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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

KMEIA National Conference Wrap-Up

As I write this, I am sitting in the airport on my way back from Perth where I have been attending the biennial KMEIA National Kodaly Conference. My head is buzzing with new ideas and my heart is full of warm memories of the brief but very full time I spent there.

Kodaly Conference Logo

I was attending to present a workshop on puppets and all the reasons they are wonderful to use in your music room (I know I'm preaching to the converted here!) and played with a few favourites such as the Apple Tree, Man In The Moon, Ghosts and of course Forte and Piano.

We also had a Trader's stall with all our gorgeous puppets on display (this had led to a lot of late nights spent sewing in front of the telly in the lead up to the conference!).

But the aspect of the conference that I got the most out of was the opportunity to connect with other Kodaly educators and hear their wonderful ideas. As always, this was refreshing and invigorating and has left me eager to start the new term. I am the only music teacher in my school and I often find it quite isolating, so it was invaluable to be able to talk to other music teachers and hear the same goals and frustrations experienced across different schools and even different states.

There was so much packed into those 4 days that I can't possibly hope to detail it all here, but these were a few highlights for me.

Keynote speakers

The selection of keynote speakers was impressive; each offering a unique perspective on music education in today's world.

Borbála Szirányi (Hungarian music education guru and lecturer at the Kodaly Institute in Kecskemét gave a talk on the problems facing children in Hungary today in relation to music education. Whilst there are plenty of differences between the Hungarian and Australian contexts, there was also a lot of common ground and many of her points resonated with me.

Borbala Sziranyi

She spoke of a child's need for healthy stimulation - through touch, movement and social connection. In today's technology-driven world, these areas are often neglected whilst the visual and aural intake is vastly overstimulated. She is currently engaged in a research project exploring the integration of movement-based music education such as that described by Klara Kokas and its positive effect on the overall musical learning and healthy development of the child.

Professor David Elliott gave a keynote presentation on Personhood - the idea of teaching to the person we hope a child will grow into. It's a wonderfully positive way of viewing the learning experience and seems to fit in with all of the work my school has been doing lately on "Growth Mindset".

There was also a wonderful panel discussion featuring Prof. David Elliott, Dr. James Cuskelly and Maree Hennessy (head of the Kodaly masters program at Holy Names University) in which they discussed some of the difficulties facing teachers and students today and in the future and how the Kodaly approach might best deal with these. They talked a lot about teaching the whole child rather than focusing purely on subject material. We use music to teach the child to be a better person, we don't just teach the child music.

I found this an incredibly powerful message and one that reminded me of my responsibilities, but also my privileges as an educator.

Morning warm ups

Each morning one of the choral directors would lead the whole conference in a "warm up" - usually some kind of ice-breaker or mixer dance.

Micheál McCarthy (part of the faculty at WAAPA, delivering aural studies classes) led us all in a delightful Irish reel known as the Siege of Ennis. (The video below shows ever so slightly different moves as the end of the set had the line on the left moving under the arms of the line on the right and therefore onto a new line of partners - there were several hundred of us in a hall all at once, so we had many, many rows!)

Celia Chrismass also led a wonderfully fun mixer dance involving a short clapping pattern with a partner, then the briefest of moments to find a new partner. It's a wonderful way to break down barriers as you no longer have time to worry about whether or not you know someone or whether they're in the same course as you, you simply grab the nearest partner and dance!

The dance was done to "Felicita" and involved these steps: Facing a partner, slap your thighs, clap your hands, Right Hand (RH) high 5, clap hands, LH high 5, clap hands, high 10 (clap both partner's hands), clap own hands. Stick out your right elbow to touch their right elbow for an "elbow kiss" for 2 beats, then left elbow kiss for 2 beats, clap the back of your hands to the back of your partner's hands then front hand clap, clap your own hands 3 times (ti-ti taa rhythm).

Then lean and look to your right (2 beats), left (2 beats), then the same again before moving off to find a new partner (you have 2 bars to do so!)

Elective Sessions

Once again there proved to be too many nuggets of wisdom to do them all justice here, but I shall try. I attended a variety of workshops on all things from stave reading to improvisation to Kokas pedagogy to bucket drumming to a sequence for developing polyphony and part-work skills in your students.

Renee Heron ran a session on including improvisation and composition in early years' classes. I had often shied away from this until older years, treating it as a late form of practice activity, but actually improvisation is a skill that should be encouraged as early as possible, even before students have any formally presented conceptual knowledge.

Simple games where students improvise a single word answer or sing their name using certain pitches (eg. Bee Bee) can be a great way to start. This can then build sequentially to improvising melodic or rhythmic conversations or respond to prompts in picture books such as "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" by Bill Martin Jr.

Kaboom Percussion ran an incredibly fun session on bucket drumming and ways to incorporate these into your classroom (great for those who are feeling a little resource-poor!)

I also had an excellent refresher on ways to introduce the stave from the wonderful ladies at Take Note. You can read more about their giant stave kit and its uses here.

But perhaps the workshop I got the most out of was an immersive introduction into the movement-based pedagogy of Klara Kokas. I was intrigued and really looking forward to this workshop as I had often heard the name Kokas cropping up in Kodaly circles here and there and was curious to learn more.

Klara Kokas was a student of Kodaly's (a Zoltan disciple for want of a better word!) who loved his philosophy of music education, but felt even more needed to be done to create a well-trained heart in young musicians. She created a complimentary music program which grows emotional intelligence in responding to music artistically. It is not a music literacy or theory program, but instead helps students experience the joy of music in a very physical and artful way.

Klara Kokas

A Kokas session may involve improvised movement to music, partnering or "mirroring" exercises where one child leads another through their chosen movements for a piece, thus creating synchronicity and harmony.

Students are also encouraged to respond to the music through visual art forms such as drawing, painting or sculpture.

As part of the presentation, we watched a short clip of one of Kokas' students, an adolescent boy, dancing expressively to Beethoven and then being interviewed afterwards. He is drenched with sweat and tears and it is clear he has given everything to this musical experience. He speaks of the images in his head whenever he hears this piece - autumn leaves clinging to the branches of a tree but gradually being blown away by the oncoming winds of winter. Despite this being a seemingly sad event, all is made right by the final leaf falling, suggesting that this is the way of things, nature's law, and all is as it should be.

The compelling allegory of the autumn leaves also tells the story of his grandfather's passing and the music is a powerful way of helping the boy come to terms with this. I was incredibly moved by the whole experience and have a renewed faith in the power of music.

You can read more about Kokas Pedagogy through these resources

Did you attend the 2018 Kodaly National Conference in Perth? What were your favourite moments? Comment below or drop us a line at

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