Zoltán Kodály, in his native Hungary, is remembered as a conductor, teacher, composer, ethnomusicologist and pioneer in the philosophy that music literacy should begin at a very early age and should use the folk songs of their nation.
In the United States “Kodály”(pronounced Code Eye) is thought of as a “method” of teaching music to young children. The convention of the International Society of Music Education in 1964 was held in Hungary. Naturally there were concerts and demonstrations of music lessons in the elementary schools. People were amazed at what Hungarian children were capable of learning and singing. Wanting to learn to teach this exciting way, many American teachers went to Hungary to study. What they learned is that to teach music they must be excellent musicians themselves. Music must be taught in such a way that it is exciting and pleasurable. Therefore many of our American songs have a game connected to them. The children were singing American folk songs and playing games- not just ANY games, but games that our forefathers had played: songs and games that have stood the test of time; games that required cooperation and community spirit, but at the same time were preparing them for a new rhythmic and/or melodic element.The Kodály philosophy is not only about developing musical elements, it is about enriching the human soul. Teaching children to sing is giving them a gift than can never be measured. They sing songs that children have sung for ages. They clap and dance and smile and giggle - all the things children are supposed to do. And they experience JOY! For a while, the world is beautiful, — a better place to live. America’s heritage; it’s very history can be celebrated in games and song!
The music, then, is suddenly a thing of magic. And the magic can lead our students to the mystery and allure of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart — the Masters. Like a ripple on the water, we never know how far our touch can reach. Zoltán Kodály said, “There are regions of the human soul that can be illuminated only by music.”
Here in the United States the curriculum in determined by our folk songs. From the simple to the more complex. A great emphasis is put on experiencing the new musical element before it is given a name.
Students learn not only the elements of rhythm and pitch, they learn how to practice them in many different ways: reading, writing, part-work, inner hearing, memory, form, improvisation and listening for those elements works by great composers.
Hopefully, then this experience will not be limited to the classroom but will last for a lifetime. The other day, when I was checking out at Walmart, the clerk began to sing “Snail, Snail” and to chant, “Bee, Bee, Bumble Bee”. I'm certain I looked puzzled, because he smiled and said, “You were my music teacher in Kindergarten and First Grade.” Then, I smiled.
What we give them will stay with them for life. One adult student told me, (again at Walmart,) “You know all those songs we used to sing?; Well, I’m singing them to my babies now.” To use an old commercial phrase, “We give the gift that keeps on giving.