If one would embark on a mission, creating the list of the people, who played a major role in the progress of music education Zoltán Kodály may be the easiest pick.
The boy, born in Kecskemét, learned to play the violin at the age of 6, and developed great interest in music early on. In 1905 he visited remote villages to collect songs, recording them on phonograph cylinders, just a year later he wrote the thesis on Hungarian folk song: “Strophic Construction in Hungarian Folksong”.
Partly because of the Great War and subsequent major geopolitical changes in the region, partly because of a naturally rather diffident temperament in youth, Kodály had no major public success until 1923. This was the year when one of his best-known pieces, Psalmus Hungaricus, was given its first performance at a concert to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the union of Buda and Pest.
In 1966, Kodály toured the United States and gave a special lecture at Stanford University, where some of his music was performed in his presence.
Throughout his adult life, Kodály was very interested in the problems of many types of music education, and he wrote a large amount of material on teaching methods as well as composing plenty of music intended for children’s use. Beginning in 1935, along with his colleague, Jenö Ádám, he embarked on a long-term project to reform music teaching in Hungary’s lower and middle schools.
The Hungarian music education program that developed in the 1940s became the basis for what is called the “Kodály Method”. While Kodály himself did not write a comprehensive method, he did establish a set of principles to follow in music education.
Kodály’s efforts finally bore fruit in 1945 when the new Hungarian government began to implement his ideas in the public schools. Socialist control of the educational system facilitated the establishment of Kodály’s methods nationwide. The first music primary school, in which music was taught daily, opened in 1950. The school was so successful that over one hundred music primary schools opened within the next decade. After about fifteen years roughly half the schools in Hungary were music schools.
Kodály’s success eventually spilled outside of Hungarian borders. Kodály’s method was first presented to the international community in 1958 at a conference of the International Society for Music Educators held in Vienna. Another conference in Budapest in 1964 allowed participants to see Kodály’s work first-hand, causing a surge of interest. Music educators from all over the world traveled to Hungary to visit Kodály’s music schools. The first symposium dedicated solely to the Kodály method was held in Oakland, California in 1973; it was at this event that the International Kodály Society was inaugurated. Today Kodály-based methods are used throughout the world.