From 2-5 April this year, the British Kodály Academy will be holding its Spring Course at Monkton. There is a wealth on information on their website, which this year is aimed specifically at conductors and singers. 4 April includes a concert given by the London Adventist Chorale. I attended the course two years ago, and for me the daily musicianship lessons were the undoubtedly the highlight. The Hungarian tutors in particular bring a very different view to musicianship training than anything which I have seen before, and those few days not only inspired the tone deaf project and the Choir who can’t sing, but have had a long lasting effect on all aspect of my teaching ever since.
I am a huge fan of the Kodály Method, at the centre of which is an emphasis on the development of our inner hearing; that is, the ability to hear notes or music inside our heads without the need to play or sing.
When I first learned to read, I remember very well having to say the words out loud as I read them. My twin sister, on the other hand, had by this stage already learned to read the words silently in her head. [She was also way ahead of me when it came to tying shoelaces!] At the time this was a difficult concept for me to get to grips with, and I had genuine difficulty in believe that she could actually read in this way! Now, with years of practice behind me, and like many other people, I guess I take it for granted.
Read this sentence out loud: “It ought to be no surprise to you that, on reading this sentence out loud, it sounds just the same as how it sounds in your head when you read it silently.” Now imagine how strange it would be if you didn’t actually know what the words sounded like until you read them out loud.
But this is exactly what many students do when it comes to music – they have little or no idea what the notes will sound like until their instrument produces the sound for them. For me, this is all the wrong way around! The instrumentalist should be able to look at the score and be able to hear the sounds on the page – and then when they play, the notes which sound come as confirmation of what they expected, and not as a complete surprise: “Oh, that’s what it sounds like!”
The implications of this are far-reaching. How does a violinist know whether she is playing in tune if she has no idea of what pitches she should actually be playing? Without inner hearing, she has no point of reference. How does a student know, when he is learning a new piece of music, whether he is playing it right or not? If his only point of reference is having his fingers in the right place, where is the musician in this process?
I guess the big question is this: Would you like to be able to look at a piece of music and be able to hear it, inside your head, in the same way as you can with words? If the answer is yes, then a Kodály course is for you! This is a skill which can be learned, in just the same way as we learn to read silently. Not in five minutes, or even five days, but it is something which our young musicians should be learning, and can learn – all of them. And even some older ones too. It isn’t a mystery, or some gift which some have and others don’t – it is a skill which comes as a result of some serious hard graft and determination. It is also, in my opinion, the best skill which any musician can possess. And it is, of course, empowering.