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When I arrived at Wenona in 2015, I was impressed by the scale of the Music program, which encompasses a K-12 curriculum and a broad range of co-curricular ensembles. I was also interested to observe the transformation required for students to progress from performing simple rhythm and pitch patterns in Kindergarten to the rigorous demands of the HSC Music courses and top-level ensembles.
As a teacher of both Junior and Senior School Music, I am in the unique position to witness and foster the sequential development of musical skills. I noticed that while students progressed remarkably throughout their musical studies, some core skills were not developed as consistently and systematically as they could be. In order for students to develop their musical skills and knowledge in a more cohesive and sequential way, the Music Department needed to ‘speak the same language’. The Kodály method ticked all our boxes and so began my quest to understand Zoltan Kodály and his approach to music education.
Who was Zoltan Kodály?
Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967) was a Hungarian composer, pedagogue, ethnomusicologist and philosopher. His aim was to educate all members of society to read music as easily as words and to develop a love of music through experience and understanding. The Kodály method is student-centred and affirms every student as innately musical. I was first exposed to it as an undergraduate at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where I learnt its fundamental principles, such as its focus on singing as the primary means of developing musical literacy and acute aural skills. During a practicum at Sydney Grammar Preparatory School, I was privileged to witness the Kodály method in action, observing boys as young as eight years old sight-singing in two-part harmony using solfa syllables (do, re, mi etc.) and hand signs to show the pitch. Their accuracy, musicality and high level of engagement impressed me greatly and I could immediately see the benefits.
A rigorous course
In 2015, with Wenona’s support, I enrolled in the rigorous three-level course for the Australian Kodály Certificate. Participants study methodology, repertoire, practicum, conducting, musicianship and choral singing. Kodály believed that to be effective, music teachers must be highly accomplished in all areas, even to teach younger students. I completed the first level of the course in Sydney, travelling to Brisbane to complete Levels 2 and 3 at The Summer School Music Program in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Based at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane, The Summer School Music Program is a two-week intensive program. I was shocked to discover it began at 7.30am on New Year’s Day! With demanding daily methodology assessments and peer teaching lessons, regular piano and conducting examinations, choral singing and written musicianship tests, it challenged me in every way. As I worked through the course, my respect for Kodály grew and I was impressed by my progress, particularly in my sight-singing ability and musicianship skills. The lecturers and international keynote presenters were passionate and inspiring, reinforcing my love for quality music education.
Since applying the Kodály principles to my Junior Music classes at Wenona, students’ aural skills, singing ability and rhythmic understanding have improved remarkably. The inclusive and carefully scaffolded nature of the teaching approach has transformed the more reticent students into confident and accurate singers. I frequently see ‘lightbulb moments’ in my students, when they aurally discover a new note or a new rhythm and are able to articulate this.
The method requires careful repetition and the slow unveiling of new concepts, resulting in deeper learning and greater engagement. The Kodály method is not limited to Junior School Music. I have begun to incorporate some elements into elective and HSC Music classes. This has been particularly useful with the sight-singing and melodic dictation components of the courses. We have also begun to explore how to link the Kodály-based classroom content to Wenona’s Instrumental Program and I am excited to see the long-term effects of this.
Music is a multifaceted art form. My Kodály training has enabled me to strengthen my own musical skills in ways I never thought possible and I am eager to observe the continued benefits of this approach on our students.