Brazilian educator catalogues folk music with help from SLC's Sister Lorna Zemke

Posted On February 26, 2015


When Dr. Walênia Silva watches the Brazilian version of “The Voice” in her native country, some of the contestants on the TV show sing in English.

“Brazil absorbs a lot of American culture,” she said. “I think to myself, ‘Why not bring some Brazilian music to the forefront?’”

Silva, a music education professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, is in Manitowoc to do just that. Working with Silver Lake College music professor Sister Lorna Zemke, Silva is helping bring Brazilian folk music to the attention of her country’s music educators and students.

“Brazilian folk music is very rich,” Silva said. “We have a great variety, because Brazil was colonized by different cultures at different times. It’s a stew. It’s dynamic. To be able to take a deep look into Brazilian folk music has been my wish for a long time.”

For the past eight years, Silva has studied hundreds of Brazilian folk songs, many with roots in African-Brazilian and Indian-Brazilian tradition, and narrowed them down to 60 work songs, singing games and children’s songs. She plans to transcribe these songs from audio material, analyzing and cataloging them for use in music classrooms according to the Kodály Concept of music education.

Silva is working with Sister Lorna, a well-known Kodály expert who holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Education.

Sister Lorna will help Silva catalog the songs according to the approach to music education developed in the mid-20th century by Hungarian Zoltán Kodály.

“I’ll be showing her analytic techniques according to musical theoretical principles in preparation for Kodály instruction,” said Sister Lorna, who met Kodály and later studied in Hungary, gathering research for her University of Southern California doctoral dissertation on the Kodály Concept.

The method uses a child-developmental approach, introducing musical skills in accordance with the capabilities of the child. These skills lead to attaining music literacy.

“Brazil has at least three generations of folklorists and ethnomusicologists who have been researching and documenting folk music and traditions, but as far as I know, none of them made connections between the material collected and its pedagogical use in education in the Kodály perspective,” Silva said. “I hope this will be my contribution to Brazilian education.”

Silva and Sister Lorna met at a music conference in Atlanta. Silva was familiar with Sister Lorna’s research after reading her doctoral dissertation on Kodály and plans to translate one of its chapters into Portuguese, Brazil’s official language.

Sister Lorna, who researches and teaches folk song history, said hers is the first documented English-language doctorate on the Kodály Concept to be awarded. That was in 1973.

“I have taught Kodály workshops and presented at conferences in 27 states and five foreign countries, including Australia, Greece and Japan,” Sister Lorna said. “This is one of the fastest-growing music education systems in the world. The Kodály concept is currently taught on every continent except Antarctica.”

Silva has been teaching classes including Brazilian Folk Music and Introduction to Kodály Music Pedagogy for the past 20 years. She is working on attaining her Kodály certification and has published an article and book chapter about the method.

She is here thanks to a postdoctoral grant — comparable to an American sabbatical — from CAPES, a Brazilian government agency on higher education. Silver Lake College is hosting Silva as a visiting scholar during the grant period, which runs through January 2016.

“I have been learning so much from Sister Lorna Zemke’s expertise, musicality and friendship,” Silva said. “I feel very privileged to learn from her and to have access to the college’s resources.”

Silva received her PhD in Continuing Education from the College of Education at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

She also teaches community music programs for adults and is interested in learning more about Silver Lake College’s Lovenotes: Music for the Unborn program and its summer Kodály certification program.

In addition, Silva will be available to share Brazilian folk songs with SLC music students as well as introduce a new method, O Passo (The Step), created by Brazilian musician Lucas Ciavatta.