness of those who profit from it. Another proverb: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

A Nationwide Example of “Music for Everyone!”
Let us first set the record straight about what Zoltán Kodály did not do. He did not create a method! His vision was that teachers would solve that problem individually based on their own deep understanding of music as a body of literature, their equally deep grasp of child development, and their particular circumstances. His onetime student, László Dobszay, warned that “Anyone who is hopeful that Kodály evolved a pedagogical system or ‘manufacturing process’ by which the ideal music education infallibly comes about, has no idea of Kodály’s way of thinking and is in for a big disappointment” (Dobszay, 1972, 16). Instead, we see Kodály himself researching, observing and waiting over the years, nudging certain teachers this way, others that way. He encouraged individual problem solving and re-directed those who wandered into easier and less effective pathways. We must also not forget that Kodály was himself a teacher, much appreciated for helping young composers find their own styles and voices.

The American journalist, Frank Smith, once observed how “People who do not trust children to learn – or teachers to teach – will always expect a method to do the job” (1992, p. 441). Herein lies another danger we must continually confront; there are those whose aim is to politicize music education by placing noble ideals into tidy methodological boxes in order to maintain power and control over national systems. Sometimes our own teachers, blindsided by the glitter of commercialism, succumb to this siren call of possible fame and fortune. We are again reminded of Beowulf’s lesson as expressed in another English folk proverb: “All that glisters is not gold.” What seems to be innocent enough can often be musically deadly in the wrong hands. Frank Smith calls specifically prescribed methods “the systematic deprivation of experience” (p. 441). Some of our colleagues avoid this trap by publishing well-researched and organized collections of song materials, quality choral arrangements, and curricula. A curriculum organizes a body of music into an interrelated flow of activities and elements for teaching and learning, but then it becomes up to teachers to deliver the curriculum. This is where a teacher’s musicianship, insight into the students, intuition and creative spontaneity must work the magic of true child-sensitive musical education. Such things cannot be written down for others to copy. They must be found deep inside the intelligence and character of the teacher. As John Curwen observed, “No written method can provide for all cases. Each particular class is a study in itself” (Curwen, 1875, 27).

Erna Czövek was even more adamant about the matter:

“The teacher-to-be should get to know the music and the child and then himself develop the proper connection between them in the name of human values and morality. Personal tricks can be devised in a moment of inspiration; but to copy these or any kind of personal habit without conviction and concoct a teaching method out of them for one’s own use is not ethical.” (1979, p.49).

What Kodály did do was to musically mobilize an entire country even though Hungary was under the harshest of political and economic duress. And even though we hear sad reports of decreases in time allotted to music instruction in some Hungarian schools, we cannot deny what has been accomplished. We also know that Hungarian music education was always and still is a work in progress in which, as in all countries, the best and the worst teachers can be found. But several facts remain: Hungary did implement a music curriculum that is nationally unified in content but locally diversified according to the individual teacher. Hungary did develop a successful folksong-to-masterwork singing musical culture. Hungary did create a multi-tiered, childhood-through-adulthood path for musical instruction that is available to almost all of its citizens. Hungary did successfully address the issues of music teacher-education for a complex, multi-tiered system. And Hungary did develop a national choral singing culture. And Hungarian musicians and teachers are in demand around the globe. These monumental achievements stand on the shoulders of Bartók, Kodály, and hundreds of musicologists, composers, conductors and teachers who learned how to work together toward a common vision. We may stand aside and criticize all we want about the details, but the fact remains that here is something worth emulating. only when the world beats a path to our own national doors just for the purpose of learning how our music education works will we have license to criticize. As an aside, I have to tell you about meeting a Hungarian Communist Party official in 1980 who, with obvious pride, told me about the “brain drain” we Americans were causing in Hungary because of “all the teachers we were inviting” to teach in our Kodály courses!

Another great Hungarian music education achievement was the creation of the Singing Primary School. Kodály took his inspiration for this from the Greek and Medieval “humanities” school concept (1966, p. 74). After the first such school proved that devoting more time to music would not diminish achievement in other subjects, many more everyday singing schools proliferated. With music as the central subject in a correlated curriculum, these schools directly fulfilled Whitehead’s vision: “The solution which I am urging is to eradicate the fatal disconnection of subjects which kills the vitality of our modern curriculum. There is only o¬ne subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations” (1929, 1957, p. 7).

