Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Talk the Walk

Today is the day my Level III students do the Practicum. This is the time for them to teach a 15-minute lesson to show what they understand about carrying the pedagogy of Orff Schulwerk in their voice, body, teaching sequence and character. We’re over halfway through and the results are stunning. Each lesson a joyful and seamless journey through the possibilities of the singing voice, the moving body and the playing hand on xylophones and recorders. Fun and happiness abound, a remarkable amount of music and dance gets communicated in a mere 15 minutes and the participants are so delighted to see their fellow companions take charge.

But it wasn’t always like this. Years back, we Levels teachers would scratch our heads in confusion as students who experienced and enjoyed our way of teaching with a musical flow and energy get up and teach in their same old tired way: “Now we’re going to learn about quarter notes and eighth notes. Play this pattern three times. Now stop. Next we’re going to…” Snore. Had they not paid attention to the model offered them for three summers in a row?

And that’s when it became clear that the Orff tenet that all education begins by walking the walk—or in this case, walking the music, dancing the music, gesturing the music, singing the music, playing the music, being the music, etc.—alone was not enough to transform music education. Teachers seeking to re-train themselves needed not only to experience a different way of coming into music, but needed the language to articulate precisely what makes it different and why it works so gloriously when properly understood and musically communicated. Though walking the walk always came and should always come first, talking the walk is the next crucial step.

And so first for my own developing clarity about what helps create inspired and dynamic teaching and next for communicating it to the teachers I trained, I began to search for the words and concepts and principles to describe what I intuitively understood. (All of this to be shared in the next book I’m trying to finish.) And by sharing it with my Level III students in the midst of the living model of teaching in this way, lo and behold, their Practicums changed radically. As I told them, if I had paid big money to go to a National Orff Conference and every workshop was at the level I witnessed today, I would have every reason to hope for the brightest future for this approach. Workshops that moved seamlessly from one step to another with a dynamic musical flow, that held mystery and surprise and humor and ideas that tickled the imagination, that challenged my hand and body, sharpening my musical hearing, deepened my musical understanding, opened yet wider my heart, connected me yet further with my fellow companions, were stamped with the character and authenticity and integrity of a teacher who had worked hard to develop every inch of his or her mastery. Instead, I’m finding far too much contrived sequences, Powerpointed presentations where the teacher is absent, awkward limping development, surface thought and more.

Well, Doug, don’t be a negative Nancy. You’ve just thoroughly enjoyed 11 magnificent lessons and now more to come. In two minutes. Bye!

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