The first Orff workshop I ever took was in 1972 at Antioch College. A guest teacher came to our Education Class and motioned silently for us to remove our shoes and then imitate his gestures. He established a clapping pattern which we did with partners and then sang out in his soulful voice, “Head and shoulders, baby, 1, 2 3”— and my life was changed forever.
Here was something refreshingly different from sitting in chairs and talking, talking, talking. We were up and doing things, with great joy and laughter and communion. After, we would sit and talk, but now we had something real and tangible to talk about. Not our theories about this or that or our well-rehearsed philosophies, but reflections on what we just experienced and what it felt like and what it meant and what it might mean to the children we might eventually teach. Here was a model of active learning where the teachers themselves were active as we trained to teach children in an active way. And one that began and ended in a circle where all are included and connected and protected.
Last Saturday, I went to the local Orff Chapter’s workshop, as I have two or three times a year since 1978 and it suddenly struck me what a victory it is that all these years later, the active, living, breathing, moving, hand-holding, creating-together circle is still the primary mode of transmission. Orff training online has yet to make it on the discussion table and thank goodness for that. Yes, there are far too many Power-point presentations at Orff Conferences these days with participants looking at a screen instead of a musical teacher whose every gesture and cadence of speech is musical. And too many sitting off in the corner with their i-Pads thinking that recording the experience will serve them better than experiencing the experience (it won’t). But all in all, the tradition of the circle with active participants remains the primary form of transmission and is as refreshing today as it was for me all those years back. Hooray for that!
Meanwhile, I’m reading Dave Eggers chilling book The Circle about giving over the old ways of human community and the tried-and-true practices of connection to a modern 24/7 “connected” through electronics, a kind of 1984 Big Brother Is Watching You scenario, but we are all Big Brother watching each other. More on that to come (when I finish the book!), but meanwhile, just this moment of appreciation for Orff’s modern reincarnation of folks singing and dancing in circles keeping its integrity amidst the pressures of life given over to screens. May it continue!
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