Board Member Profile: Amanda Poon

Amanda Poon NCAKE ProfileIn Fall 2013, I stepped into my first full-time teaching job after receiving my Master’s degree in Music Education with Kodály emphasis, and I realized that I had my work cut out for me. It’s hard to start a new job anywhere, but it’s especially challenging at a school where you are following in the footsteps of a much-beloved chorus teacher. Did I mention that the majority of my students were middle schoolers?

What I noticed immediately is that my students had never been taught to sight-read before. While they thought they “knew solfège” because they had seen The Sound of Music, they did not know how to use solfège correctly. Where could I start with them? Since they were 4th-8th graders, they were considered “older beginners” and beyond.

I couldn’t start so-mi with middle schoolers and expect them to buy into it. In addition, I couldn’t use the general music format and teach them folk songs the whole class period because they had to learn repertoire for two concerts a year. I taught warmups that used the diatonic scale and mixed diatonic sight-reading with simpler pentatonic sight -reading of folk songs. This produced mixed results among the students and still continues to be a work in progress.

Another issue I was contending with was that the students equated shouting/belting with good singing. The strategy I used to work on this was to teach them game songs like “Al Citron,” “Four White Horses,” and “Aquaqua del a Omar” and pitch them appropriately so they were singing in their head voices.  Most students have the awareness now to decide when they should access the head voice instead of the chest voice and the overall tone of all the ensembles has improved.

In addition to the skills-based areas that needed tending to, I also had to manage the students’ overwhelming desire to sing pop music in chorus. Whenever they argue that singing songs they hear on the radio would be more fun, I respond by saying “That wouldn’t be learning; that would be karaoke.” In response to their enthusiasm, I have used parts of pop songs as warm ups, canons and sight-reading exercises. I firmly believe, as do all who receive a Kodály education, that students should learn music of the highest quality. While I admit that I have bent this rule at times, I do my best to challenge my students and broaden their musical horizons with the repertoire I choose.

Now that I’m halfway through my third year, I still am trying to find the balance between giving my students musicianship training and preparing repertoire for the concerts. This year, my students’ musicianship consists of a hodgepodge of diatonic interval practice, singing through Denise Bacon’s 185 Pentatonic Exercises and sight-singing rounds from 150 Rounds. I freely admit that I still have not found THE way to integrate musicianship into chorus, but the curriculum that I’m using seems to meet the students where they are and give them the tools to progress. The students have come a long way in the last few years and I am starting to see a difference in how quickly and accurately they can sight-sing and learn repertoire. Most importantly, the growth in their musicianship has improved the artistry and musicality of their performances. Every semester, the choristers push the limits of their perceived abilities and I continue to learn right alongside them.

As we are hitting our stride in this new semester, I am looking forward to future music-making opportunities for my students. In April, my middle school a cappella ensemble, Gator Tones, will be participating in the Children’s Choral Festival at HNU and in May the Sacred Heart Lower and Middle School Band, Chorus and Strings programs will put on the Spring Concert on the Hill.

Amanda Poon has been a part of the Bay Area music education community since 2006. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a California Teaching Credential for Music K-12 from San Francisco State University. Her passion for educating children led her to continue her studies at Holy Names University in Oakland, where she received her Master’s degree in Music Education with Kodály Emphasis in 2012. 

Amanda has taught general classroom music to children ages 2 months to 4th grade at various schools, including St. Lawrence O’Toole, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School and, through Music Team SF, Woodrow Wilson Elementary. She has worked with the San Francisco Girls Chorus Prep Chorus and conducted Ragazzi Boys Chorus Primary Group (2012-14). She currently directs the Lower and Middle School Choruses at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, where she teaches 4th-8th Grade Chorus and leads a middle school a cappella group, the Gator Tones.

Workshop Review: “Songs and Singing Games from Asia”

By Rita Alway

For the first workshop of the 2015-16 school year, NCAKE featured three amazing presenters: Catherine Cheng, Minami Cohen, and Conway Tan presenting on the music of Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia. The three recent HNU graduates shared their own personal experiences growing up in each country, giving information about the culture and history of each place, as well as an authentic presentation of the repertoire.

