Saturday, March 5, 2011


While I work on my writings for my dissertation I watched/listened to the movie Songcatcher (2000). How appropriate it is for me to have watched this movie! The movie is about a woman with a doctorate in music who traveled to visit with her sister, a school teacher in the mountains. The doctor, a city woman, was unimpressed by the laborious trip to arrive at her sister's humble home. Not really seeing the worth of her visit she was feeling a bit sorry for herself when a young girl was called upon to sing one of her songs for the doctor. Her interest was peaked and thus the movie really takes action - in a musical sense. The doctor records on cylinders and in notation the songs of the young girl and another mountain woman. She is immersed in the lives of these hillbillies and finds a wealth of musical treasure. I won't ruin the movie for you, dear reader, should you choose to watch it, but let it be said there are love interests and catastrophe.

I was struck by the young girl who said that the songs she knew were "give to her" by her granny. This oral tradition of passing on songs from one generation to the next is, I fear, a dying tradition. Too often children today learn songs from a recording rather than by sitting on the lap or at the feet of their parents and grandparents. I am thankful that I learned the old fashioned way. I recall the songs my grandparents sang to me. I was an avid listener! When I think back to my childhood I can remember my Daddy going about the house singing and whistling; Momma was always singing the songs that I now as an adult associate with household chores and fun songs for entertainment. My parents continue to make music a part of their lives.

The recording of songs in the movie was done through the use of cylinders and music notation after several hearings. Songs which were recorded on the cylinders would later be transcribed into notation. As I watched the doctor in the movie notating songs I was reminded of the importance of ear training - the ability to hear a tune aurally and then be able to write it accurately on staff paper. This is a learned skill, one that takes a boatload of patience and years to accomplish. I often smile as I listen to an interesting song for if I really think about the tune I find myself figuring out the solfege and picturing it on the musical staff.

This movie has a connection with my dissertation. I am writing about Zoltan Kodaly and his work with music education. Part of his work was based upon his own folk song collecting in the countryside of Hungary in the early 1900s. I have read about how he had to develop a relationship with people before they would share their songs with him, how he used the cylinders to collect his songs, and about the importance of scientific collection and indexing. I could see his persistence and dedication in the work of the movie's songcatcher. The great thing is I know what he did with the bulk of his work and I have seen how it has influenced the musical lives of millions of people, both in Hungary and around the world.

A regret that I have is that I will never meet this man, Kodaly. However, I have been blessed over the past 10 years to meet and spend time with people who *did* work with him. If I cannot learn from the Master I am blessed to learn from those who did.