NEC Mourns the Death of Alumna Denise Bacon, Founder of Kodaly Musical Training Programs
Bacon ’54, ’56 MM Received NEC’s Outstanding Alumni and Lifetime Achievement Awards
New England Conservatory is mourning the death of Denise Bacon ’54 ’56 MM, a pianist, chamber musician, conductor, and founder of two Boston-area programs devoted to musical training for children based on the method created by composer Zoltan Kodaly. Considered one of the major Kodaly pioneers and gurus in America, Bacon died November 11, 2013 at the Briarwood Health Care facility at the age of 93. Tireless in her dedication to the Kodaly cause, she was honored with NEC’s Outstanding Alumni Award (1984) and Lifetime Achievement Award (2010).
Born in Boston on March 20, 1920, she was the daughter of James and Maude (Milling) Bacon. She attended the Dana Hall Schools, graduated from Pine Manor Junior College and received a soloist diploma from the Longy School of Music. An outstanding pianist, she studied under Mieczyslaw Horszowski in New York City and was a frequent soloist with the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler. For example, she was listed with Van Cliburn Competition winner Ralph Votapek among the soloists appearing with the Pops in the spring 1962 season, and playing the Schumann Piano Concerto.
Returning to school in her thirties, Bacon attended NEC and received her Bachelor of Music in Piano performance followed by a Master of Music with specialization in chamber music. As a teacher, she enjoyed a long association with Dana Hall (1940-1969) during which she progressed from piano teacher to Head of the Music Department. She subsequently founded the Dana School of Music which offered a variety of music lessons to the metro-west community.
But it was in 1965 when she was 45 that Bacon experienced the revelation that would change her life and re-direct her mission for 40 years. That pivotal moment was her first meeting with Zoltan Kodaly, the Hungarian composer, teacher and philosopher. Inspired by his method of teaching musical literacy to children through choral singing and Hungarian folk song, she determined to improve the musical education of American youngsters. She began by going to Hungary – to the source - and there she studied the Kodaly concept of music teaching. She earned her Kodaly Diploma from the Liszt Academy in 1968. Soon after her return in September, 1969—she founded the Kodaly Musical Training Institute with a $184,000 Ford Foundation grant. She served as its Director until 1977.
Her work encompassed teaching children but also inculcating the method in aspiring music teachers who could spread the word throughout the country. She developed an ongoing relationship with Hungarian educators including exchange programs by which Hungarians came to the US to work in her school, and her students and teacher trainees spent time in Hungary. (The teacher trainees even had to learn Hungarian!)
In 1977, she founded a second institution, the Kodaly Center of America and continued her work to bring quality music education to American children until her late eighties. Somewhat mirroring the philosophy behind Venezuela’s El Sistema, Bacon believed, as she wrote in her book Hold Fast to Dreams, that "Kodaly's gift to Hungary and to the world will be fully understood only in years to come. That gift is great because the thought behind it was great. He believed in the dignity and worth of the individual human being and wanted every person to reach his or her own potential. This goal could be achieved only through excellence and high demands placed on the individual in every walk and category of life, whether student, teacher, scholar, or worker."
In addition to her two NEC honors, Bacon received numerous awards for her achievements, including: "For the Kodaly Institute" Award 1992, and "Pro Cultura Hungarica" Award by the Hungarian Government 1983; Outstanding Achievement Award, Organization of American Kodaly Educators, 1989; Distinguished Alumnae Award, Dana Hall School, 1990; Distinguished Alumnae Award, Longy School of Music, 1992; Honorary Member of International Kodaly Society, 1993.
In preparation for receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, Bacon arranged to have a video of highlights from her work posted online.
Funeral services for Bacon will be private but will be followed later by a memorial service at St. Andrews Parish, Wellesley.
ABOUT NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY
A cultural icon approaching its 150th anniversary in 2017, New England Conservatory (NEC) is recognized worldwide as a leader among music schools. Located in Boston, Massachusetts, on the Avenue of the Arts in the Fenway Cultural District, NEC offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. NEC alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC-trained musicians and faculty.
NEC is the oldest independent school of music in the United States. Founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee, an American music educator, choral conductor and organist, its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions. On the college level, NEC features training in classical, jazz, and Contemporary Improvisation. Graduate and post-graduate programs supplement these core disciplines with orchestral conducting and professional chamber music training. Additional programs, such as the Sistema Fellows, a professional training program for top postgraduate musicians and music educators that creates careers connected to music, youth, and social change, and Entrepreneurial Musicianship, a cutting-edge program integrating professional and personal skills development into the musical training of students to better develop the skills and knowledge needed to create one’s own musical opportunities, also enhance the NEC experience.
Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, the Conservatory provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, and adults. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and Contemporary Improvisation. Currently more than 750 young artists from 46 states and 39 foreign countries attend NEC on the college level; 1,400 young students attend on the Preparatory level; and 325 adults participate in the Continuing Education program.
The only conservatory in the United States designated a National Historic Landmark, NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year. Many of these take place in Jordan Hall (which shares National Historic Landmark status with the school), world-renowned for its superb acoustics and beautifully restored interior. In addition to Jordan Hall, more than a dozen performance spaces of various sizes and configurations are utilized to meet the requirements of the unique range of music performed at NEC, from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to big band jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, and opera scenes. Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Center in Boston, and a semi-staged performance in Jordan Hall. This past 2012-2013 season, the operas produced were Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, and Rossini’s La Gazzetta.
NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.
Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Senior Communications Specialist
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115