Catherine (Cato) Cheng began the workshop with some brief background about the Philippines and its incredible diversity of language and culture: although Filipino and English are the national languages, more than 150 other languages are spoken throughout the archipelago. Several of the songs Cato presented were given both in their original language and also with Filipino texts written by Miriam Factora.

Several of the Filipino songs presented at the workshop had enjoyable, active games that are certain to be a hit in the classroom. “Pak Pak Ka-ak,” originally collected by Miriam Factora, involves a circle of players with their legs hooked together, hopping around in a circle until the circle breaks and they fall over (this brought to mind Christopher Roberts’ 2014 workshop, and his description of some singing games as “emergency room games”). Elsewhere, it was possible to see cross-cultural influence in games such as “Chimpoy Chimpoy,” a variation of rock-paper-scissors, and “Doktor Wakwak,” which several workshop attendees remembered playing as children as “Doctor Doctor.” Other Filipino songs presented provided opportunities for simple and beautiful partwork, such as “Balbaluh Immaya,” a song in the Ifugao language which may be sung in canon, and “Papanok a Lakitan” and “Manga Wata sa Ripag,” which may be sung independently or as partner songs.

Next, Minami Cohen presented an engaging collection of Japanese folk songs; all the materials presented are Minami’s transcriptions of songs she remembers singing and playing as a child, some learned from her grandmother. Many of the songs and games provided insight into Japanese history and culture, such as “Teruteru Bozu,” about a doll made to represent a monk, hung by the window to wish for good weather. Another, “Akata Sundunchi,” is about the Buddhist Saint Miruku, traditionally sung in Okinawa.

One of the highlights of Minami’s presentation was “Antagata Dokosa,” a delightful and challenging singing game. Minami originally taught it as a ball-bouncing game; participants bounced a large ball in and around their legs to a pattern in the song. She then taught as an alternate game a passing game with rhythm sticks; this was one of the hardest singing games presented at an NCAKE workshop—great fun for everyone and a real challenge!

Finally, Conway Tan presented a collection of songs and games from Malaysia. Like the Philippines, Malaysia has a wide variety of cultural influences. Conway presented songs in both Chinese and Malay, many of which were his own transcriptions. To make the Chinese materials more accessible, he also prepared a detailed Mandarin pronunciation guide. It was incredibly helpful to have a native speaker presenting the materials; the subtleties in pronunciation and melody would have been almost impossible to reproduce accurately without this primary source.

As with the Filipino materials, it was great fun to see cross-cultural connections in familiar games with new songs. “Cai Quan” was very similar to rock-paper-scissors, with a movement activity that ended with participants in one long line, and “Diu Shou Juan” is a drop the handkerchief/chase game. A  highlight of the Malaysian materials was “E Wau Bule,” a Malay folksong with movement improvisation. Conway recommended looking for performances on YouTube to see more examples of movement; a good one can be found here:

NCAKE was incredibly lucky to have these three knowledgeable and dynamic presenters for our fall workshop. Attendees left with thick packets of new materials, an appreciation for three distinct cultures, and a wealth of ideas to share with our students.

Remembering Toni Locke

1917 – 2015

toni locke

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Toni Locke, teacher, mentor, community organizer, researcher, story-teller, and friend of so many in the Kodály community.  From 1974-85, she served as archivist in the Holy Names Kodály Program and taught folk music.   Together with faculty and students, she oversaw the research, collection and selection of songs for HNU’s American Folk Songs for Teaching Collection, a collection of over 2,000 songs that was recognized as an archive by the Library of Congress in 1983.  This collection provided the initial source material for HNU’s online American Folk Song Collection.

Toni’s involvement in the Kodály movement began in 1969 when she spent a year in Hungary studying Kodály music education.  It was there that she met Sr. Mary Alice Hein, founder of the Holy Names Kodály Program.  Following her return from Hungary, Toni assisted Peter Erdei and Katalin Komlos in researching songs for 150 American Folk Songs to sing read and play.   In 1974, Sr. Mary Alice invited Toni to come to Holy Names College to help guide the selection of materials that was critical in adapting Kodaly’s vision for music education in American classrooms.

