They come from neighboring states like North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi, eager to learn.
They come from various parts of the state of Tennessee, too.
They are not students in the traditional sense. They are music educators who want to pick up new teaching methods to bring back to their own pupils.
The Kodály Institute at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a summer professional development institute for music teachers.
Named after Zóltan Kodály (pronounced KOH-dye), a Hungarian composer, musicologist and educator, the institute—under way since June 13 and concluding July 1—espouses the philosophy of Kodály’s approach to music education.
“He was highly regarded as a composer and he saw music not simply as a commodity or a thing that people do, but as a vibrant means of expressing culture and providing significant meaning to people’s lives,” said Lee Harris, professor of music education and the director of the Kodály Institute.
“Although he certainly valued the performance of music and composition and the study of music, he believed that it was really important that schools have music as a significant part of the education of children because that was part of their culture.”
Through his position as a professor at the Liszt Conservatory in Budapest, Hungary, Kodály focused on the importance of quality music—especially folk songs—and the study of the heritage of particular cultures.
“He was intentional about how teachers taught music, progressing from songs that were appropriate for children at a very young age up to more sophisticated music and concepts as they grew older,” Harris said.
People worldwide started paying attention to those methods, he explained, “and what we would call the Kodály movement took hold in the United States in the early part of the 1970s.”
Harris said Kodály training first came to Chattanooga in the 1980s, but it stopped when grant money ran out.
After joining the UTC faculty in 1995, Harris learned about the approach from Donald and Susan Garrett, a pair of Cleveland, Tennessee, teachers trained in the technique.
“They said, ‘We’d like to re-establish this training at UTC,’” Harris said, “and when I saw it in action, I was all for it.
“We started with a two-week course in 2000 and received a good response from teachers in the area. We’ve been able to continue it ever since.”
This summer, Harris said, 15 visiting music educators are participating in the institute—ranging from a pair of Southern Adventist University music education majors to a teacher with 20-plus years of experience.
Most participants are getting their initial exposure to the Kodály approach. The training takes place over three summers.
“The idea is you learn about it and then you go into a school and start doing it with your children,” he said, “so you kind of work it out in that sense.
“If you complete all three levels and successfully apply it with the children you teach or the students you teach—because we also have middle school and high school teachers who learn about the approach—then you can complete all the requirements and earn Kodály certification.”
Harris said it’s essential that the teachers be good musicians, “so we focus a lot on their own musicianship, especially using solfege—a sight reading system.
“An important part of the Kodaly approach is the belief that if children learn to read music and develop music literacy, that will strengthen their love for it and turn them into independent musicians, so we focus on that.”
The curriculum also features classes in methodology, folk song collection and analysis, conducting and choral ensemble.
As a music educator, Harris is in a position where he’s teaching others how to teach others.
“That’s what’s rewarding about this,” he said. “If you talk to most people who are music teachers, or if you talk to some of our current music education majors, they will say that the reason that they decided they wanted to become a music teacher is because of a band director or a choral director or a music teacher who inspired them and helped them love music.
“And they said, “I want to do that for other people like someone did that for me.”
That thinking led Donald and Susan Garrett to approach Harris about reigniting the UTC Kodály Institute nearly 30 years ago.
The Garretts are still part of the institute’s faculty.
“We think Lee Harris is one of the finest,” Donald Garrett said. “He has made this little institute work, and that in turn has influenced hundreds of lives of both teachers and children. Not only that, but he’s a first-class human being.”
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Mark Your Calendar
One of the rites of passage of the Kodály Institute is the annual end-of-session concert.
This year’s recital takes place at 7 p.m. this Thursday, June 30, at Cadek Recital Hall and features the institute’s participants. Harris said the concert will feature pieces by Kodály, English composer Gustav Holst and American composer Samuel Barber.
The event is free to the public.
“The people finishing their Kodály training and earning their certification will each perform as a singer or as an instrumentalist to demonstrate their musical skills,” Harris explained. “They will also conduct one of the pieces at the concert.
“That’s part of the culmination of what they have done in finishing their training.”