Summer School Review by Kathleen Watson

Kathleen Watson

My journey home from the University of Wolverhampton’s Walsall Campus at the end of the British Kodály Academy Summer School was filled with frequent moments of overwhelming emotion. Over the next few days I tried to analyse exactly why this happened. I wasn’t sad as such, although I had come to the end of one of the most amazing weeks away of my life. Clearly, I was shattered from the magical quiz and party the night before, but aside from this the six-day course was jam-packed full with activities to stimulate the minds, bodies and voices of musicians of all abilities.

“I knew the week was going to be special. I hadn’t
bargained for it to be completely life-changing!”

After attending the BKA Spring Course I knew the week was going to be special. I hadn’t bargained for it to be completely life-changing! The week was largely geared towards those who taught music, or had the ambition to, but also stretched the most experienced musicians in ways they didn’t even know possible. During daily choir sessions László Nemes would challenge my musical memory and physical co-ordination (and the art of combining the two). It was the perfect early-morning start to each day – and highlighted the fact I am terrible at singing one thing, clapping another, whilst also walking a rhythm with my feet!

Singing the chords
Each morning also brought for me solfège musicianship classes with the brilliant Lenke Igó. We were thrown right in at the deep end singing 7th chords in various inversions, analysing beautiful music from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, preparing materials from Kodály’s two – and three-part exercises, as well as enjoying the harmonic progressions from a Bach chorale. I see now how the Kodály approach gives a much deeper understanding of the foundations of harmony. How can students truly understand how the chords are created without singing them? And what better way to understand the relationships between single notes and chords, and chords within harmonic functions than to use solfa? Lenke’s teaching inspired me to really push forward with a Kodály-based curriculum with my KS3 students and to persuade my colleagues who teach KS4 and 5 that it really is effective!

“Lucinda demonstrated perfectly how much musical learning can be
extracted from such simple repertoire in a fun and engaging way.”

Simple repertoire, deep skills
The afternoons were filled with the sheer delight of listening to Cyrilla Rowsell and Lucinda Geoghegan exude enthusiasm for the progressive steps and brilliant repertoire that an Early Years and Primary Kodály curriculum can provide for children. Cyrilla was right; you never leave a workshop without learning something new that you can use in your own teaching. My own children of 5 and 7 years old have delighted in practising ‘Omochio Tsukimasho’ whilst on our family holiday this week. Lucinda’s clapping pattern for ‘Hill an Gully Rider’ almost brought me to tears, it was so beautiful to watch (and even better to clap)! As in so many areas of the course, Cyrilla and Lucinda demonstrated perfectly how much musical learning can be extracted from such simple repertoire in a fun and engaging way. During afternoon conducting sessions Esther Hargittai gave me the confidence I needed to become more stylish and accurate in my own technique. It was lovely to watch how she, and all the other tutors taught with such sensitivity. Even when we were not quite right, she continually looked for the positives in our movements and suggested ways to move forward.

The Bootleg Beatles
In his evening workshop the wonderful André Barreau, formerly of The Bootleg Beatles, took me back to a golden time in my youth where the music of the Beatles meant so much to me. At the time my friends were listening to Take That or Oasis and for me there was really no competition! I was like a giddy schoolgirl listening to him talk about their harmonies, and confirming for me the genius of Lennon and McCartney through a lot of singing, and simple analysis (in solfa, of course).

“Árpád’s delivery had the singers in fits of laughter, but in addition to his comedic
preamble to a game or exercise he talked so passionately about how singing
makes him feel, and how singing with others is really like nothing else on earth.”

A singing community
I couldn’t imagine the week getting any better by this point, but WOW, what an evening Árpád Tóth had to offer in his workshop on choral improvisation! How he coaxed a seemingly endless amount of beautiful music from just a few simple phrases or pentatonic songs was sheer genius. Árpád’s delivery had the singers in fits of laughter, but in addition to his comedic preamble to a game or exercise he talked so passionately about how singing makes him feel, and how singing with others is really like nothing else on earth. As a passionate choral singer and leader this really rang true. What better way is there to feel like a community than making beautiful music with others using little other than our voices? I think it was this thought more than any which left me emotional on the way home. How music, and in particular singing, can affect the whole person is incredibly powerful. Music is not just dots on a page which we have to translate into button-pressing on an instrument – it’s within us, and singing is the purest and most satisfying way I know of releasing it. And more than this, the potential that singing provides as a tool for developing musical literacy is inestimable. I kept thinking about how deeply sorry I felt for the countless music students who struggle with basic concepts because material is presented first with symbols and then with sounds, without first experiencing these sounds through singing. As much as I love my summer holidays as a teacher, I really cannot wait to get back to school to start using the ideas, songs and exercises with all the children I teach.

Kathleen Watson teaches with the North Lincolnshire Music Support Service and at Caistor Grammar School. She also runs a toddler music group, teaches piano, recorder and singing privately and directs the Training Choir of the Scunthorpe Cooperative Junior Choir.