Toni specialized in the folklore of songs, and HNU students were inspired by her stories of the characters and settings reflected in each folk song.  She is widely known as the editor of Sail Away: 155 American Folk Songs to sing, read and play, compiled from some of her favorite folk songs in the Holy Names Collection.   The successor to 150 American Folk Songs, it was published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1981 and has provided quality materials for teaching in thousands of classrooms across the country.  Toni was also a founding member of NCAKE [Northern California Association of Kodály Educators].

After leaving Holy Names, Toni worked at San Francisco’s Maritime Museum, where she helped organize its extensive collection of sea songs and shanties.  She has been active in community organization for many decades: she was recognized as “Mother of the Year” in 2011 in her Oakland neighborhood and served as editor of her neighborhood newspaper until recently.

When Gail Needleman and I mentioned one day, many years ago, that we were thinking of planting flowers that appear in folk songs in the courtyard of the Kodály Center, Toni countered that this was a terrible idea, as we would be drawing from a primarily European folk song tradition if we did this.  It was classic Toni!  She was such a wise, committed, feisty woman—who we will dearly miss.

Anne Laskey

Workshop Review – “Christopher Roberts on World Music”

By Julie Haydon

NCAKE launched the 2014-15 school year with our fall workshop, “World Music in the Kodály-Inspired Classroom.”  Presenter Christopher Roberts introduced participants to a rich collection of folk songs from all over the world. He shared best practices for introducing these materials to children in a culturally authentic and meaningful way to both enhance the curriculum and help students learn about the world around them and prepare for 21st century careers.

Roberts shared two main approaches for using world music in the classroom: listening lessons and singing games. With listening lessons, Roberts stressed the importance of providing ways for students to discuss the characteristics of world music respectfully and to engage with the music. He recommended that the teacher give ground rules for the discussion, provide a vocabulary for students to use, and help them to listen attentively with specific questions in mind, such as listening for texture or repetition. He also emphasized creating ways for students to listen actively to a song, such as by keeping the beat while listening to a performance of the song. Roberts stressed the importance of connecting the listening lesson to students’ preexisting, rather than creating an “other” experience outside the usual music class. He recommended two books on this subject: Teaching Music Globally, by Patricia Shehan Campbell, and Thinking Musically, by Bonnie C. Wade.

Roberts reminded us of the responsibility to introduce world music through an appropriate model, ideally a live or recorded performance of a culture-bearer, and to provide cultural context for what the students are experiencing.  High-quality field recordings and performances are readily accessible online, through websites like Smithsonian Folkways (, the British Library (, the Association for Cultural Equity ( and the Library of Congress (

Roberts noted that singing games are an important way for children to authentically connect and to find common ground with diverse cultures.  In addition, games often utilize simpler texts or musical patterns that are accessible to children. Singing games can be used for a variety of pedagogical purposes, including rhythmic and melodic development and opportunities for solo singing.

Roberts opened the workshop with “Simama Kaa, Ruka,” a very accessible singing game from Tanzania. Students stand on the word “Simama,” sit on the word “Kaa” and jump on the word “Ruka,” creating an easy game for students of all ages to play during a music lesson or as a short movement break during a choir rehearsal.  In addition, Robert shared the game “Jump Shamador,” a Caribbean-American game that gives an opportunity for students to choose a future profession. Roberts pointed out that this game offers not only an opportunity for improvisation, but a chance to build respect and awareness of different lifestyles and cultures, helping our students be open-minded global citizens. Another highlight was the “Navajo Happy Song” played as a stick passing game. Roberts provided a sequence of patterns of increasing difficulty, challenging participants to create their own patterns with a partner on the final round.  Roberts also included the Jamaican clapping game “Four White Horses,” adding new challenges each time, such as playing the game with eyes closed or while moving in a circle.

Roberts gave an incredible presentation, with many outstanding materials and practices for music educators to utilize. His workshop clearly demonstrated the opportunity that music educators have to use music as a window to the world.

American Folk Song Collection at Holy Names University

Holy Names University is excited to announce the newly designed and expanded online American Folk Song Collection (  The new site includes additional songs and search features and is now available on tablets and smart phones.

The American Folk Song Collection is a unique resource for teachers, parents, and all those interested in the rich tradition of American folk music. Since its launch in 2004, the AFSC has become the premier online resource for American folk songs for teaching and remains the only such resource to provide both scores and recordings in a searchable format.

