To write a folksong is as much beyond the bounds of possibility as to write a proverb. Just as proverbs condense centuries of popular wisdom and observation, so, in traditional songs, the emotions of centuries are immortalized in a form polished to perfection.
Today the Hungarian town of Kecskemét is decorated with signs that read “Welcome to Kodály Town!” It was in this town, 128 years ago today, that Hungarian ethnomusicologist Zoltán Kodály was born. Kodály is special to the people of Hungary not only for being one of their most famous composers, but also for his work as champion of their heritage. Along with his friend and colleague Béla Bartók, he recorded and studied numerous Hungarian folk songs and stories to preserve them for future generations.
But Kodály was more than a musician. With a PhD in philosophy and linguistics, he was a strong believer in music as a language – a concept shared by many other musical pedagogues including Suzuki and Orff. But to Kodály music as linguistics was not just a metaphorical cliché. He saw music as a literal language, claiming “we should read music in the same way that an educated adult will read a book: in silence, but imagining the sound.”
Today, we’d like to make the case that Zoltán Kodály, a Renaissance Man in his own right, was also complexity scientist. Any music educators reading this post will at least be aware of “The Kodály Method,” which was actually developed after Kodály’s death by his students. Kodály himself was opposed to labeling his way of teaching music as a method, preferring the word concept. He felt it would be no less presumptuous for an individual to say they had written a folk song than a proverb. As a pioneer in the study of folk tales and song, Kodály believed great ideas – and great art – come about gradually through a process of emergence.
Another connection to complexity science is Kodály’s belief concerning the way we learn:
Singing connected with movements and action is a much more ancient, and, at the same time, more complex phenomenon than is a simple song.
So happy birthday Kodály! And thank you for the gift – not just of music, but of the linguistics of complexity.
The following interview is in Hungarian, but if you go to YouTube, some translations are given in the comments section.