A joyful exploration of Zoltán Kodály’s revolutionary approach to unlocking musicality in teachers and their students, choir leaders and choristers through the work of Australian educator Dr James Cuskelly.

Dr James Cuskelly

Documentary Synopsis

If we ourselves sing often, this provides a deep experience of happiness in music. Through our own musical activities, we learn to know the pulsation, rhythm, and shape of melody. The enjoyment given encourages the study of instruments and the listening to other pieces of music as well.” (Zoltán Kodály, 1964)

In the late 1940s Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály developed an approach to teaching music that was revolutionary. He found that using the voice to awaken human musicality through the singing of familiar folk songs, repetition and hand movements assisted students in acquiring basic music skills. From this foundation students developed more sophisticated musical techniques and forms of expression. Kodály attracted international attention not only through the success of his technique but also because of his conviction that high quality music education should be available to everyone and that this is possible via the meticulous, lifelong training given to the teachers to raise them to the status of master educators.

For teacher Dr James Cuskelly, discovering Kodály’s philosophy was life-changing and for the last 30 years he has been living, working with and spreading the word about the Kodaly process of teaching and learning music. Perhaps most importantly, he has been adapting the practices of this philosophy through his own work in schools, universities, community choirs and his summer school.

When we sing… shows Cuskelly at work teaching musicians, performers, students and music teachers of all ages and abilities. The impact of his teaching methods is profound and moving as his simple voice and movement techniques connect with the participants’ musicality and give teachers and performers the tools to unlock this experience in others.

The film reveals the core beliefs of Kodály educators including Dr László Nemes and Pete Churchill and musicians and educators talk of the experiences they have when they connect with this different way of understanding music and human development.

The results are clear in the musical performances in the film, with both adult and children’s choirs singing traditional folk songs, contemporary folksongs, Jazz, Classical and Early Music songs.

James Cuskelly and his collaborators, in showing how anyone can experience the joy of music through this technique, are changing the way music is appreciated and taught.

The outcomes are extraordinary.

Running time 98 minutes. In English and available with Hungarian subtitles.