Preview on Music educators convene for public conference, concerts based on Zoltán Kodály’s “universal musical humanism”


March 17, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Hungarian pianist and composer Zoltán Kodály held that everyone has musical ability that should be cultivated in order to benefit humanity. The Organization of American Kodály Educators (OAKE), a professional organization for music educators, will convene in Atlanta on March 20 to promote his philosophy of “universal musical humanism.”

Propelled by disenchantment with Hungary’s education system, Kodály (1882–1967) dedicated himself to understanding what children were learning and how they were learning it. He found that children possess an innate musical ability and learn best through the songs, games, and dances of their native culture. In an effort to preserve the music of Hungary, Kodály traveled to villages throughout his country and developed several core principles through which music educators could advance universal music literacy.

American teachers will adapt the songs native to regions across the United States — Texas cowboy songs, Appalachian folk tunes or blues songs — for use within the classroom. They may use a high-quality popular song or even a Disney ditty to present a rhythmic or musical concept. Recognizing the voice as a child’s primary instrument, Kodály educators begin with the folk music of the child’s mother tongue. They progress from the known to the unknown, selecting age-appropriate music of the highest quality and eventually bridging to the music of the masters: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms.

The Atlanta conference, which is open to the public, will feature presentations on Lithuanian folk dance, Jewish choral music, Freedom Songs from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, and African American playground songs. This year OAKE will also offer a secondary choral track and classroom demonstrations for newcomers. Information is available on the organization’s website

Two public concerts will bookend the conference. On March 19 at 8 p.m. pianist Gilbert de Greeve, professor emeritus of the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, will present a benefit recital of Claude Debussy’s “24 Préludes for Piano” at Central Presbyterian Church. Part of the Arts of the Spirit concert series, it will feature a visual presentation and narration by Atlanta soprano Alexis Lundy. Concert proceeds will benefit the National Conference Choir Scholarship Fund.

Some 500 children, selected by audition, participate in these choirs, learning the concert repertoire through the Kodály process. The conference finale is a performance by several of these National Choirs at 7 p.m. On March 22 at the Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown.

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