Voci: Did you come from a musical family?
JH: Not really. My Mother loved to sing, but I`m the first to make music my career. It all started in 1955 when my Mother saw an ad in a newspaper for a special music elementary school in Szekesfehervar and signed me up. Our school was the third in Hungary to offer a special curriculum in music following Kodaly`s principles. At this school, I had singing lessons six days a week, as well as choir, recorder and folk dance. When you start so early, the learning of music is absolutely natural and assists learning in other subjects as well.
Voci: When did you know that you wanted to have a career in music?
JH: Age 6. I knew I wanted to be a choral conductor.
Voci: You knew at age 6?
JH: Yes. I went to a concert at the middle school that my cousin attended, and where my singing teacher was conducting the choir, and when I heard their performance, I said to myself, "I want to do this." The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all. I think choirs are able to express the deepest human values.
Voci: Tell me about your musical career from there?
JH: I also studied piano and flute and played in the orchestra. After high school, I took my exams and got into the Liszt Academy of Music. I knew I wanted to "follow" my singing teacher into conducting and music education. I liked the connection to her. I graduated in 1972, and returned to Szekesfehervar to fill my beloved teacher`s position in the same middle school for 8 years. (A group of my students from that time gave me a reunion party just before I left for California.) Then I taught at a Teacher Training College in Budapest and, starting in 1985, at the Liszt Academy, where I still teach choral conducting and music education.
Voci: Looking back over your life, what are the musical high points?
JH: When I was 11 years old, I conducted our class`s chamber choir in a national cultural competition at a children`s music camp in Budapest, and we won the gold medal! This resulted in televised performances--we won two years in a row--of our program for the Club of Music Lover`s Children. It was all very exciting. As an Academy student, I have many wonderful musical memories: as a member of the Liszt Chamber Choir, as a first soprano of the Primavera Quintet, and as a member of the Budapest Madrigal Choir which traveled and performed in nine European countries.
Voci: Your family is also a big part of your life.
JH: Yes, I married my husband, Tamas, in 1973. We met at the music elementary school in 1955. He`s a mechanical engineer who plays the piano and sang in one of my first choirs. We have one daughter, also Judit, who is a physical therapist and does cardiac rehabilitation. She and her cardiologist husband have three children-- Benedek is 3, Hedwig is 2 and Marton is 8 months. The baby was born just 2 months before my father died last October.
Voci: This has been a difficult time for you.
JH: Yes, it has been a tumultuous year with the baby and my Father. Also, my Mother`s days are numbered. It was difficult to share the time between both the young children and my aging parents who needed care and love. [Judit`s Mother passed away in March, after our interview.]
Voci: I would never have guessed - you are so enthusiastic and energetic.
JH: I have had very good models in my life. Parents and teachers were tireless at home and in their professions. I am very grateful and try to follow their example. Also, as a practicing protestant, my faith gives me strength. What I have received from family and friends, teachers and colleagues, and from God, it is my responsibility to share through music and through love. And this relates to the concert theme "Songs of Heavenly and Earthly Love." Heaven is important for me. The earth - here we are - is important to me. Love is important to me.
Voci: In addition to music and family, what else do you like to do?
JH: I love fine art, especially painting and sculpture. Vienna is my favorite city as one of the European centers of the arts. And I love poetry, from all periods. My Mother could quote poetry in four languages: Hungarian, German, French and Latin.
Voci: What brought you to the United States?
JH: I first came here 11 years ago with my daughter to become a teacher at the Kodaly Institute at Holy Names College at the invitation of Anne Laskey, director of the Kodaly Center for Music Education. Ildiko Herboly, one of my teachers, recommended me for the position. I was honored to be invited because this college was the first institution of higher learning to offer an advanced degree in Kodaly music education in America. Sr. Mary Alice Hein, founder of the Kodaly Program, and Erzsebet Szonyi, chair of music education at the Liszt Academy, organized the first International Kodaly Symposium here in 1973. I have taught at Holy Names three academic years and several summers since 1995, and this historical place is my second home. During this time, Anne Laskey has expanded the program, establishing the annual HNU Children`s Choral Festival to help strengthen choral activities in the schools. Anne has forged closer ties with the Northern California Association of Kodaly Educators, organizing workshops with resident Hungarian faculty.
Voci: So much of your professional work revolves around Kodaly - is he your favorite composer?
JH: No, my favorites are Mozart and Brahms! And when I did a radio program on my favorite composers, I included many styles from Lassus to Bach, Hungarian folk music, and American gospel and jazz. So while I like Kodaly`s compositions, I admire him most as a human being and as an educator. He was a very broad and deep thinker. His interests included literature, languages and history. He truly believed that "music belongs to everyone," and with Hungarian colleagues and students he made it happen! The government supported his views of music literacy for everyone. The first Kodaly music school was established in 1950 and by the 1980s there were about 250 music elementary schools. However, nowadays, things are not as good for music in Hungary, and every year the number of music classes is decreasing.
Voci: Did you ever meet Kodaly?
JH: Yes, he visited our elementary school several times because he was interested in how his vision was being realized. We gave concerts for him and demonstrated our knowledge and musicianship on the highest level - transposing, singing in different keys. I remember I was 8 when I sang and played a canon in one of the demonstration classes for him.
Voci: As Vice President of the International Kodaly Society (and twice keynote speaker at IKS symposia), what is your vision?
JH: I think it is important to remember that what we learned from Kodaly was not a method but MUSIC and music making. We need to clear away the "ornaments" - all the pedagogical devices, which are sometimes spectacular and sometimes self-important - and remember that for Kodaly, music was spiritual nutrition, not replaceable by anything, and accessible for everyone. The only justification for the use of rhythm and melody names (ta-ti-ti and so-mi) and hand signs is to lead us to the Destination, which is the comprehension of music. Kodaly said, "There is no complete spiritual life without music, for the human soul has regions which can be illuminated only by music. The purpose of music is to understand better: to evolve and expand our inner world."
--February 28, 2007