Choral singing method transforms lives in Hunan

Updated: May 9, 2024 China Daily Print
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Zhou Baoyu still remembers the first time she was captivated by the melodic vocal performances of choral singing, when the big loudspeaker of the broadcast station in her village played In the Field of Hope, a joyful song composed by 20th century Chinese songwriter Shi Guangnan.

As someone who was born and brought up in a small village in Anhua county, Hunan province, Zhou had never heard choral singing before and was intrigued.

In 1995, she left her native village and went to high school in the town, where she saw a piano for the first time. On hearing Zhou's beautiful voice one day, her music teacher encouraged her to overcome her natural shyness and become the lead vocalist of the school's choir.

That planted the seed of music in Zhou's heart, and she went on to become a music teacher in a primary school in Anhua in 2014.

She founded a choir in the school, which however was put on pause in 2017. As she recalls, though the children loved choral singing, the level and method of teaching choral singing were not up to the mark in the small village.

In 2019, Zhou was able to relaunch the choir in the school thanks to Edit Lanczky, a music teacher associated with the Beijing Hungarian Cultural Institute, who came to the school along with her Hungarian colleagues not only to teach the children how to sing, but also to train the local music teachers to make choral singing a part of the school's music education programs.

The technique that Lanczky used to teach choral singing is known as the Kodaly method, a pioneering music education approach based on the work of Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967).

The method, which embraces the key principle of learning by singing with the human voice as the fundamental instrument, was inscribed on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. It also involves hand signs, rhythmic proficiency, creative collaborations and cultural connections.

According to Lanczky, in Kodaly's time, pianos were not commonly available to Hungarian families. Consequently, the style of singing without instrumental accompaniment, known as a cappella, was utilized. Many ancient Hungarian ballads were passed down through generations, unaccompanied by music.

"For children, the vocalized sound is natural, but using musical instruments isn't," she told China Daily during an interview in 2020. "That's why the Kodaly method isn't restricted by spaces and conditions."

Zhou, the Anhua music teacher, said that for children in rural areas, it is a luxury to learn music, as musical instruments are expensive and the level of music education is not as high as that of big cities.

"Singing is the simplest and most direct way for children to learn and enjoy music," she said, adding that Lanczky and her colleagues used several engaging techniques such as role-playing games to make learning music fun for the students.

"For local music teachers like me, we learned from them how to train the children to sing in a choir using hand signs," said Zhou, 44.

Chen Chenxi, a music teacher from Hunan's Anren county, also received training in the Kodaly method.

"Children make friends when they sing in choirs. They do rehearsals every week. It inspires them to do better in other classes," said Chen, 32, who was introduced to choral singing in university and fell in love with the art form.

The Hungarian music teachers, led by Lanczky, were invited to China by the Beijing Deqing Foundation, a charity devoted to improving education in the country's rural areas.

Nearly 2,000 Chinese music teachers and students attended the classes held by Lanczky and her colleagues both online and in-person during the past five years, said Li Kemei, founder of the charity, who met Lanczky in 2018 and initiated the idea of inviting her and the others to offer music lessons to Chinese teachers and children in rural areas.

"We believe that music should be accessible to everyone. I feel very touched and proud when I see the smiles on children's faces, when they sing in a choir. In fact, singing in a choir is beyond music itself. The children become more confident and sociable," Li said.

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