What: Kodaly Institute Closing Concert
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 29
Where: Cadek Recital Hall
Emily Halbert stands in front of the class, hands gently sweeping back and forth, up and down, as the class sings in graceful harmony.
Her movements are precise, subtle and indispensable. They telegraph instructions to the singers on volume, tempo and melodic phrasing as they perform a choral interpretation of “Hava Nashira,” a Jewish folk song.
Lamar Robertson stands behind Halbert, gently adjusting her arm to different positions while talking quietly or, as he jokingly says later to another student, “whispering sweet nothings in your ear.”
“That was wonderful,” he tells Halbert when she’s finished. “I like what you did at the end. You were planting more on the floor; in the beginning you were moving and that instills insecurity.”
Halbert, who graduated from Lee University in 2015 with a degree in music education and an emphasis on vocals, says courses like the one on conducting “are really great because you always want to continue learning.”
She and 18 other students are at UTC for three weeks, taking classes in the Kodaly (pronounced KO-dai) Institute. Most are already music teachers or recent teaching graduates, but all came to improve their music skills and take them back to school.
“Everything’s that learned makes them stronger musicians and that is what’s really good for the children, for the students,” says Lee Harris, chair of the Music Division in the Department of Performing Arts.
Four days a week through June 30, six teachers from Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Louisiana and other states are leading classes in conducting, singing, music-teaching methods and other subjects.
Robertson, for instance, is a retired elementary school teacher from Louisiana. Another instructor, Michael Perryman, now teaches at Ooltewah Elementary School and is in his fourth year at UTC’s Kodaly Institute.
“We make sure students get their money’s worth,” Harris says.
The program is named after Hungarian composer, musician and teacher Zoltan Kodaly who, in 1935, began formulating a set of principles that can help with music education.
“Music is a spiritual food for everybody. So I studied how to make more people accessible to good music,” he once said.
Kodaly courses are taught over the summer in colleges and universities worldwide. This is the 17th year that UTC has hosted the institute and it has been endorsed by the Organization of American Kodaly Educators.
“If you can say that your Kodaly-certified, the main thing is it’s an indication of the quality of the instruction for the students that you’re teaching,” Harris says.
In the Conducting class, several students stand in front of the class and lead it through “Hava Nashira.”
“So if you did not conduct ‘Hava Nashira’ yesterday, today is your lucky day, OK?” Perryman says as the students laugh, some nervously.
Robertson listens to each student’s performance, giving praise and suggestions afterwards, using such terms as “phrasing” and “pulsing” and “legato.” One of his suggestions is to “do it faster just for kicks.”
After those students are done, others come to the piano to sing and play at the same time, which sounds like something every piano bar performer knows how to do.
In this case, however, they sing in one range, say mezzo-soprano, but play in another. The technique is called — obviously — Sing-Play, but the combination of voice, hands and brain don’t always sync up.
For a choral director, however, “the ability to work with two different parts is really a valuable skill in terms of conductor becoming familiar with a score, imbibing the music in a deep way,” Harris says.
Halberthas been hired as choir director as Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. She says she enrolled in Kodaly to “fine-tune” her skills.
“It makes you a better teacher overall, to kind of think on your toes,” she says.