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Education News

Top Ten List: Great Music Educators

In celebration of Music in Our Schools Month, a list of ten prominent and influential music educators.

March is Music in Our Schools Month, and Houston Public Media’s Arts and Culture is celebrating with a list of great music educators throughout history!

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein was a celebrated composer and conductor through most of the twentieth century, and he was most famous as the director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. He inspired the initiation of the Artful Learning program, an education model guided by the philosophy that arts education can strengthen education in other subjects. He was also known as a frequent lecturer on classical music, particularly for his famous six lectures at Harvard University in 1973.

Nadia Boulanger

Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger in 1925. Photograph by Edmond Joaillier. Public Domain.

Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Daniel Barenboim, and Quincy Jones are among the numerous names that called Nadia Boulanger their teacher at some point. She was a world-famous music teacher based in France, but she frequently worked with schools in England and the US as well, and she taught from the young age of 17 all the way to her death at 92. She was the older sister of famous French composer Lili Boulanger.

Edwin Gordon

As one of the best-known living music educators, Edwin Gordon is one of the more recent contributors to the field. He is credited with coining the term “audiation”, which is derived from the principle of “imagination”, but with an auditory component rather than a visual one. It is the idea of being able to imagine sounds in one’s head, which is a crucial element to aural skills education where students learn to sing melodies from sight, dictate melodies from listening alone, and generally develop of new means of listening.

Paul Hindemith

Originally from Germany, Paul Hindemith emigrated to the United States in 1940 after falling out of favor with the Nazi Party some years earlier. Once there, he began to teach at Yale University as a professor in composition and music theory, and wrote many text books, including A Concentrated Course in Traditional Harmony, Elementary Training for Musicians, and Exercises for Advanced Students. Though he was regarded as a difficult teacher initially, he would eventually allow his students more freedom with their compositions as the school year progressed. Like Bernstein, Hindemith was also a prolific composer alongside his regular teaching job.

Plaque at St. Paul's Girls' School in London
Plaque at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in London. Photograph ©Edward Hands.

Gustav Holst

Though English composer Gustav Holst’s biggest claim to fame is his orchestral suite The Planets, he actually had a highly successful teaching career alongside his compositional one. He held Musical Director positions at St. Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith and the Morley College for Working Men and Women, the latter of which was not a serious music school until Holst came along. His daughter Imogen was also a prominent music educator.

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze

The Dalcroze method is a well-known style of teaching intended for musical development, predominantly in younger people. It is based largely on teaching musical concepts such as rhythm and structure through movement and the kinesthetic senses. Émile Jacques-Dalcroze was a Swiss composer and music teacher who developed the method just before the turn of the twentieth century. This system is also known as Dalcroze Eurythmics.  

Zoltan Kodály

Solfege hand signs
Solfege hand signs developed by John Curwen, utilized by the Kodály Method. Public Domain.

Like Dalcroze Eurythmics, the Kodály Method is a music educational tool that is very widely used to this day. In fact, Zoltan Kodály, Hungarian composer and the initial developer of the concept, was influenced by Dalcroze’s process. The Kodály Method is often used with younger students who are just beginning to learn music, and covers numerous aspects such as rhythm, solfege, and melody through the establishment of specific syllables, hand signs, and notational practices. Kodály, like many on this list was also a successful composer of art music.

Carl Orff

The Orff Schulwerk (or Orff Approach) is yet another teaching concept primarily aimed at young students. Like the previously mentioned systems, it does feature movement as part of its curriculum, but is more centered around the process of improvisation and creativity. The Orff Approach is guided by a “learn by doing” principle that emphasizes participation and interaction between the students, and is highly cooperative in nature. Carl Orff, the namesake and originator of the method, is probably best known for his choral masterpiece, Carmina Burana.

Joseph Schillinger

Joseph Schillinger was a Russian immigrant to the United States in the early twentieth century, and he eventually began teaching at the New School in New York City. While there, some of his students were prominent names such as George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Henry Cowell, and several others. Schillinger developed his own approach to composition known simply as the Schillinger System. This system is a greatly influenced by mathematics, and was designed to aid in the construction of music in a logical, highly structured manner, as opposed to purely aesthetic and whimsical decisions on the part of the composer.

Sin’ichi Suzuki

The Suzuki Method is often linked with the Dalcroze, Kodály, and Orff methods listed above. It is another pedagogical tool geared towards children and was developed by Japanese violinist Sin’ichi Suzuki in the mid-twentieth century. This approach specifically calls for students to begin their musical education at an early age. It also emphasizes frequent listening, parent involvement, and interaction between the students. Suzuki’s philosophy was that this method would not necessarily create professional musicians, but that it would aid in the overall development and education of the child.


For more information on the various teaching methods, follow these links:

Dalcroze Society of America

International Kodály Society

American Orff-Schulwerk Association

Schillinger Society

International Suzuki Association

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Joshua Zinn

Joshua Zinn

Producer, Houston Matters

Joshua is a producer for Houston Matters on News 88.7 as well as the host of Encore Houston on Houston Public Media Classical. He joined Houston Public Media as a radio intern in 2014 and became a full-time announcer the following year. Now he prepares segments and occasionally records interviews...

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