It really is noteworthy that the people in my profession give up so many Saturdays and weeks in summer to come to Orff workshops and courses. Why would they do that? What are they looking for? What do they hope to come away with?
As an invocation before a recent online workshop, I made a list. Partly to clarify what I thought those things were and partly to see if they could actually still be accomplished in an online format. (Good news—they can! Some certainly in a diluted form and some maybe even more so, for example, as we spend more time than usual with music theory and/or pedagogical reflection.) Orff teachers, see if this resonates. Those in other fields attending conferences, see if they hold up in your experience. And interesting that almost all of them also resonate with why I might go to a jazz concert, what I might expect and why I might be satisfied or disappointed. Here’s the list:
1) Material: The Orff teacher is a lifelong collector of repertoire and workshops are the place to shop. When participants leave with material they can’t wait to try out on Monday—games, songs dances and more— they feel that their time was well spent.
2) Process: Orff Schulwerk offers more than just the material—it shows models of both the many different ways one can teach it in an engaging, surprising and effective way and the many ways one can extend it and have the students create something new—improvise new melodies, compose new accompaniments, choreograph a dance, the whole limitless possibilities of “What can we do next?”
3) Understanding: Music holds a vast storehouse of specific knowledge—techniques, theory, stylistic considerations, histories. If a workshop offers new insight as to how music works, it enlarges our understanding of what’s important to know and teach.
4) Affirmation: “Yes! I do that! I had doubts as to whether I was on the right track and here is this famous teacher doing the same thing!” We hope that the workshop participant comes away with :some sense of encouragement that their intuitive way of working is actually grounded in deep pedagogical principles and is within their reach.
5) Challenge: “Hmm. I never thought about that.” Or “A-ha! That’s the detail I was missing!” If a workshop is only affirmation and no challenge, one gets complacent. If only challenge and no affirmation, one gets discouraged. Some balance, some sense of “I can do that!” mixed with “Back to the drawing board—I better get to work!” makes the whole effort to attend a workshop worthy of one’s time.
6) Inspiration: The beckoning finger of someone further ahead on the path is often the impetus we need to keep walking. The details that they reveal that we might miss walking on our own, the secret beauties they show us, the testimonies and living examples of how this path has sustained them, blow new breath into us (the etymology of in-spire) and help us feel more alive and determined to keep moving forward.
7) Connection: One of the central delights of Orff workshops, conferences, courses, is simply to be in company with people who share similar experiences, passions and ways of being in the world. And sharing ideas and material and understandings as well. The act of singing, dancing and/or playing music together with fellow human beings is one of the simplest and most powerful means of connection, that deep longing that we all equally share to feel that we belong, that we are needed, valued, welcomed members of a community. And yet music teaching in schools can be a lonely profession as we walk into the staff room with no other music teachers to share our day’s stories with. Simply to connect with each other in the workshop is often enough reason to attend and then richer still as fellow teachers share their successes and challenges.