Edith Lantos: Celebrating Her Achievements in a Jubilee Year
An interview with Professor Edith Lantos—an Honorary Member of the Early Childhood Music Association of Ontario.
by Ewa Krzatala
In the Huron language, our city’s name—Toronto—means “a place of meetings.” I think of that often when I encounter people through my work. So I feel greatly honoured to have had the good fortune to meet Edith Lantos. I met Mrs. Lantos, a formidable teacher dedicated to children, music, and the Kodály approach to music education, during my studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1995. Professor Edith Lantos deserves recognition as a leader, and has been a role model, an inspiration in the field, to so many of us and countless others here in Canada and abroad. We are sitting in Professor Lantos’s Toronto apartment and sipping strong Hungarian coffee. There are musical instruments around us. Beautiful paintings, and numerous awards, prizes, diplomas, and letters of recognition adorn the walls. Professor Lantos, as always elegant, radiant, and smiling, talks about her professional career and personal life.
Ewa Krzatala: Does the motto “if I did not become a music teacher ... I would have become a music teacher” apply to you?
Professor Lantos: The atmosphere of my early childhood years at home in Kecskemét, Hungary, strongly influenced my future choices. My father was a Petöfi Realgymnasium's principal, language teacher, playwright, and violinist. My stay-at-home mother was an excellent pianist. One of my brothers became a teacher, and the other, a priest and organist. From the age of seven, I knew that my life would be one of music and teaching. In 1947, I was accepted to the Teacher's College in Kecskemét, and then, as a music pedagogy student at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest.
Ewa Krzatala: You were a student at the Ferenc Liszt Academy—one of the most prestigious music academies in the world! You studied with Zoltan Kodály, Jenő Adam, and Lajos Bárdos, to name just a few of your famous professors. What was it like to be a student in Zoltan Kodály's class?
Professor Lantos: Kodály required every student of the Ferenc Liszt Academy to take a Hungarian folk music course to learn his or her musical mother tongue. During this very demanding course, which I enjoyed very much, we studied a vast repertoire of Hungarian folk songs that Kodály and Bartok had started collecting in the field in 1905. We were required to analyze and memorize the entire musical material. I still remember the title of my final exam song, “Lányok űlnek a toronyban” (Girls are sitting in a tower)! It was a privilege to study with Kodály; he was a genius musician, choral composer, folklorist, ethnomusicologist, and philosopher, who captured the importance of this course in his famous quote, “Today, you are not born Hungarian. Everybody has to work at becoming Hungarian by himself. A Hungarian is someone who is a part of the Hungarian culture.” Kodály valued the preservation of Hungary’s distinctive culture, particularly through its music and folk heritage.
Ewa Krzatala: Throughout your thirty-two–year teaching career in Hungary, you taught this fundamental principle, today known as the “Kodály Method,” to your students and to student teachers of the Budapest Institute for Advanced Training in Pedagogic Studies and the Ferenc Liszt Academy.
Professor Lantos: It was Kodály's wish to build a musical nation, where music would be highly appreciated and “belong to everyone.” Out of his collaboration with Jenő Adam in 1948 emerged the first textbook for children, Énekes Könyv (Singing book), which developed musical literacy through singing. Times were different after the Second World War, but the concept became solidified over the years. And, of course, the experience of teaching this way clarified the method further. Kodály believed that to achieve his vision emphasis needed to be put not only on teacher training, but also, and even more importantly, on the teaching of children. He realized that music and musical experiences of the highest quality had the power to make people more valuable to society, to improve their quality of life, and to make them better human beings. And these beliefs he instilled in us. I enjoyed both aspects of my profession: the teaching of elementary and secondary school students, as well as teacher training. They both brought me a great deal of satisfaction.
Ewa Krzatala: When I visited what was once Kodály's apartment in Budapest (now the Kodály Museum, containing thousands of volumes of books and music), the atmosphere highlighted his intellect. He was a writer and a philosopher, serious and concentrated on his creative work. And yet, when one looks at the pictures, Kodály is always smiling when he is around children.
