Some of the speeches and photographs from Cecilia Vajda’s Memorial Plaque Unveiling Ceremony on Thursday 28 April 2016.
- Gilbert de Greeve, former president of the IKS
- Dr László Norbert Nemes, Director of the Kodály Institute, Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music
- Lucinda Geoghegan, Educational Director of NYCoS
- Alan Murdock, BKA Trustee and student of Cecilia Vajda
‘that it is rather difficult, not to say quite delicate, to speak about someone to an audience…’ in which ‘there are a number of people who knew that person… much longer and much better than you do.’ He recalled: …a number of times that I could meet and talk with Cecilia and it was clear that we shared a lot of common ideas and dreams. But also some common concerns. The commonness of our opinion was undoubtedly the basis for our ‘liaison amicale’.
For me, as the younger one, our talks were a great source of inspiration which I treasure until and beyond today. Cecilia was an excellent educator – but this was because she was such a great musician. It is an eternal truth for all of us: you can only pass on to others what you know and master yourself. And a master she was, in every sense of the word: as a musician, as a teacher and as a human being.
Yet, as I mentioned already, there are some in the audience who could tell much more about Cecilia. Hence, my initial dilemma was not solved. Perhaps I could try to ‘improvise’. But I am sure that Cecilia would wholeheartedly agree that improvisation can only be done well when it is in a ‘structured’ form and based on strong thematic material… Therefore, allow me to turn to Cecilia herself.
One of our meetings was at the time of the Kodály Centenary in 1982. There was a very substantial Celebration Conference in Budapest, programmed mainly by Professor Erzsébet Szőnyi, by the way a great friend of Cecilia, and it brought together many distinguished musicians from all over the world. On the occasion of the Centenary, Cecilia also lectured in the UK and in one talk she turned very personal.
For this particular event I cannot think of a better way to commemorate and honour her, than to let her speak for a moment. She said:
This talk is going to be very personal, although I hope that it still remains objective. After having written many articles about Kodály’s work in Britain, I find this occasion my first opportunity to give a summary of the work publicly for a mainly British audience. But what is then my reason to be personal? I came to Britain on Kodály’s recommendation in 1967, months before his death. I have not been able to talk to him about the development in his work here in Britain, or about the difficulties either, which have often slowed down the development. I cannot help therefore, thinking that, while talking to you I am also reporting to him, what we have done, and what we have not done, although we should have done it. Kodály always wanted the truth and this makes my speech easy because I myself like to tell the truth whether pleasant or unpleasant. Thus, even the Centenary celebrations will not make my summary too rosy, pretending that everything is fine. Kodály would not like that.
You may wonder ‘what’ struck me so much when I read these words of Cecilia after her talk was published in the Bulletin of the International Kodály Society in 1983. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is in particular the sentence: I cannot help therefore, thinking that, while talking to you I am also reporting to him… It is such a great and clear testimony of loyalty towards her mentor: Zoltán Kodály. It is also a clear example of her integrity and honesty, as a professional and as a human being… As Kodály himself once put it in response to a query about his historical antecedents in the educational realm: ‘Those schools with an extended music program are not music schools but human schools.’
Everyone who was close to Cecilia knew that she was totally in line with Kodály as far as that ideal was concerned. She, as so many of the so-called first generation teachers, carried literally Zoltán Kodály’s vision out into the world. And let us not forget that it was far from ‘evident’ for someone who was a renowned, highly respected and successful conductor already, to leave an important position as director of the Radio Choir, for a world which must have been rather unknown to her. But, ladies and gentlemen, who could withstand a request of Zoltán Kodály…? And, on top, it was on the invitation of Yehudi Menuhin…
At the Second International Conference of Musicology in Budapest in 1961, Kodály said in the opening address: only close international collaboration can offer the promise of success. Today we know what Cecilia has contributed to Kodály’s conviction in this country. It was not always easy. But it was always honest and true; true to the spirit of what Kodály envisaged. That integrity is a real sign of greatness. It points to a person who truly believed that the ‘ideal’ was more important than her personal fame and that what she could ‘give’ with her great talent, was her first and foremost duty. Let us always remember her, not only for what she has done, but also for who she was.
