"Like Kodaly, I too believe that the greatest art music should be made available and accessible to the masses."
Albert Tay is a Singaporean who studied music in one of the most prestigious schools in Europe – the Kodaly Institute of Music in Hungary. He shares with us the reason for his decision, the genius behind the Kodaly Concept and how he has brought all of this to Asia through the Asia Kodaly Symposium which he is organising in Singapore in 2020.
CEEC: Albert, you have graduated from the Kodaly Institute of Music in Hungary. What brought you there and how was Hungary, of all countries, on your horizon of destinations to study in?
Albert Tay: Serendipity! I had the good fortune of meeting three very special Hungarian musicians who left an indelible impression on me at very special moments of my life! I first met Mdm Éva Rozgonyi at the 7th World Choral Symposium in Kyoto, 2005. I was a young conductor on the podium with the Japan Youth Choir during the conductors’ masterclass. Mdm Éva was a petite, energetic grandmother figure with a walking stick and shiny, fiery eyes. She caught up with me after one masterclass and invited me to study with her in Hungary. The informal 1 hour session-lesson with her was like receiving guidance from Yoda – she pretty much made me conduct in a completely new way by holding a single finger and guided my entire arm to move in a very ergonomic and beautiful way. I found out years later that she’s a highly decorated and respected teacher in Hungary!
In 2009, I studied with Maestro Gábor Hollerung in a 2-week long masterclass where we worked on Handel’s “Dixit Dominus”. The rigour involved in conducting bigger forces of orchestra and choir, form & analysis of music etc. really resonated with me at the time and I was thinking to myself “WOW! Is this how Hungarians make music all the time? I would LOVE to visit this place some time!” Finally, my benefactor and long-time mentor Professor László Norbert Nemes, Director of Kodály Institute of the Liszt Academy of Music was the major reason for my studying at the Kodály Institute. It was a privilege to learn from him in the 2-week long Kodály Seminar Asia every time he was in Singapore. I got a chance to invite him to work with one of my choirs too and his gentle demeanour, philosophy on education and world-class pedagogical skill was truly inspiring. He made me reflect and rethink what it meant to be an “artist-educator”, a topic that I further explored in my thesis at the Kodaly Institute. Of course, the icing on the cake was being awarded the highly competitive and prestigious IKS scholarship from the International Kodaly Society – definitely very helpful in decision-making!
CEEC: You are a strong believer and follower of the Kodaly Concept and Kodaly-inspired music education. What is this method and how does it affect music education? Can you give us some examples from your experience?
Albert Tay: The DNA of the Kodály Concept encompasses not just sophisticated pedagogical tools, but also his educational tenets. E.g. Joyful music-making, scaffolded learning-by-doing, a focus on music literacy, cultivation of good taste in art etc. are just the tip of the iceberg. Like Kodály, I too believe that the greatest art music should be made available and accessible to the ma s s e s for I have s e en f i r s t -hand, the transformational power of joyful music-making in even the most disinterested and least privileged of students. Many walk away from choir and choral singing with greater self-confidence, an open heart to “difficult” but spiritually nourishing music requiring mindful listening.
You know you’ve succeeded in cultivating good taste when your choristers eschews the latest, hottest song on their music streaming app because they have become acutely aware of objectionable song lyrics; or when students fall in love with a relatively unknown composer’s work because they sing, see and sense the substance and craftsmanship behind the marriage of music and poetry. In others, some even get bored of the plain vanilla of saccharine sweet musical offerings and request for works that are replete with biting dissonances that challenges not just the audience, but the performers in more ways than one. These are just some of the experiences that bring me the great joy every time!
CEEC: Tell us more about the Kodaly Academy of Music (Singapore) which you founded. What is the academy’s mission?
AT: The Kodaly Academy of Music (Singapore) or KAM for short, was originally founded as a passion project to spread the Kodály Concept to the rest of Asia via the Asia Kodály Symposium. KAM has somehow, grown beyond my wildest dreams! We are now a one-stop music solution for hirers looking for quality performances from singers or choirs performances, and are the go-to people for quality, holistic singing-based music education and professional development. KAM has more than 10 freelance artists, many of whom are highly accomplished and sought-after in their respective fields of expertise and are working with us on a semi-regular to weekly basis for our various choirs, short courses and masterclasses, performances etc.
CEEC: Biennially KAM organises the Asia Kodaly Symposium (AKS). In 2020 it will be held in Singapore for the first time. Please tell us more about this and does it have anything to do with Hungary and Singapore celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations in the same year?
AT: The last three Asia Kodály Symposium (AKS) were held in in 2014, 2016 and 2018 in the cities of Jakarta and Kaohsiung. I’m very happy to report that top-notch educators and performers from around the globe have attended and/or shared at our symposium. The AKS itself and the attendant AKS activities around it has had a huge impact and touched the lives of literally thousands of people in the various communities, not just in the cities but also aboriginal tribes! The results are especially encouraging when I observe the changes in pedagogical approach to ensemble-training and/or classroom teaching, fresh approaches to rehearsals for instrumental ensembles, new choirs and choral programmes being formed etc. After years of frequent travelling and wandering, I thought it would be nice for change to finally bring the AKS back home and spend a bit more time with my two children (Athena is 9 and Aeolus is 7 this year)! It was a very happy coincidence that Hungary and Singapore are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2020 and I am extremely grateful to the Hungarian Embassy and Ambassador István Szerdahelyi and his staff for the high level of trust and support for the 2020 AKS!
CEEC: Would you say Hungary is a visible choice for Singaporeans to study music in? Would you encourage them to do so?
AT: When Singaporeans are asked where they hope to go for further music studies abroad, it’s the usual suspects and institutions in countries like the US and UK. I have been encouraging colleagues (in and outside of Singapore) and even sending students to study at the Kodály Institute and/or summer schools ever for the last 8 years! The reason for doing so, is because I was not only touched by the incredible work ethic and talent from my professors but also inspired by like-minded schoolmates from around the world who also believe in the importance of quality music making and education. The rich, cultural heritage of Hungary is a wonderful oasis for me to recharge my soul and I believe it is the same for many who’ve passed their portals! Singaporeans with a sense of adventure will enjoy the different language and culture. I personally had tons of fun living and studying in Hungary! For those who love to travel, seeing the rest of Europe is really easy if you live in central Hungary! If that’s still not enough, Singaporeans just love a good deal, so I would like to assure anyone who’s reading this article right now, that you will definitely get bang for your buck – Hungary is relatively affordable and the superb quality of music education you will receive there is really very “value-for-money”. Please go and have a culturally rich and fruitful experience studying music in Hungary!