From the Office in Budapest

“Water is flowing, shore is standing,
we are leaving, some are staying.”

(Cheremiss folksong, Kodály: Bicinia Hungarica Booklet IV),

Dear Members and Friends of the IKS,

I graduated from the first Hungarian Kodály school in Kecskemét. This defined my path in addition to my family background. I met Professor Mihály Ittzés there so I never thought of anything other than to continue my studies at the Academy of Music. There, besides László Vikár, Erzsébet Szőnyi had the biggest influence on me; her kind determination is still an example to me today.

Therefore, I interpret the Kodály way as Professor Szőnyi taught us: the aim is to teach musical writing and reading. Filled with soul, of course, because without it, nothing goes. What Hungarian composer Lajos Bárdos, a follower of Kodály, added, is also important: if the teacher loves his-her student and the subject, then the student will love and know the subject.

If we talk about Hungarian-ness anywhere in the world, the name of Zoltán Kodály will be one of the first to emerge, he was one of the greatest Hungarian thinkers. I deliberately wrote this: a “thinker,” not a composer, music theorist, music academy teacher, folk music researcher, nor conductor. They are all true, and all interwoven within a unified vision in which the soul, consciousness, feeling, and artistic formation play a major role.

In 1964, the International Folk Music Council (today ICTM) held its conference in Budapest. It was a special year, as ISME also held its sixth international conference there that summer. Due to the events of 1956, the world's attention was focused on Hungary, and it was only eight years away at that time. We were a special, exciting country, and in a special situation that was difficult for the West to interpret. Kodály said in a television summary after the conferences: "We see that the world is getting smaller and smaller, what is going on in one country, is also done in another, and this is a positive outlook for the future in terms of better understanding and helping each other."

Kodály gave folksong a new meaning—a modern role—by making it part of the curriculum. This reinterpretation was aided by numerous choral works and musical works based on Hungarian folksong, which thus stood its ground in the role dreamed of by Kodály on any stage, in almost any musical environment.

What was it if not a revolutionary act? The culture (art) of Hungarian peasants—who had so far been illiterate, had not crossed the borders of his own village, had been uncultivated in the classical sense, but was very familiar with world affairs and had a sharp, sophisticated aesthetic—became a public treasure. With a beauty that embarrasses educated, cultured people, these are simple songs, consisting of a few sounds, a few syllables, easy to describe, showing precise order—a rock solid foundation on which the ideal of a country's culture can be built.

The essence of the singing-music lessons should be to provide a safe and beautiful, uplifting singing experience. Adolescent voices should soar loudly, out of full lungs, forgetting all troubles, to make young people feel better. Then by means of these experiences, they might walk nicely into the realm of musical high culture. Because the two are basically the same: aesthetics and emotion.

Around the world many talk today about the problems of the education system. There is often a reduction in the number of singing lessons worldwide. I say that it is not the number of hours that matters, but the quality. It is useless to have countless hours if the teacher does not know what to do with them. To show wonderful things in a few hours: that would be the real thing. And that requires highly qualified and highly committed teachers. And, music should be taught with music, only with music - but with very good music.

All of this requires teachers who are at a high-level, not only musically, but also humanely, and who are proficient in ethnography and other sciences. In Hungary, as in several other countries, folk music is taught at university level. In many ways, we have progressed. But we still have plenty to do. That is why international exchanges, discussions, the travel of teachers from one continent to another are important - we hope that this will soon be possible in person again.

Anikó Fehér
Director of the Board