Thursday, May 7, 2015

Eliminating Obfuscation

Our school is re-doing its Website and the young, hip designers gave us a workshop on how to re-write our curriculum statements. The gist was to lean more to the style of Facebook discourse than a Harvard lecture and though we could have a long debate (or Facebook chat) about the implications of such change, I found it surprisingly refreshing. We were asked to write as if speaking directly to the parent or the child and how incredibly refreshing was that?! It immediately eliminated any jargon or long, clunky sentences designed to impress a University professor, but mostly deliberately obfuscating clear communication. (Are you looking up that verb “obfuscate?”)

My old overall philosophy statement that I wrote years back was one inch more eloquent than the usual education claptrap, as follows:

“The Orff approach begins from the premise that every child is innately musical and naturally loves to play, sing and dance. Children not only learn hundreds of songs, many set dances and instrumental pieces from all over the world on Orff instruments, but they also add their own ideas to each experience through improvisation, composition and choreography.

Activities call forth children’s intellect, imagination, senses, emotions, social and physical skills in ways that contribute significantly to their total educational experience.”

Not terrible. I could have written something like:

“The Orff Schulwerk is a multi-dimensional pedagogy that stimulates the musical intelligence of children through choral repertoire, folkloric dances and orchestral experience on specially-designed idiophones and membranophones. The creative potential of the students is called forth through key experiences in aural improvisation, notated composition and kinesthetic choreography…”

But now writing directly to the lay parent, a much more verb-centered, evocative, concrete and musical statement can flow. Here’s the first draft of my new one:

“What would it be like to sing any music you hear? And in tune? To be able to figure out how to play anything you can sing? And then create an accompaniment, improvise variations and choreograph a dance to it? Welcome to the world of Orff Schulwerk!

For over 40 years, children at The San Francisco School have been playing, singing and dancing their way to joyful community and artistic expression. They know a hundred songs to comfort and energize themselves, dozens of dances, lots of pieces played in ensemble on the Orff instruments. Not only can they duplicate great music and dance, but they can also create their own.  After we learn something, we ask “What else can we do?” and off the kids go to find out. In the Orff approach, music is a verb, constantly in action, fluid, flexible. It’s a question in search of an answer.

As music teachers, we’re responsible for teaching the particular craft of how to artfully combine sounds and movement. Kids playing music for 11 years at our school have a solid foundation from which to pursue any musical study, from Samba to Stravinsky to Sonny Rollins. But more importantly, we aim to create a musical culture in which every child—and many adults as well— participates joyfully and confidently.

Music is everywhere in our community life, at the center of school ceremony, animating school plays, drifting down the hall from the music room and sung spontaneously by the kids as they work in the classrooms or play in the yard. Come hear for yourself!”

What do you think? Enticing? Clear? Do you want to enroll your child in my school?

Hang on, it gets better. Stay tuned for the next blog as I talk directly to the kids themselves about the goals for kindergarten, 4th grade and 8th grade. 


  1. Hi Doug!
    This is a very refreshing way of thinking about how we communicate our curriculum goals and contents to everyone involved! We are just finishing the process of restating our curriculum in a nutshell and how I wish we were encouraged to write about it this way! I look forward to reading more!

  2. Hey Doug-- heck yeah I want to enroll my child in your school!!! We could ride BART over to SF from oakland everyday! I also want every school in the United states to adopt this model of music education!


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