By: Hannah Rackham
You know that scene in The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews teaches the children, “When you sing you begin with do re mi”? Those syllables—do re mi fa sol la ti do—are called solfege or solfa. That will give you the needed background for this except of a conversation between a group of professional musicians.
“Solfege isn’t strictly Kodaly, Guido came up with the solfa and—wait—who was it who came up with the handsigns?”
“Ooh, what’s his name…? Curwen!”
We all nod in agreement as we each remember that, in fact, Curwen did develop the hand signs to accompany Guido’s system of pitch nomenclature. The solfa syllables were developed in the 11th century by a monk and musician named Guido of Arezzo. John Curwen, a music educator of the 19th century, established corresponding hand signs to facilitate teaching children to sing. And in case you were curious, Zoltan Kodaly was a pioneering music educator from Hungary whose methods are still widely used, especially at the elementary level.
The scene of this incredibly specialized conversation about the history and practical application of music teaching you ask? The Utah Music Educators’ Association (UMEA) Conference in St. George earlier this month. The participants? Three undergraduate, pre-service teachers and three professional educators. Obviously I’m one of the undergrads, but let me introduce you to the rest of our company: the other two pre-professional teachers are my best friends. We met in the music program about three years ago and we’ve been “the trio” ever since. One of the seasoned educators was our first ever professor in the program; this past weekend, she was inducted into the UMEA Hall of Fame. Another veteran teacher in our midst runs the music preschool on BYU campus; watching her at work and helping out at the preschool has been an important part of our development as teachers. Finally, we have the legendary high school choir director who is currently mentoring my friend through her student teaching. Two of these three all-star teachers presented workshops at this professional development conference. And we all got to just chat about our trade for a little while.
Needless to say, I felt super cool after that. As we walked out to the car, I remarked to my friends, “We get to have fun music chats with professionals in our field!” One of them answered with a smile, “Our colleagues.” And then it hit me—I get to be a real teacher! It was the equivalent of realizing you got promoted to the grown-up table at Thanksgiving dinner. We are the rising generation of educators! Our teachers, professors, and mentors are “raising us” so we can guide our field forward in a changing world. Someday, we’ll be the ones presenting at teacher improvement workshops. The mental shift from “those are my teachers” to “these are my colleagues” made things real for me.