23 May 2012

Joan Yakkey's Teaching Methods

I have been teaching children and young people at a famous Music School in Fiesole, Florence Italy since 1979. I am the coordinator, Department Head and Conductor of the Children's and Youth Choirs. Over the years i have developed several new materials for teaching musical notation to children in a way that it becomes fun and instructive at the same time. The current article comes from my Blog and contains links to the photos on the blog. I am re-presenting the article here with added information for the audience of MusicaNeo. I definitely will be able to upload shortly the Coloring Books "SIGNS AND SOUNDS" for download, for teachers of children ages 4-10. Also the booklets THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC will be put up for download, this is a gradual solfegge singing or playing series for those who love Movable Do or Fixed Do. It includes syllables in both European and English languages.

Explanatory notes by the author on the Children's Music Coloring Books: SIGNS AND SOUNDS

SIGNS AND SOUNDS is a series of five music coloring books created for children ages 5-13 that aim at gradually introducing young people, through singing and games, to the general concept of the relationships between graphic symbols and their correlating sounds.

The author, Joan Yakkey, Pianist, Choral Director and Composer, is originally from New York City; she works and has resided in Florence, Italy for the past 40 years. She knows the famous Zoltan Kodaly system well, having studied with Hungarians from Budapest, and also knows the Orff method, having taken several courses at the Orff Institute in Salzburg. After several attempts at using the Hungarian and Austrian systems with her young international students in the Florence area for several years during the 1970s, with limited interest from the students, she decided that certain things needed to be modified and mostly, study books needed to be developed in Italian for each student to work with.The books are now also available in Italian and English.

The Z. KODALY and C. ORFF methods were and are fine, both useful for teaching music in a public school or in a music school, but in the author’s opinion, both are rather specific for each country’s respective school system and respective cultures: fifty years ago, during Kodaly’s lifetime, the Hungarians were basically an ethnically unified culture with scarce financial means (voice was their only melodic instrument and pencils and hands were used to create rhythmic sounds). Music classes were scheduled three times weekly from kindergarten onwards, the children were organized by the state government and everyone studied the Kodaly Method to memorize intervals, names of notes and positioning on the music staff with great patience from an early age. The results for the Hungarians were marvelous. Most cultures would not have been able to interest the students in such a methodical study where all teachers are trained equally. Out of great respect for the famous composer, to this day his teachings are successfully carried on throughout the world albeit with odd variations (many times due to misunderstandings). We do get word now from Hungary, since Kodaly’s death, that things are not proceeding as well as before; his personal inspiration was needed, the system required years of study and patience, and in this age of computers and speed such a virtue is scarce. The musical notes in Hungary, as in the USA, having letter names, could easily fit into the Movable Do system, which works fine when dealing with tonality or modality, but what about atonality, bitonality, or constant modulation as in late Romanticism? The Movable Do system then becomes very complex and useless. The Yakkey method uses a Movable Clef system, Do - Sol - Fa (C - G - F) while maintaining the true pitch of a note (A - La - = 442 for example). The Movable Do system never took hold in Latin countries (despite Guido D’Arezzo's trying) where the notes are named with the solfegge syllables and not with letters and where Fixed Do has always been a tradition. The nearest correlation lies in reading the C Clef, which moves to various lines on the musical staff.

The Carl Orff method requires the acquisition of many expensive melodic and rhythmic percussion instruments with the addition of recorders, guitars, strings, etc. in order to form mini Orchestral or Chamber Ensembles. This is possible in a wealthy country where there is a great musical tradition such as in Germany and Austria, where the Education Ministry supports new ideas for teaching music in public schools. Such ideas were proposed and supported by one of Austria’s most important composers, Carl Orff. Orff himself wrote volumes of studies and settings of folksongs and dances for children to work with in the schools. The Orff Schulwerk was designed for teachers as a reference book with examples of different settings of folk tunes, but teachers rarely do so. Instead Orff’s musical scores are often simply replicated in class settings and concerts. Recordings of the Orff Schulwerk scores are available. This was not what Orff intended: his Schulwerk was a ‘handbook by example’ and not ‘compositions’ to be performed as written. On the other hand, the books are published now in several languages as scores. Much misinterpretation surrounds this method in my opinion due to this very fact, or maybe many teachers don't feel qualified enough to match Carl Orff's endeavors at arranging folk tunes. Most make no attempt to create their own repertory for their children to learn and perform.

