Dr. Susan Brumfield is a extremely well-versed in the Kodaly method. According to her, “Kodaly is not a thing; it’s a guide.” It’s an approach to teaching that anyone can easily incorporate into their rehearsals if they have the right tools. Dr. Brumfield explained that the process of sight-reading a new piece straight through and then going back and fixing errors, while not wrong, is “the antithesis of Kodaly.” Kodaly involves deconstructing the piece and then slowly piecing it back together in a way that allows students to make musical discoveries. Dr. Brumfield gave out a packet that explained specific rehearsal techniques that could be used to teach certain skills. Throughout the workshop, we got to see some of these techniques in action as she used them to teach us a few of her own choral arrangements.
One of the techniques she demonstrated was teaching a melody, having the sopranos sing it, and then giving the altos a choice of two notes to use to create a harmony. For this exercise, the altos had to use their ears to determine which of the two notes would best complement the melody at a given time. This exercise could be considered a form of improvisation because it requires the students to make up their own harmony. Often, improvisation is taught as an entirely separate lesson, but we learned in this session that improv (and other skills like dictation and interval practice) can be incorporated into a rehearsal in a way that advances the students’ understanding of the piece, while also allowing them to develop their ears…so it’s a win-win! Dr. Brumfield showed us many other strategies like this one, and all of them required the students to figure things out on their own without simply reading notes and rhythms from the sheet music.
Dr. Brumfield also spoke about the importance of studying original source material when teaching students a piece that has been borrowed from a different genre. For example, if you’re working on a choral arrangement of a song that was originally a fiddle tune, the spirit of fiddle music has to influence your performance of the piece. Experimenting with different timbres with your choir is strongly supported by Kodaly because original source material is as much a part of a piece as the notes and the rhythms. Dr. Brumfield taught us that the Kodaly method seeks to teach students to know their music inside and out, and knowing the origins of the piece is a huge part of that. It’s all about breaking the piece apart and examining every single element.
-Juliana Joy Child, Freshman