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New year greetings from our ESTA president Géza Szilvay

After a “royal line” of ESTA presidents that includes Max Rostal, Yehudi Menuhin and Bruno Gurianna, I, your newly elected president, am from the common rank.

Many members will ask “Who is Géza Szilvay, and why has Bruno Gurianna entrusted him with the relay baton?” Allow me this opportunity to introduce myself.

I was born (1943), brought up and educated in my beloved home country Hungary, but have worked for more than 50 years in Finland. I taught violin and chamber music at the East Helsinki Music Institute and at the Sibelius Academy. As a principal of the music institute I designed and developed a Kodály philosophy-based teaching program and repertoire for the institute’s early education department, where pre-school age children received pre-instrumental tuition.

In this new program kindergarten children, while playing with their toys, were clapping, humming or singing the same nursery rhymes and children’s songs which later appeared in their violin, viola, cello or double bass tutor books. This obvious link between early music education and instrumental teaching enormously helped both children and teachers, and also parents. The first violin or cello lesson was no longer a completely new start but a natural continuation of an everlasting music education.

This kind of cooperation between music kindergartens and public or private instrumental teachers would serve the educational aims of ESTA and promote not only the quality of string teaching but also the wellbeing of pupils, teachers and parents. This program will be introduced in my workshops.

As a young teacher, I questioned why children should only attend violin lessons after school, in the late afternoons, or even in the evenings, when their physical and mental capacity was diminished.

I asked state school directors to timetable violin lessons during the school day, and the experience was overwhelmingly positive. Violin playing developed not at the expense of other subjects, but on the contrary motivated all kinds of other school activities and the young fiddlers also excelled in these other subjects.

This project became well known and very popular, and the Finnish Ministry of Education gave me a licence to establish a music-centred primary school, where instrumental teaching was intertwined with all other academic subjects. In this school the pupils were also students of the East Helsinki Music Institute and received individual tuition there after normal school time. Daytime, during the mornings, music institute teachers visited the primary school and gave instrumental lessons to small groups, just five children in each. These 45-minute lessons were given four times a week.

The remarkable results of this unique co-operation between music institute and primary school were introduced at the Helsinki ESTA Conference in 2001.

The institute and school served as a string teaching know-how centre and hundreds of string pedagogues regularly visited to observe the so-called “Colourstrings” teaching technique and the Kodály-based teaching philosophy.

I hope that ESTA, with its connections and the respect that it inspires, will influence and lobby decision makers to launch similar projects in other European cities, where music institutes and primary/secondary schools would work closely together to create an optimal teaching and learning environment.

Traditionally, individual face-to-face lessons are the foundation for string teaching and remain invaluable. However, this should never impact on the precious experience that is childhood. Teaching in small groups (5-6), where the teacher has access to every child in order to manually correct the playing positions, perfectly complements this individual teaching, opens the door to chamber music and helps to foster social co-operation.

Music making with others evolves naturally into string orchestra playing. A string orchestra is the ideal learning environment for future professional string players or serious amateurs. In 1972 – together with my brother, the cellist Csaba Szilvay – I established a carefully graded orchestra-building system and training program. Children moved through levels such as Rascals (9-11 yrs), Children Strings (11-15yrs) and Junior Strings (15yrs +), eventually progressing to membership of the Helsinki Strings. The Helsinki Strings participated actively in Finnish cultural life by giving regular public, radio and TV concerts. We travelled around the world, performing in the most prestigious concert halls and recording the most important repertoire written for strings.

Decades of committed rehearsals, music camps, 32 international concert tours, 30 commercial records under renowned labels, and more than 50 TV programs trained, motivated and developed several generations of excellent musicians.

This 50 year-long experience and knowledge of how to nurture, coach and lead string orchestras is what I hope and intend to share with ESTA members.

My recent project, International Minifiddlers, started in 2012. It consists of 120 individual and group online lessons. This was the first time in the history of instrumental teaching that children’s weekly development was observed, monitored and documented remotely.

The program functions as a visualised teaching method book.

Dear ESTA Colleague,

In this introduction, I was using the personal pronoun “I”. But my professional achievements and success were realised only because I enjoyed the continuous support of my brother Csaba. We complemented each other and together were able to create an ever-growing team of motivated and committed colleagues. I was merely one member of this wonderful team. I urge you to do the same. Set a goal, form a team, co-operate.

Together with like-minded colleagues, you will succeed.

As a new president of our organisation, I take the liberty of wishing you all a Happy New Year with Zoltán Kodály’s inspiring thoughts:

“It is our firm conviction that mankind will live happier when it has learnt to live with music more worthily. Whoever works to promote this end, in one way or another, has not lived in vain.”


Géza Szilvay

Helsinki, Christmas 2020

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