In all of the Hungarian music education efforts, so much has had to depend on the teachers, and that is why authentic Kodály teacher-education programs are rigorous. We all recognize that the Hungarian musical establishment has had to produce a different kind of musician-teacher than we are generally used to seeing in the public schools. Erna Czövek, one of the chief architects of Hungarian piano pedagogy during the Kodály years, articulated the essence of that difference:

“It is not enough for the teacher of the arts to have a feeling for art and teaching; he must be knowledgeable, too. First and foremost he must be able to recognize and follow the essence of a work: the consciously planned combinative work of the artist… the way the work has been formed… What grips us in art is the creative artist’s form-giving power, by means of which he conceives the whole work as an entity and fits it together logically from the sequence of details… a Beethoven sonata or Bartók’s music in the way the whole is built up out of the movements, and the movements take their shape from the interplay of the motives without the slightest break. The macrocosm and microcosm lie hidden in all true art. The work’s totality consists in the interplay of motives and their logical interconnection. It is the primary task of music teaching to get this across”. (1979, p. 13).

Zoltán Kodály: An Example of Personal Integrity

We have now arrived at discussing the power of many in today’s global community. We can only collect such an army one-by-one based on the power of one, our own example. Yet another folk proverb: “There are only three ways to teach: example, example, and example.” The essence of Professor Kodály’s leadership seems to be that he duplicated his influence over and over without duplicating himself. This he did by delegating tasks and responsibilities to students and colleagues. This was the power of one becoming the power of a few and eventually the power of many within his country.

Notice that the power of many is totally dependent on the power of one. Each of us here today is that power of one in our own sphere of influence. It may not be our foreordination in life to be a national hero like Kodály, but what does matter, is that we do make a difference whoever and wherever we are. Our solitary example will generate the power of a few and they will eventually accumulate the power of many. Marjorie Pay Hinckley, one of the honoured mothers of our State of Utah said: “We all have a responsibility to make a difference, to be an influence, to lift someone” (2003, npn.).

Sometimes we will feel that we are not making any progress. All great people with great ideas experience discouragement. When those times come, the following story about a university literature professor will help:

Many years ago I interviewed one of my college professors for the school newspaper. He was a gentle giant of a man who rescued baby birds flung from their nests during West Texas windstorms, picking them up from the sidewalks and carrying them home wrapped in a handkerchief in his shirt pocket… “If you write about that,” he said, “Be sure to say not to do it. They always die.” His eyes were misty. “Then why do you do it?” He said nothing, gesturing helplessly. “Are you going to keep doing it?” He nodded, looking almost shamefaced. “He can’t help himself,” said a brisk voice from behind me. It was his wife, a tough, smart woman. “He always thinks ‘what if this time I can save one.’”

Her husband was George Carter, a literature teacher. He and many like him are unsung heroes, on the front lines of a battle against relativism and nihilism. They profess the truth. They insist that aesthetic principles are more than mere personal tastes. [They have] an unfashionable attachment to the oft-maligned canon…  [T]hey get relegated to lower-level courses, where they try to teach incoming students to recognize good literature—and this is excruciatingly difficult for the student whose tastes have been formed by one poor fiction after another, and who has been assured all his life that his opinion on anything is as valid as anyone’s.

…They rescue as many baby birds as they can (Wittingshire, 2005, npn, edited for brevity)

Like George Carter, YOU are the power of one. If you rescue only two baby birds, then together you are the power of a few. In due time, the three of you can become the power of many. Of course it will be hard work. Again from Alfred North Whitehead:

All practical teachers know that education is a patient process of the mastery of details …  There is no royal road to learning through an airy path of brilliant generalisations …  The problem of education is to make the pupil see the wood by means of the trees (1929, 1957, p. 7).
Never underestimate what you, the one, can do. Never underestimate how much more we, the few, can accomplish. As Margaret Meade, the eminent cultural anthropologist said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” My dear friends and colleagues, we are that “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens.” We are the power of o¬ne and the power of a few. Let us become many more!

Dr. Jerry-Louis Jaccard
Vice-President of the International Kodály Society
Brigham Young University School of Music
Provo, Utah, United States of America

References and Bibliography

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MSNBC News broadcast on 22 July 2004.
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