Songs in the collection are analyzed according to the principles of Kodály music education.  The collection can be searched by any combination of musical, pedagogical and cultural categories, enabling music teachers to quickly and easily find appropriate songs for classroom and choral use.  The site also contains short films which can be used to introduce the Kodály approach to parents and administrators.

The upgraded site contains the following new features:

  • Search the Collection, the heart of the website, provides faster results.  With each selection of a search category, the result of the search is displayed immediately on the same page, so that the user can see at once whether a more refined search is needed.
  • Four new search categories have been added to the 15 categories originally on the site:  sub-subject, game type, melodic context and melodic motive. The last two will be especially valuable to Kodály teachers in making connections between songs.
  • The three short films of the Kodály Vision page (History, Philosophy, Classroom) now fill the screen, are easier to access and can be paused while viewing.
  • The site no longer requires downloads such as Scorch and Quicktime.
  • The site has been optimized for use on hand-held devices and the newest generation of computers.
  • A new resource area will include curricula by grade level, with links to the folk song database.
  • Over the next year, the collection will double in size, broadening the site’s coverage of geographical regions, ethnic groups, and song types. New material will include Spanish language songs and additional songs from the Library of Congress.

The site is the creation of the Kodály Center for Music Education at Holy Names University in Oakland, California, with the support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

You are invited to visit, to join the mailing list to receive updates, and to share this valuable resource with others.  If you wish to link to the site, here is a brief description for your use:

The American Folk Song Collection ( provides field recordings and scores of hundreds of traditional folk songs.  The site is searchable by multiple categories, including title, state, subject, song type, musical characteristics, and suggested uses for teaching.

President’s Message Winter 2014

Dear colleagues,

We are looking forward to our next workshop!  Evo Bluestein is a rare treasure in the world of traditional American music.  He grew up in a house where Bessie Jones, Pete, Mike and Peggy Seeger, Jean Ritchie, Elizabeth Cotten, Dewey Balfa and many others were frequent guests.  In his travels throughout the country and abroad, he has performed with his family and as a soloist.  His knowledge of authentic instrumental, singing and dance techniques is formidable.  At present, he makes his living teaching weeklong folk dance residencies for school children, and I have had the privilege of hosting him with several groups.  I have seen first-hand his infectious delight in passing on such wonderful material: kindergarteners learn to hambone, 4th graders learn to waltz, 2nd graders learn to strum the dulcimer; everyone receives careful attention and an atmosphere of courtesy and reverence for great music is magically established.

Evo’s father, Gene Bluestein, was a professor of American Studies, and wrote several books on folklore and its relationship to American music and literary theory.  Check out The Voice of the Folk or Poplore for a fascinating journey into the American creative spirit and the traditions and thinkers who formed it.  Gene Bluestein’s scholarship is passed on to us also through Evo’s thoughtful and vast array of traditional material, attention to history, and authentic performance practice.

Evo will teach a demonstration class at Cleveland Elementary on January 24, showing and discussing his materials and ideas for teaching, culminating in the real treat: a live solo performance.  Please join us!

Sarah Cane


19th Annual HNU/NCAKE Children’s Choral Festival

Holy Names University and the Northern California Association of Kodály Educators are pleased to announce the 19th school choirs. The festival will take place on Saturday, May 2, 2015 at Holy Names University in the Valley Center for Performing Arts. The guest conductor for this year’s festival will be Andrew Brown, Artistic Director of the Contra Costa Children’s Chorus and of the Vallejo Choral Society, and Concert Choir Director of the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.

The festival will consist of two sessions:

  • Morning session (9:00-12:30) for younger choirs
  • Afternoon session (2:00-5:30) for older choirs

As in the past, each session will consist of three parts:

  1. choral warm-up and rehearsal of the mass pieces, prepared and memorized, under the direction of Mr. Brown
  2. a rotation of activities (20 minutes each) including individual choir rehearsals, clinic with guest conductor; listening to another choir clinic; singing games led by HNU Kodály graduate students; and a break
  3. the performance finale, with each choir performing their pieces (5-6 minutes: two pieces, one of which must be a cappella), followed by all choirs performing the mass pieces.

