Article from Maree Hennessy
We congratulate alumna and faculty member, Gemma Arguelles (1991) on being the recipient of the 2017 OAKE (Organization of American Kodály Educators) Outstanding Educator Award. Presented at the OAKE national conference in Philadelphia in March, this award recognizes Gemma’s outstanding contribution to music education in America. Gemma has demonstrated years of superior music teaching in which the Kodály philosophy has been used extensively, and has produced students who exhibit outstanding skills that were developed through the use of Kodály techniques.
By supporting the vision of Zóltán Kodály, Gemma joins a remarkable ensemble of music educators that influence millions of young musicians with the highest quality of music education and promote lifelong music making. A graduate of the Holy Names Kodály Program, Gemma has been the K-5 Music Specialist at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco since 1993. During these 23 years, she has built a consistent, high quality music program, with choirs that perform regularly in local music festivals, and singers that are accepted into all levels of OAKE’s national honor choirs.
Since 2000, Gemma has also been a key member of faculty for the Holy Names University Kodály Summer Institute, teaching Level I pedagogy and folk music to hundreds of participants and introducing the Kodály philosophy to all who come to Holy Names. Students in her classes have been unanimous in their praise for her teaching and guidance. A few of the accolades follow (even though evaluations do not request assessment of individual instructors):
- “The greatest strength of the program this year, for me, was Gemma’s presentation of kindergarten pedagogy and materials. Her emphasis and clarity is unparalleled in any class I have taken.”
- “Gemma is wonderfully instructive and supportive. I always felt challenged—but not overwhelmed.”
- “As a non-teacher, I found the pedagogy to be very accessible and interesting. I especially appreciate the specificity of the method and Gemma’s teaching style.”
- “Gemma is so good at demonstrating, setting expectations, and organizing her well-structured lessons.”
- “I loved Gemma’s presentation with the kids, her videos, and that she showed us all her material so that we can get ideas from it.”
- Gemma also teaches Children’s Vocal Pedagogy in the HNU academic year program, and has hosted
graduate students at her school for their student teaching placement (a highly sought-after assignment). All Master’s degree students observe her teaching at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, and their observation assessments invariably reflect their awe at what her students are able to do. Gemma has a particular interest in helping her young students build music literacy skills through writing, and has developed music notation and composition assignments for each grade level that are effective and novel. Her presentations at OAKE conferences and chapter workshops have shared these strategies for learning with many others in the OAKE community.
Prior to embarking on a PhD a few years ago, Gemma served as assistant conductor with the Piedmont
Choirs, directing the top level of the Girls’ Choir for many years. She was also a member of the San
Francisco Symphony Chorus, singing under Vance George and many remarkable guest conductors who led the Chorus and the San Francisco Symphony. Gemma personifies Zoltan Kodály’s admonition that in order to teach, we must be the best possible musician we can be.
Many have benefited Gemma’s fine musicianship, choral training and generosity. She has served on the
OAKE National Choir Committee for many years, listening to submissions, choosing singers for choirs, putting in untold hours at each conference to assist one of the national choirs, and often leading sectional rehearsals for the national conductors. Her knowledge of repertoire is excellent, and her choral experience at so many different levels has been invaluable for OAKE. She has also been an active member of NCAKE (Northern Californian Association of Kodály Educators), serving on its board for two decades, including as both vice president and president.
It is impossible to adequately describe the huge impact that Gemma has had on music education at both the local and national levels, beyond her teaching and conducting. She has presented numerous OAKE chapter workshops, as well as sessions at California State and Bay Section Conferences. She served twice as Guest Conductor of the Holy Names University Children’s Choral Festival, now in its 20th year. Her influence in the music education community is noteworthy.