Professor awarded Fulbright to study world history of teaching music literacy through folk songs

March 14, 2019 | News, UToday, Arts and Letters
By Christine Billau

Babies babble or drift asleep as mothers and fathers sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and other lullabies that have been passed down through generations.

Toddlers sing along.

Dr. Pamela Stover, organist and associate professor of music, has received a Fulbright grant to conduct research on folk songs at the Kodály Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Kecskemét, Hungary.

When Hilma Stover recognized the music bug bit her 3-year-old daughter, Pam, in a special way, her creative use of a beauty product took those classic folk songs to the next level and would fuel Pam’s lifelong dedication to early childhood music education.

“My mom used red nail polish to paint the letter names of each key on a large toy piano,” said Dr. Pamela Stover, organist and associate professor of music education at The University of Toledo. “I had a book that had big notes with the letter names inside. That’s how mom taught me how to play simple tunes.”

When she grew up, Stover chose a career first teaching children and then preparing music teachers using Orff-Schulwerk techniques and what is known as the Kodály approach, a method based on the idea that children learn to read and write music better and quicker through musical games that involve singing, clapping and movement.

Folk songs and the internationalization of the Kodály approach are the focus of Stover’s recently awarded Fulbright grant to the Kodály Institute of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Kecskemét, Hungary, for four months next year. She will delve through the institute’s undigitized archives to do research for her upcoming book, “The History of Kodály-Inspired Teaching: From Hungarian Folksongs to Globalization.”

Dr. Pamela Stover worked with her cousin, Nora, 2, at the piano circa 1996.

“This Fulbright is one of the best things that has ever happened in my career and is the culmination of about 15 years of background research and 35 years of teaching,” Stover said. “The opportunity to do archival research at the incredible Kodály Institute is an honor. The institute provides international teacher training and houses an invaluable and rare collection of folk songs not only from Hungary, but from around the world. This treasure trove, which cannot be loaned out, contains international teaching materials and handwritten primary source documents that hold the answers to many questions about the Kodály approach to teaching music.”

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as record of service and leadership potential in their respective fields. The Fulbright Scholar Program offers grants to American faculty, administrators and professionals to teach and conduct research abroad. The program is sponsored by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is the flagship international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.
Stover, who has been on faculty at The University of Toledo since 2011, plans to use her Fulbright to trace the development of the music curriculum that started in a small Hungarian city and spread throughout the world.

Folk songs are much more than simple children’s songs. Handed down from generation to generation, they preserve a portion of history. In the U.S., we commonly think of square dances or cowboys singing around a campfire or sailors working in unison on a ship.

“Every country and every ethnicity preserve its culture through folk songs,” Stover said.

At about 8 months old, Dr. Pamela Stover was captivated by her mom singing “You Are My Sunshine.”

Stover’s book will start from the beginning of the Kodály approach to teaching music, which arose out of a nationalistic philosophy in early 1900s Europe.

“Hungary kept getting invaded, and Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály believed his country was overly influenced by music from Germany and Austria,” Stover said. “He and a colleague, Béla Bartók, went on a quest around the country recording and transcribing people singing children’s songs, work songs, people in fields, people in schools. They went everywhere.”

Kodály and Bartók created a Hungarian folk-song collection to preserve Hungarian culture by writing down the culture’s oral tradition. There was one problem: No one could read it except for trained musicians.

As a result, Kodály gathered some of Hungary’s finest music teachers and designed a way to teach everyone how to read and write music first by singing and later with instruments.

“A country’s language influences the rhythm, so I first want to analyze the pitch and rhythm sets used in international folk songs, and find out why Kodály teachers use the ‘sol mi’ descending minor third as found in natural language, instead of the first two notes of the scale — ‘do re’ — as made famous in ‘The Sound of Music,’” Stover said.

In addition to writing a history book about the Kodály method, Stover hopes to strengthen the next generation of music educators by creating a folk-song collection and a multicultural teaching guide that can be used in classrooms around the world.

“In times of budget cuts, music is typically on the list of things that can be cut,” Stover said. “We are at such a crisis point in the United States with the fragile status of funding for music education that it is easy to sympathize with the desperation Kodály would have felt when he was gathering Hungarian folk songs, not knowing which enemy would invade next. We are both thinking of preservation of our musical culture. This Fulbright will enable me — in a very small way — to preserve music education history.”

Stover’s mom, Hilma, is proud of her daughter’s Fulbright, but she still sees her little girl who sang in the church choir and desperately wanted to learn how to play the organ.

“Pam never ceases to amaze her dad and me,” Hilma Stover said. “We both enjoy music but were never musically talented. She can sing every verse of a hymn while getting both hands and feet going on the organ to make beautiful music. We are very proud of her hard work and accomplishments, as well as the pleasure she takes in seeing her students at The University of Toledo excel as teachers, performers and composers.”

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