Unlike in past years, choirs will not arrive early to rehearse in individual spaces. Singers will check in at the VCPA lobby between 8:30 and 8:50 (morning session) or 1:30-1:50 (afternoon session), then go directly to the main theater for the first group warm-up and rehearsal.

Please download the application form, and return it with a registration fee of $150 to Peggy Spool. Registration is due by December 12, 2014. If you submit an application for more than one choir from an organization, please indicate your first and second choice. If the slots do not fill, we will accept a second choir from the same organization based upon postmark of application. If you have any questions, please call us at 408-979-9997 (Peggy) or 510-436-1314 (Anne) or email: or We look forward to continuing this tradition which provides a lasting musical experience for our children as well as a chance for us to learn from, support and celebrate each other’s work.

Peggy Spool and Anne Laskey

Co-chairs of HNU/NCAKE Children’s Choral Festival

Annual HNU/NCAKE Children’s Choral Festival for elementary and middle

Note: Directors must be members of OAKE/NCAKE in order to participate. If you are not currently a member, you may register at

President’s Message Fall 2014

NCAKE Board Member Sarah CaneHere we go again!

Isn’t it amazing how every year teachers find in themselves a way to begin fresh? At this time of year I always feel a little sad for non-teachers. We’re lucky to have a profession that guarantees a new beginning every fall. I think it keeps us young. I’m grateful for the anticipation of a new crop!

I hope your summer was filled with experiences that refreshed you. Mine took me to Norway, homeland of my grandmother. I visited cousins in a mountain cabin—here’s the woodshed, with sheep who mowed the grass and sometimes the roofs. (The outhouse, nearby, was equally picturesque).

We went to a country fair where I saw several young people dressed in traditional costumes, dancing the old dances, accompanied by a button accordion, fiddle, and sometimes solo voice. It was clear the vocal style uses ample decorative twists and trills, almost as a percussion instrument, in order to support the dancers. Norwegian folk dancing has an astonishing amount of spinning! It reminded me of whirling dervishes. I was happy to see the young people’s enthusiasm for the old ways. Ironically, the group of seniors who performed were much less traditional—their dances, with recorded music, were like ones you might see in a senior center in any American town.

Another treat was hearing the Hardanger fiddle. This young woman was happy to show me her instrument. Notice the eight strings! The four underlying strings run inside the neck, then appear at the sound hole to resonate. It’s a wonderful sound!

But perhaps the best part of the trip was a three-day visit with my friend Carina, whom I met while studying at the Kodály Institute in Kecskemét. We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, but our friendship picked up instantly, right where we had left off so many years ago. During our winter at the Institute, Carina taught me how to make rullekake, a Norwegian rolled cake. Now we both have teenagers, and on this visit, she taught my daughter to make the cake, and her son helped us eat it!

New generations, new crops of students; new beginnings and carrying on what’s old and good. May your year be full of both!

Hope to see you at our workshop on September 27 with Christopher Roberts. You will leave loaded with ideas and materials—he’s wonderful!

Sarah Cane

sheep at karenslyst norwegian twirlhardangerfelle


Julie Haydon Reports on a Conducting Master Class with René Clausen

Last month, I had the opportunity to conduct in an outstanding master class in New York City, through the organization DCINY (Distinguished Concerts International New York). Conductors from around the world were selected through an audition process to work with René Clausen of Concordia College and other visiting conductors and composers on two of Mozart’s great choral works: the Mass in C, K 317 (the Coronation Mass) and the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K. 339.

After weeks of studying the scores and determining tempos, I was definitely nervous when I got up to conduct on the first day. But Mr. Clausen and the DCINY staff gave us such helpful feedback, and the environment of the class really motivated me to stretch myself. Each successive day of the class added a new layer of conducting challenges, as we began with conducting a solo violin, then a pianist playing an orchestral reduction, progressing to a string quartet, to conducting a full professional orchestra on the final day. This gradual process allowed us to focus on the finer details happening in each instrumental part and how to show that effectively in our conducting gestures. So often as choral conductors, we are so absorbed in what our choir is doing (or not doing!) that we miss the orchestral nuances that really make the music come alive. The instrumentalists also gave us important feedback on our conducting, and it was incredible to hear the elevation in the performance quality when we were able to put their advice into action.