Dr. László Norbert Nemes, Director of the Kodály Institute, Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, spoke of those present today, music teachers and choral conductors, who feel extremely fortunate to have been very well educated by musicians whose work was directly influenced by their personal contact with Zoltán Kodály.
Many of these musicians were in the possession of a kind of musical talent and musical knowledge that undoubtedly surpasses in abundance and excellence the talent of many, otherwise very gifted musicians. The motivations received from them created in us a lifelong passion for music and music teaching.
Cecilia Vajda was one of these special musicians who had the power to change the trajectory of the lives of a great number of her students by leaving a lasting positive musical impact on them. By some of her most outstanding students she was remembered as ‘a teacher that made her students feel excited to the point of getting giddy,’ ‘a woman of immense, infectious vivacity,’ or ‘a lady with a teaching style that was unique and inspirational.’
She was an equally highly recognised and respected choral conductor. Her wonderful artistic work with the Hungarian Radio Choir, the BBC Chorus, Pro Arte Singers or the Ensemble of Soloists and other choral groups is remembered by appreciative reviews and saved on several beautiful recordings. As one of the most worthy representatives of the Hungarian musical traditions in the UK, an ‘ambassador’ of Hungarian music appointed by Kodály himself, Cecilia Vajda for decades spared no effort to popularise ‘The Kodály Way to Music’ in the country where Kodály himself received so many positive stimuli and inspirations.
It fills all of us with pride that Cecilia Vajda receives a commemorative plaque in this great city. This is a wonderful acknowledgement of the high quality artistic and educational work that she pursued here in the UK. Her lifework is an example for the generations following hers, the artistic values she stood so strongly for help us to find a firm and stable point of alignment on our pathways seeking excellence in music and music education.
Lucinda Geoghegan, Educational Director of NYCoS, remembers ‘as if it were yesterday’ the car park in Cheltenham where she left her family 23 years ago to attend her very first BKA Summer School, little knowing that she was about to be inspired so much that her life would take a new path along which she is still travelling. There she met…
… the lady responsible for establishing the British Kodály Academy and therefore responsible for my life-changing experience! Admittedly it was a rather nerve-racking meeting as I was asked to sight sing some examples for her in order to be placed in the appropriate solfège class! Even then I could see a warmth in her personality, and a humour, that very much appealed to me. As I had been brought up with the Curwen modulator, solfa was not new to me and I was encouraged to push myself to go into the class of Klára Nemes for solfège – this was Cecilia, constantly trying to make you believe you could achieve, and striving to give students the best support.
In addition there was choir, methodology, demonstration classes and conducting. I remember going home having met people who are still friends to this day and of course, buzzing with ideas, convinced by Kodály-inspired education and ready to change the world…
Over the next few years I was not only in awe of Cecilia’s skills as a musician and pedagogue but also became increasingly interested in how she had managed to inspire so many people and how she had managed to convince others of the power and worth of the Kodály philosophy. I watched and learned from her, and observed what for me, were her inspiring qualities:
- Determination She totally believed in what she was teaching and totally believed in the value of this philosophy. It was clear to me that nothing would stand in her way and she would stand her ground in any situation
- Kindness She was happy to help anyone who wanted to help themselves. I am eternally grateful for the weekend teaching she provided in order to enable myself and a colleague from Scotland to work on certificate courses and then allow us to be part of the end of year examinations. It was impossible for us to attend weekly classes for two hours and she was happy to make alternative arrangements.
- High expectations She encouraged everyone to be the best they could be and she didn’t accept second best in any situation.
- Passion She had such a passion for what she was teaching that it was impossible not to be inspired. This is a quality that I feel cannot be taught but it can certainly be caught from those teachers who have it.
- Intelligence She knew exactly how to solve problems – she would find a solution for every challenging situation. Her planning of programmes, her delivery of lessons were second to none.
