Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Enlarge. Enrich. Include.


These words flew out of my mouth in a conversation imagining the future of Orff Schulwerk and they tasted good. I had the good sense to write them down and then noticed that it’s not a bad trio for all sorts of futures. Our political process for one, our own thought process, for another. Entering the 50th Anniversary of the American Orff Schulwerk Association, these my first thoughts about what the next 50 might suggest.

Enlarge: 9 times out of 10 when I’m not thinking clearly about something, the problem is simply that my viewpoint is too narrow. As Blake said:

“…for man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern”

This is certainly true of music education which equates learning with simply pressing fingers on keys or strings and reading black dots on paper. It's certainly true of schools obsessed with test scores or searching for the perfect technologies to finally make our kids “smart.” And in my little world of Orff Schulwerk, I worry that the wide expanse of Orff’s original vision, a vision that began as an antidote to mere note-reading and instrumental technique, has been sliced to smaller and smaller soundbytes.

So to enlarge means to go beyond the explainable out to the edge of the unknown, to expand the repertoire beyond American folk songs and Orff/Keetman compositions, to widen the ideas of what constitutes a successful class, to keep movement and speech and gesture and sound intimately tied together. It also means enlarging the repertoire and the styles of music represented in the classroom.

Enrich: If enlarging means going wider, enriching means going deeper. Not adding vitamins to Wonder Bread, but getting down to the center of the unprocessed wheat kernel, ie, the child’s natural musical impulse. Adding the water, yeast and salt, kneading it into a workable dough and giving it some shape, cooking the raw impulse into a digestible, delicious, textured loaf of art. Sometimes Orff process feels like the manufactured mass-production of processed cheese and the resulting kid performances feel more like bland Velveeta than pungent French brie. Enrich as I mean it means keeping some of the wild in the Orff wildflower, keeping children’s exuberance and wackiness in the mis, bringing the whole of your own childlike self to the teaching.

Include: A look around at any Orff Conference in the past 50 years reveals a mostly white, middle-class female membership. This reflects more the reality of the overall population of elementary teachers than any mean-spirited exclusive club mentality, but we are diminished by the lack of economic, racial, gender diversity and we have to work harder than we have to change that. Part of that comes from the enlarging and enriching above— a more dynamic and expanded repertoire that is attractive to folks used to singing in a gospel church, dancing at a quinceanera party or drumming in the local Chinese New Year parade.

But it also means including those kids who are bursting with music, but have trouble with their focus, attention, impulse control, finding a way to help them channel it all. And those others who sit back and are afraid to jump into the water.

Enlarge. Enrich. Include. At the end of our first 50 years of Orff Schulwerk in the United States, this is my first of many attempts to envision the next 50. Young teachers, take note. I’m passing the baton to you and hope you’ll run with it.

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