In addition to the coaching we received on the podium, we had invaluable discussion sessions with the principal violinist, who taught us about various styles of bowings we could ask for from the string players; with composer and conductor Jonathan Willcocks (son of the famous Sir David Willcocks), who shared helpful advice about how to run an efficient orchestra rehearsal; and with composer Karl Jenkins, sharing insights on the creative process. The class ended with a moving performance in Carnegie Hall, where youth and adult choirs from the US and England encouraged us to go home and aspire to new levels of musicianship and beauty with our own choirs.

On May 19, I am conducting the Coronation Mass with my choir at Trinity Lutheran in Alameda and a chamber orchestra. I am excited to put what I learned at the master class into practice and I hope my singers will experience the same inspiration and joy that this piece has brought me. Choral music invites us to continually work toward higher and higher levels of excellence and I am grateful to have this opportunity to learn and grow every week.

Social Networking: The Kodály Way

By Kate Offer

If you’re like me, at some point in your school year (and I admit I’m about to take a few liberties here) a well-meaning colleague or administrator will ask you if you wouldn’t mind having the kids sing a song for Grandparents’ Day… in Chinese… with sign language.  Oh, and could you use the new Orff instruments the parents’ group bought?  Or, could you put together a holiday program that really captures that holiday spirit but doesn’t actually mention any holidays?  Or, the fifth grade is putting on a play about Alsatian yak herders and they would really like to close with a song that wraps up the whole moral of yak herding and features Susie on the flurgaphone, an ancient Alsatian yak-horn horn and could you find a couple of selections?

And, if you’re like me, such requests used to strike a deeply fearful chord (pardon the pun) in your soul, until you discovered that Kodály music teachers have taken social networking like ducks to water and are standing by to save the day, if you know where to find them.  So the next time you need a good song for your school’s annual Peanut Butter Festival, try some of these online resources.

Facebook:  Say what you will about privacy concerns and the dangers of shallow communication, there is no better place for getting answers to tough questions than this social networking site.  There are a number of music teacher groups that are worth your time.  First among these is the group called Kodály Educators.  With some 380 active members, many Holy Names grads among them, you’re guaranteed an intelligent and thoughtful response.  Recent discussion questions and requests include:

“How can I make practicing more interesting as my holiday concert approaches?”

“I need some more competitive chase games for older students.”

“Does anyone have any background or historical information for ‘Rocky Mountain’?”

For Kodály contacts in Northern California, the NCAKE Facebook page is a useful resource.  NCAKE Board member, John Eros, recently used the site to advertise a free workshop with noted music educator, John Feierabend, being held at Cal State East Bay on February 9th.  And several NCAKE Facebook page members were able to answer a call for classroom resources from Vietnam.  And, as far as my research can divine, NCAKE is one of the only, if not the only, OAKE (Organization of American Kodály Educators) chapters with a Facebook page.  (OAKE itself also has a Facebook page, though it isn’t particularly active at the moment.)

There is also a Music Educators group that is both large (2,326 members) and active but isn’t specifically dedicated to Kodály-based teaching.  Nevertheless, because it has so many members, you’re sure to get a response to almost any question.

And, finally, Zoltán Kodály has his very own Facebook page, so you can be friends with the man himself.  I always make sure to wish him a happy birthday on December 16th.

ChoralNetThe American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) has an excellent website for all things choral including a forum for questions.  Forums are broken down by topic and range from discussions about repertoire (2,769 messages with 15,285 replies at last count) to legal topics and vocal pedagogy.  The classifieds page is an essential stop for job seekers.

NAfMe The National Association of Music Educators (NAfME) lets teachers share questions in the forum on their website and also on their Facebook page.  They also break up their forums by category.  The “General Music” page is reasonably active and covers a broad range of classroom music topics.

If all these forums fail you, then let me offer one further option.  Why not come to the next NCAKE workshop (Dr. Katherine Hickey presents “Advancing Musically with the Kodály Concept,” Saturday, January 26th, 2013, 9:30am-3:00 pm at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley) and commiserate with a colleague in person?  They may not have the answer but at least they’ll know what you’re going through.

And now, off to find music for the flurgaphone.