If you have not yet had the immense good fortune to work with Stepping Notes Music School founder, Nikhil Dally, you have two opportunities to do so over the coming months! Inspired by the philosophies of Kodály, Dalcroze and Geza Szilvay, Nikhil has spent the last twenty years creating a curriculum for 2-8 year olds that abounds with humour, imagination, deep musicality, refinement and startling pedagogy.

© Photozaki.comI attended Nikhil’s first one-day workshop in a series of three, collectively called Teaching Musicianship Through Singing and Movement.  Workshop 1 focused on Pulse and Rhythm. Within ten minutes of starting the session, a room full of music teachers fell irrevocably under Nikhil’s Pied-Piper like spell. We stood tall as houses, as thin as pins, stomped as wide as gates, crawled as small as mice and transformed ourselves from little dicky birds to hunky chunky spiders, all in a quest to feel, embed and physicalise that all-important sense of pulse. As we covered ourselves with ladle-fulls of imaginary jelly, ‘watched’ bugs go zuuum across the ceiling or splat against the floor, we sang, laughed and danced our way through songs old and new, fully using our bodies to feel and express the infectious pulse so skillfully set up by Nikhil, and now throbbing irrepressibly amongst the group. As I saddled up to clip clop across the hall for the answer to that perennial question ‘What Shall We Do, Tom Farmer?’ it occurred to me that I was in the midst of one of the most powerfully joyous ten minutes of my professional life and couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom to try these ideas out for myself. 

 

The day continued with songs and activities segueing seamlessly from one to the other, (only made possible, no doubt, by the years that Nikhil has clearly put into fine-tuning his schtick) though each of the sessions were complimented by Nikhil’s erudite analysis of what had just taken place and why we were doing it the way we were doing it. These pauses for thought not only allowed us a breather, but also gave us an insight into the immense care that informs Nikhil’s repertoire choices and learning sequence. It gave us time to discuss the vital but often neglected topic of musical instruments in the classroom. Providing his own exquisite Javanese gamelan, wooden train whistles and drums for us to play, Nikhil reminded us that a few beautiful, BIG instruments that encourage the body to move, always (when judiciously used) trump the ‘one-per-child’ cheap stuff; and how, with an imaginative application of stomping, slapping, jumping and skipping, the humble wooden floor can, in fact, be the best instrument to develop an internal sense of pulse.

 

© Photozaki.comI came away from the day with an even more enhanced appreciation for great repertoire choices, for the beautiful way in which the philosophies of Kodály and Dalcroze dovetail,  and a desire to take even more delight in the time it takes to achieve the learning Nikhil so passionately advocates.  He simply loves all the music he teaches and has an incredible knack for making us love it too. Though there are two more instalments to the course (and lesson planning plays a huge role in one of them) Nikhil left us with the parting thought that how we structure a lesson is not a million miles away from how we structure a piece of music. Just as a great piece of music has a multitude of contrasts, so too has a brilliantly planned lesson. I admire Nikhil for his belief that we music teachers ultimately need to strive to make each music lesson a work of art. For sure, this ideal playfully permeated everything we did throughout the day. If live music teacher training was ever to touch the realms of high art – surely this was it. Catch the next workshop if you can!

 

For further information on Nikhil Dally’s teachers’ courses, go to: www.dally.org.uk/courses.htm, or e-mail [email protected], or telephone 01932 363624.

Article written by Dominic Harlan, who is the founder and director of Notting Hill Children's Community Choir and Assistant Director of Music at schools in London and East Sussex. First published in the BKA Members' Newsletter, March 2022

Photos © Photozaki.com