BASTA CARL ORFF
The Langley Schools Music Project

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Musik für Kinder
Orff

''Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child's play.''
Carl Orff  (sig.)

The sparkling, gamelan-like chimes heard on the Langley recordings emanate from Orff percussion instruments. These simple mallet-struck melody-makers were invented by German composer and educational theorist Carl Orff (1895-1982) as elemental teaching tools. Orff believed that any child -- regardless of talent, cultural milieu, or physical constraint -- could partake of the joys of playing music with little or no traditional training.

Perhaps best known as the composer of the scenic oratorio, Carmina Burana (1937), Orff had long been a proponent of alternative music instruction. He felt that the primal behaviors of children -- for instance, clapping, chanting, banging out a beat, and dancing -- were better educational building blocks than technical studies. He believed that once children learned to appreciate fundamental music-making through rhythmic activities and games, they could be taught to read and write notation.

Orff and his associate Dorothee Günther founded, in 1924, the Munich-based Güntherschule, where music, dance, and gymnastics were taught. Gunild Keetman, who enrolled as a student in 1926, eventually became Orff's partner in the evolution of the Orff Schulwerk -- literally, "school work," but more specifically a focus on creative, educational activity through speech, music and movement. The Schulwerk also promotes cooperation and teamwork -- students are encouraged to listen to each other, to hear what their neighbor is playing, and to be conscious of the ensemble sound.

An outgrowth of the Schulwerk was the development of an instrumentarium on which students could express themselves rhythmically and melodically. Orff drew on the delicate, enchanting Indonesian gamelan orchestra and early African percussion for his diatonic and chromatic xylophones, glockenspiels, and metallophones. These are augmented by an arsenal of bells, hand drums, claves, resonator bars, jingle rings, temple blocks, shakers and other rhythmic noisemakers. The simple-to-play Orff instruments were designed to make the music-learning experience fun and exploratory, while helping develop motor skills. Children are taught to concentrate on repeated pulses and melodic patterns (ostinato), and improvisation is encouraged.

Between 1950 and 1954, Orff and Keetman completed and published the five-volume Music For Children, which codified their methodology, and which subsequently sparked international advocacy. Today, Orff organizations are based in the U.S. (85 chapters in all 50 states), Canada, most western and many eastern European nations (including Russia and Poland), Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China, and South Africa. According to the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, an estimated 11,000 U.S. teachers, to varying degrees, introduce youngsters to the wonders of music using Orff techniques.

Orff melody instruments heard on the Langley sessions include wooden xylophones and metallophones (whose metal bars sustain resonance longer than wood). A unique characteristic of this pitch percussion is that bars can be removed from the tonal array, thereby guiding children to hit the right notes. Consequently, as Hans Fenger observed, "even a little kid can jam." In addition, the Orff technique of "body music" is reflected in the clapping and foot-stomping heard on "Saturday Night," "Rock Show," and "I'm Into Something Good."

What makes the Langley project so unusual is that Orff techniques are not generally performance-oriented; they are learning-focused. Rather than being used to play "songs," the tuned percussion often provides a "sound carpet" for vocalizing and expressive movement. Even rarer is the use of the instrumentarium to render contemporary pop; the Schulwerk instead encourages the performance of indigenous folk music. There is a limited repertoire of original compositions written specifically for the instruments, such as Libby Larsen's "Song-Dances to the Light" (whose score also includes conventional orchestral instruments and chorus). Larsen also notes, "Philip Rhodes, a very fine composer who taught for a number of years at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, has composed some very fine work for Orff instrumentarium." Upper grades occasionally use Orff percussion to improvise on the blues or jazz. But to play songs by the Beach Boys, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and the Bay City Rollers? To perform "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"? Pretty much unheard of. Fenger did this in the mid-1970s, but had to wait a quarter-century for a wider hearing.

In the Schulwerk, Orff refrained from grand didactic strictures; he provided simple formulas that would inspire teachers to exercise their own imaginations in the classroom. Thus, Orff educational activities become learning experiences for teachers as well as pupils. Certainly Fenger -- who had some Orff training -- took these liberties to heart in his selection of songs and his adventurous arrangements. As he said, with a preceding demurral of modesty, "Every note came out of my head."

Hermann Regener wrote of the "timeless quality" of the Schulwerk, adding that it "does not prepare one only for an understanding of the classics or of medieval or contemporary music. [It] foster[s] fundamental, general benefits of value to the whole person." In the case of the Langley students, it is abundantly evident that they performed these songs with body and soul.


For further information:

The American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA)
P.O. Box 391089, Cleveland, Ohio 44139-8089
(440) 543-5366
www.aosa.org

Carl Orff Canada - Musique pour enfants
www.orffcanada.ca

Orff Schulwerk Around the World:
check
www.aosa.org web site for links

 

 

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All content Irwin Chusid except where indicated.