Many schools throughout the world cannot afford the Orff instruments, and many schools do not have musical activities, music teachers or a music room. This may be the case in certain areas also in the United States. Music Education doesn’t seem to be organized or coordinated anywhere in the manner in which Hungary was organized under Kodaly's guidance. My only objection to the Hungarian organization of music where everyone follows the Kodaly method and everyone learns the same repertory, is that every time I listen to a Hungarian youth choir I say to myself over and over again "heard one, heard them all". The YAKKEY METHOD gives a guide of how to proceed, after which each teacher, each ethnic group, each choir or choral workshop can develop their own repertory and style. It is useful in any context from jazz musicians to opera singers.

Music Professor Joan Yakkey, and many of her close colleagues have been using the coloring books SIGNS AND SOUNDS in Italy for over 30 years with great success. The children in the Florence are of, for the most part, European extraction, although many South American and Oriental families are now living in Tuscany and their children attend all schools. Methods relevant to a specific ethnic background simply do not work for an international student body, as happens also in the United States. The books SIGNS AND SOUNDS offer a general panorama of graphic notation that overrides national, cultural and ethnic boundaries.

The books SIGNS AND SOUNDS can be used in place of, or in addition to, both the Orff and Kodaly methods in as much as all three systems:

a) use singing and rhythmic improvisation in a class situation;

b) include International children’s folksongs as a general basis for literature and offer examples for the study of musical notation and interpretation;

c) emphasize individual instrumental or vocal improvisation;

d) include repetitive melodic motifs or rhythmic ostinatos;

e) present exercises laid out methodically to progressively and gradually build comprehension and capabilities; and

f) provide group games with class participation as well as solo study.

The books SIGNS AND SOUNDS are easily accessible and don’t require specific music rooms or materials in schools. They are also low in cost and can be photocopied with a Permission Letter. They offer a large spectrum of general and specific study suitable for classes of numerous students of different levels where each child can express his individual interpretation and creativity to the fullest of his potential. In considering the first three volumes of the series, there is never a ‘wrong’ drawing, only different interpretations: a child’s writing is always considered ‘correct’ and his personal perception of the written page is always accepted as long as he can interpret it and understand what he wrote, and the notation is proportionately constant. This creates a positive attitude of self-confidence and interest in the child as he learns how to write, read, and interpret music. The books can be colored more than once for there is no ‘one’ correct solution. The books are designed to be sung together in class, but they can be sung individually, played on instruments, or can be conducted and interpreted by the children among themselves without the intervention of a teacher. The books are useful for choral studies, individual instrumental instruction and rhythmic classes for young children (collective dance or movement sessions, instrumental groups, etc.). They can be used in Public schools or in Music Schools. The results will be different, but all will be progressing gradually in understanding the basic concepts of musical notation and interpretation. Teachers can also develop added pages on separate sheets or on the blackboard, or with computer programs with their own exercises inspired by the concepts of the book.

Not only may the Kodaly and Orff methods be used in conjunction with the books SIGNS AND SOUNDS, but any other individual method can be integrated with the books as supporting material since they contain mostly music; they offer full freedom to both teachers and students to interpret the graphic designs according to their own point of view and cultural background. Movable or Fixed Do systems can be used instead of the Movable Clef system used in the Yakkey method. Music can be created by playing or singing from the books in any system: tonality, modality, atonality or simply by creating the sounds of nature (wind, animals sounds etc.).

Volumes are in both English and Italian.





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