Saturday, May 29, 2021

Avon Gillespie and the Root of Wonder

Avon, it’s that time again. Don’t know how time works in the other world, but here it’s the 32nd anniversary of your passing into that world, a marker I ritually celebrate each year by thinking of you and writing a short note to Rick Layton, Judy Thomas and Mary Shamrock, partners in your praise. You might be happy to know that I’m Zooming once a month with Judy, Mary and also Jane Frazee, Judy Bond, Carolee Stewart and Julie Scott, most of them your contemporaries who in their 80’s are still thinking about the state of Orff Schulwerk in the U.S. Which, as you can imagine, is both the best of times (attention to diversity issues, our Orff-Afrique course, a few promising young teachers) and the worst (membership continuing to plummet, bureaucracy rising, cleverness over aesthetic integrity and all the things you worried about back in the 80’s still worrisome—and perhaps more so with the advent of slick Powerpoint lesson plans and crumbling school systems). 

 

Remember when Marie Blaney interviewed you a long time ago? I found the rough-draft article on your desk when visiting you at the hospital before you died and later had it published in the Orff Echo (Fall, 1989). She asked: “Do you see a change in the Orff Teacher emerging today as compared to ten years ago?” and your answer could have been given yesterday, still so sadly true of what’s happening now:  

 

“What we are seeing is more and more safe teaching. Teachers are afraid of taking the risk that process demands. A search for recipes and information rather than experience and discovery is occurring. The difference between process and sequence is becoming more and more clouded. Process is not such a neat package— sequence is more a secure format with step by step expectations rather than explorations as we find in process.”

 

Yeah! Of course, we need both, but the process should be in the lead. You go on:

 

“The most important part of any Orff teaching is  to provide the learner with a sense of community— and sense of feeling welcome and ready to participate. The teacher, rather than being the star, should welcome the participants to share. People are more and more trying to astonish us with what they are able to accomplish rather than incorporating the participants into a larger role. When teachers come with visuals and motifs written out for a complete media presentation, we have a sense of preparation for a performance. The learners never once participate in the making of the steps. But as Wilhelm Keller said, the teacher should become more and more superfluous and the learner more and more independent. Most of our job as teachers is to bring learners into the avenues of thinking, rather than to give a body of thoughts. 

 

Well said, sir! So nice to read your wise words having lived them myself in my teaching these past 35 years since you said them. No wonder I keep you in my heart and continue to honor your memory, which I will do until my last breath—and then, will you meet me on other side? Wouldn’t that be something!

 

And so, on behalf of the reader, especially those music teachers out there, I’ll close the occasion with your eloquent closing thoughts in the article: 

 

“ I have always been fascinated with Orff Schulwerk because in Orff, nothing is ever finished. In Orff we are not involved in problem solving but in possibility seeking. In curriculum e have a prescription, but the lifelong work of Orff Schulwerk must be built on roots of wonder. To say that an unchanging curriculum will satisfy the needs of the learner is not what we are about. The teachers is constantly evolving as life is evolving. Orff is a wonderful exposition of that life, of the excitement that life is, that which is constantly changing.”

 

PS: The Roots of Wonder could be a good name for a rock band!

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