Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Last of the Orff-Schulwerk Teachers?

This is a picture of the late Carl Orff. (1895-1982) He was a 20th-century German composer, most famous for "Carmina Burana" a very strange and stirring choral work that I have had the priviledge and challenge of singing as a tenor. He was also successful and influencial in the field of music education. He was from a Bavarian family that was very active in the German military. He served in WW I. He co-founded the Guenther School for gymnastics, music and dance in Munich in the 1920's. He is best know for his "Schulwerk" (1930-1935), translated into English as "Music for Children" It means "school work" and combines movement, singing, playing and improvisation. There is a great website with a video that further explains:

This last week I had the thrill and honor of observing and participating in a local school district's class led by a local "AOSA Member" (American Orff-Schulwerk Assoc.) This was a 2nd grade class that I helped with for two days. The music class was only 45 mins. on Tues. It was amazing what was attempted and accomplished during that time. Evidently, in talking with this teacher/member, she has four local schools and spends 12 weeks with each sharing all aspects of the Orff-Schulwerk Method including all the percussion instruments, recorders, ribbons etc. and the the very precise, almost militaristic verbal stimulus/response that is called for. The kids loved it. She speaks and they respond in rhythm, cadence and inflection almost poetically. They were practicing for an all-school assembly/performance with parents invited coming up in June. (over 100 2nd graders I think) They did a rousing version of the Marine's Hymn with marching and American Flag waving. They did another folk tune using all the xylophones, drums etc. I felt honored to lend them my baton from the L.A. Philharmonic. She immediately improvised and had a student lead the whole number. Later I played along with my baritone Uke and even ribbon-danced with a rainbow ribbon I happened to have. The kids were totally focused, actually the best I had seen in my two days there.

You almost have to have a special room laid out just for this music class because of all the various sized instruments and extra stuff. You need space with no desk in the way to "perform" and move physically in response to the music and rhythm. It reminds me of "Push Back the Desks" by Albert Cullum. He was a drama teacher who inspired many a play production of mine. Teacher don't use him now and haven't even heard of him. There isn't much time for his kind of teaching or that of Carl Orff's anymore with all the testing requirements and the preparation for them. Too bad. Their ways are what made learning/teaching fun for me and the kids over the years.(1962-2000) There is very little of that "fun/discovery/creativeness" anymore I'm least from my point of view and what teachers ask me to do with their lesson plans. Just a "hand-full" allow me to do some of my "stuff" (which is mighty close to AOSA) for even 10 to 20 mins. Sometimes I sneak it in as a "sponge" between two subjects or recess when there is time. Here again, the kids love it and respond in kind. When are we going to get back to "letting childhood be fun" in learning? Is this truly the end of this kind of teacher/learner? RRR

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