Faculty Corner: Notes on Budapest

In July 2015, Mike Lippert, Academy Music Department head and choir teacher, and Amanda Lippert, K — 1 music teacher, with their two children, Greg ’26 and Nohea ’29, embarked on a life-changing journey that took them 7,000 miles away from Hawai‘i. Their destination, Budapest, Hungary, would be their new home for six months while Mike and Amanda furthered their learning at the Kodály Institute in Kecskemét.

What motivated your interest in taking a sabbatical?

Mike: I saw it as an opportunity to reassess and reinvigorate our own personal musicianship. I spent a large portion of the semester taking the time and finding the space to become a better practicing musician of my own.

Amanda: Both of us had been out of grad school for more than 10 years, so having this time to make myself the strongest musician I can be was an amazing opportunity.

Why Hungary?

Amanda: We picked Budapest, Hungary, because although there are several schools of thought in music education, we were interested in exploring the teachings and history of Kodály during our time abroad. The Kodály Institute is a distinguished school for advanced studies in Kodály-based music education and music teacher training – located near Budapest in Kecskemét, Hungary.

Mike: Kodály has a rightfully exalted place in music education, and we felt that it would be wonderful to go to the source of that, to work with people who knew Kodály personally or were taught by him.

Amanda: We wanted to be somewhere that had a rich musical culture; somewhere that had a strong historical influence on music would have many opportunities to engage in musical experiences. We got to go to operas in amazing cathedrals and basilicas, visit synagogues, and learn first-hand about the history of Eastern Europe in the 20th century.

What is Kodály?

Mike: The Kodály Method is a way of developing musical skills and teaching musical concepts using folk songs, hand signs, pictures, rhythm symbols and syllables, first introduced by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

Amanda: Kodály is a comprehensive program of music education that regularly influences us as we plan and teach our students.

Mike: The crux of Kodály’s philosophy is that music is something you hear, something you do. The more conventional approach to music is you take something you see and reproduce that into sounds. Kodály says you experience music first through your ears, so why don’t we start that way. Take what you hear, and then notate it. A complete musician can go from sound to sight, and from sight to sound very fluidly.

What was it like to be a student again?

Mike: We worked really hard in ways we were not expecting. I had my own musicianship challenged quite a bit, which made me reassess the things I already thought I did well and that maybe I didn’t do them as well as I thought I did.

Amanda: I don’t think either of us expected to work as hard as we did as students. We took one course called Musicianship, which required 6 hours/week of class time, and over 60 hours/week of study and practice time outside of the classroom.

What was it like being in a community of International students?

Amanda: Music is taught very differently in different parts of the world, so having this shared experience in one place, with people from other cultures, we each had different approaches to doing things, so we would help each other and we became a cohort of people helping each other.

Mike: We became part of a community of music makers. You might not have anything else in common, but the part of your musical being that’s strong can be there to support the parts of other people where it may not be as strong. So that community is intimidating and very nurturing at the same time. It’s really good to help shed your personal inhibitions.

How has your experience influenced your teaching?

Mike: This experience deepened my philosophy of music making, and reaffirmed why we do what we do. I have a deeper understanding of what music is and how people interact with it. I think I’m a radically different person because of this experience, and my classroom is different because of it.

Amanda: I have so many new resources to support my teaching. For example, I was recently looking for an authentic Portuguese folk song to teach my students, so I emailed my three Portuguese classmates from the Kodály Institute looking for guidance. Not only did they provide a recommendation, they also sent a recording of the song so we could practice correct pronunciation. Their voices served as the model for my students so we could truly be authentic in our learning.

Has your approach with students changed?

Mike: I was reminded again that it is the community of music makers that is most important. One approach to ensemble music making is very straightforward: You come in to the class, you do your work, it doesn’t matter who is around you because your focus is on your part. In reality that is not how it should work. In an ensemble everyone is contributing different things, and sometimes as educators it can be easy to gloss over those differences as we try to homogenize everything because we need to focus on the commonalities. But, we need to be able to draw out our students’ differences as assets.

What else did you gain from this experience?

Mike: We feel so fortunate that we got to meet some amazing people, and to now have connections with those people all over the world.

Amanda: It was a huge gift, and we feel very lucky, to us as musicians, to us as teachers, to us as parents, to have had this opportunity. We learned so many things that you can’t fully understand from reading a textbook. It was a life-changing experience for our entire family.

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