Professor Lantos: Although he never taught children himself, Kodály enjoyed them a lot and often visited schools, choir practices, and concerts. He even joked with the children. He would not sign an autograph for a child who could not sing the melody he wrote with solfa names!
Ewa Krzatala: You also wrote educational books for children, Enek-Zene (Song and Music), and textbooks, the Teacher's Guide Book (volumes 1–3), translated into four languages. Looking back on your professional career, are there any other accomplishments that make you especially proud?
Professor Lantos: One I cherish very deeply—for thirty years, I was Co-Conductor and Choirmaster of the Central Choir of the Budapest Youth Ensemble with my late husband Rezső Lantos. This mixed choir and orchestra performed a vast repertoire of music by both Hungarian composers and master composers of all eras. We performed in many countries around the world and won ten gold medals, among other awards. The most important event of my professional life occurred in 1969 during the Den Haag Holland International Choir Festival, when I, with the choir, won two first prizes.
Ewa Krzatala: Besides Kodály, the master, who in your opinion has been or is currently the strongest influence in the Kodály approach to music education in the world?
Professor Lantos: A few people come to my mind. I think of the famous Ersebet Szonyi, former Professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy, who conducted her students' vocal performance at the Montreal Expo in 1967 and brought the Kodály Method to international attention. Of course, the late Katalin Forrai is foremost in my mind, as she was chosen by Kodály to develop a curriculum for early childhood education that has had a tremendous impact on how the method is taught in Hungary and around the world. In Canada, we are so privileged to have John Barron and Lois Choksy, who have contributed so many educational resources to implement the Kodály Method in the North American context. And I surely recall that the Kodály movement in Ontario was started by Mae Daly and well in place when I arrived here in 1980.
Ewa Krzatala: You have supervised Kodály training or been a guest lecturer at New England Conservatory, Boston University, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Western Ontario, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brock University.... and you make your home in Toronto!
Professor Lantos: From 1981 until 2006, the year I retired, I was a member of the Faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where I directed the Teacher's Certificate Program in Kodály Pedagogy and developed and implemented the Kodály Music Program for children. I also wrote a textbook, Bounce High Bounce Low, based on North American song material.
Ewa Krzatala: Your career has spanned fifty-seven years of teaching, both in Europe and North America. What is the secret of your success?
Professor Lantos: From a personal point of view, my success has come from making the choice without regret to become a music teacher and from the lessons of my mentors, Kodály, Bárdos, and Adam. Professionally, it has been the process of training teachers. Presenting a concept, proving it in the classroom, and going back and analyzing the teaching strategies have all brought me a great feeling of success. Above all, I have had the inspiration that comes from a child's smile!
Ewa Krzatala: Which of the roles in your life: an outstanding musician and choir conductor, author, pedagogue, mentor and inspiration to beginning music teachers—or wife, mother, and grandmother—is closest to your heart?
Professor Lantos: They are all equally important to me, and I am grateful that I could experience them all. I have tried to balance them during my life to be truly happy.
Ewa Krzatala: You have received many prestigious awards in Hungary and Canada. Which ones are the most meaningful to you?
Professor Lantos: I need to mention the Silver Order of Hungary, received in 1980, and Pro-Cultura Hungarica, received in 2000. I was also pleased to receive an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Conservatory of Music in 2001, and to be recognized for my contribution to the musical education of Canadian students throughout my teaching career. Last year, I received the Zoltan Kodály Memorial Award.
Ewa Krzatala: The year 2008 marks your eightieth birthday and thirty-five years of the Kodály Society of Canada. Any words of wisdom?
Professor Lantos: For the beginner Kodály teachers: be prepared. Preparation is the key to success in all teaching. Prepare yourself very well, so that teaching seems effortless. And then, enjoy every moment.
And congratulations to the Kodály Society of Canada. Thank you to all my colleagues in Canada who understand the importance and carry the legacy of Zoltan Kodály in their classrooms and studios. I am very grateful to you and wish you all success in the future.
Ewa Krzatala: Thank you, Professor Lantos, for being such a wonderful role model and an inspiration to all of us.
We are sad to report that on July 18th, 2009 Edit Lantos died. She is buried in Budapest, Hungary.