Monday, April 15, 2019

Independent Study

When I first began investigating jazz piano in my early 20’s, I took one lesson with jazz pianist Art Lande. That one lesson was enough for a year of work before I took the second one. A bit earlier in my life, I had my first Orff classes with Avon Gillespie, meeting one day a week for 10 weeks. That saw me through the next ten years of working out what he introduced before I took the next course with him

A few students who I met in the most recent Orff workshop I gave in Istanbul were asking me about opportunities for further development. Should they look for a Music Education Master’s Program in a University? Come to the 9-month Special Course in Salzburg? The 4-month Intern Program in San Francisco? Another woman who did the Intern Program with us in San Francisco and took our three-Level Orff training in Carmel and did the 3-Level Orff training in Turkey was wondering if she should now go the Special Course. 

Of course, I believe in “Orff Course.” And it’s in my interest to entice people to study more—especially with me! But truth be told, my most significant development as a teacher came from a different place. At different times, I wondered if I should get a Masters or a PhD in music education, if I should take all the Kodaly Levels and all the Dalcroze Levels or learn German and take the B Course (now defunct) at The Orff Institut in Salzburg. I’m sure all or any of that would have been a factor in my development.

But at the end of the day, the true training program was teaching children class after class (at a rate of some 5 to 8 classes per day), day after day (175 per year, to be exact), year after year (44 to date). Following what worked, adjusting or abandoning what didn’t, exploring with the children, experimenting, keeping alert to their needs and figuring out what I needed to do to help meet them. There simply is no substitute for that. 

And once you’re in that rhythm, deciding to do a thorough training in another approach or with another person thinking that it can broaden you might actually be a distraction. You have to temporarily abandon your own way of thinking about things to get inside the mind and character of someone else. I’ve heard writers say that when they’re writing, they stop reading others so that they can stay truer to their own style of expression. I’ve heard a few singers say the same. Isn’t that interesting?

It takes a long, long time to develop one’s unique voice and every study you do, be it a single jazz piano lesson or a full-blown doctorate program, becomes an overtone in your fundamental voice that gives body and a particular blend. But it takes a certain unshakeable conviction in one’s own character and way of thinking to stop trying to be like everyone—or any one—else. I believe that I have achieved a personal voice in my Orff Schulwerk teaching that is unmistakably and wholly mine. But still to this day, I walk through my colleagues James or Sofia’s class and think, “Dang! Why didn’t I think of that?” And the answer is simple. “Because I thought of this and it works just as well with the children because it’s my authentic way that’s true to my particular character.”

So, fellow Orff students, teachers, colleagues, by all means, constant refreshment with Orff workshops, courses, seminars, but beyond your basic Orff training, Independent Study is the way to really develop, teaching class after class with children (or adults) and stayed tuned to what’s happening. No Master Teacher has more to offer you than the child in your class. Especially the one who doesn’t get it or is not interested and doesn’t want to get it. Figuring out how to reach that child is all the training you’ll ever need and certainly, the best training you’ll ever get. 

Now to understand all of this more deeply, come to my next Orff Course!!

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