- Visionary She changed the face of music education in Britain. In establishing the British Kodály Academy she surrounded herself with like-minded people who were all striving for the same thing: to promote and preserve the Kodály legacy in order to train people to the highest standard possible.
Whilst reading a poem which sits by my computer at home, I am reminded of the strengths of Cecilia’s personality. The poem is entitled ‘The winner versus the loser’:
The Winner is always part of the answer;
The Loser is always part of the problem.
The Winner always has a program;
The Loser always has an excuse.
The Winner sees an answer for every problem;
The Loser sees a problem for every answer.
The Winner says,” It may be difficult but it is possible”;
The Loser says, “It may be possible but it is too difficult.”
Winners are a part of the team;
Losers are apart from the team.
Winners make it happen;
Losers let it happen.
Cecilia was undoubtedly a winner! We owe her such a debt of gratitude…
We cannot thank her enough for transforming music education in all four corners of Great Britain – she inspired so many people over the years who in turn have inspired many others. May we all continue to work for the promotion of Kodály-inspired education – may we all have the passion that Cecilia did and may we all be – as Cecilia was – a winner!
It is a mark of the highest esteem in which we all hold her that finds us gathered here for this tribute to a wonderful teacher, inspirer and friend; and to Mary who supported her unstintingly in the mission given to her by Kodály himself to bring his philosophy in music education to this country, and who has worked tirelessly to have her memory rightly enshrined forever in this plaque. (I almost said back to this country, the home of the fundamental and best known element of his ideas: solfège.)
Regardless of any other personal ambition, all the BMus students in my final year at Queen’s University, Belfast, were told by the professor that they would all do the music teachers’ course at London University, Institute of Education. And so it was there 45 years ago, in 1971/72 that I first encountered Cecilia. Erstwhile rather boring lessons in the philosophy of general education (use the text books with which to hit them -, – was our final instruction) were, surprisingly at first, transformed by this astonishing vision in powder blue outfit, white blouse, red kerchief, with beautiful wavy blonde hair, wonderful engaging smile and infectious giggle (I am sure the heavenly wings were soon an addition of my brain), full of boundless energy and enthusiasm; but, at the same time, she had us totally entranced through only the wave of her elegant graceful hands with the beauty inherent in a simple sung major triad. I had so deftly and expertly been drawn into my unforgettable Kodály moment of revelation on what music education should really be about.
After teaching in Belfast where I was a bit of a lone voice and even after returning to teach in London I realised that I had only started my Kodály career and I took up a course with Cecilia. Age had changed her appearance, and I admit I did not recognise her at first, but still, once she smiled then I knew. There was still that mischievous giggle, that eagerness to support and encourage, that energy, even after years of an unbelievable schedule of teaching, which would have stopped many a lesser person, enthusing and inspiring so many like me.
(“Oh you play the trumpet I see. You do not need to operate the valves while doing the solfa”)
That same Belfast Music Professor had three sons, all of whom went to different top Belfast schools. When as students we asked him why, the answer was simply that when he visited the first, then second school, he did not see music taught well. I think he gave up after the third. Only later, I knew that what Cecilia had started in me was potentially music taught properly and it was my vowed intention in the rest of my career to use it, so I would never cheat the children by not giving them what I had clearly lacked myself through not having the Kodály approach. And if that old Belfast Professor walked into any of my classes, I knew he would want to send his next son to my school.
But if Cecilia walked in, (you can all hear her now): oh I know what I would hear and I would want to hide in embarrassment at my manifold failures to come up to her high standards, because she knew how important it is to equip pupils with the right skills to appreciate music of value, and so many teachers today, without the Kodály experience, don’t even know it.
That early moment of revelation was for me life changing, but I am sure many of you will have considered what an extraordinary change of life for her in coming to this country. What had she left behind in Budapest, – – – -just for us? To what heights of eminence? Who knows? She gave it all up – for us.
Being taught by Cecilia not only gave me a life-changing moment but because of her, a continuing absorption in what, like her, has been a life-time passion for me. I had it, through her, directly as if from Kodály himself. I will always regard it as my good fortune to meet and to be taught by the best: Cecilia Vajda.