I had the pleasure recently to be interviewed about my perspective on artistry, creativity and music education. The ideas that came out in the discussion seemed worthy to gather into more concise coherence and so this little article, directed to Orff Schulwerk teachers, but relevant to all music teachers and even to all teachers who might consider how to integrate their own passion for their field of study with igniting their students’ interest.
Art and Education: An Orff Schulwerk Perspective
© 2022 Doug Goodkin
In introducing the Orff-Schulwerk Volumes, Eberhard Preussner wrote:
“One cannot value too highly the special fact that it is a composer who has introduced this fundamental reform in the field of music education. This gives it an unusual unity between educational exercise and style of improvisation that makes Orff-Schulwerk a work of reference for the whole of today’s music and music education. It also enables progress from the educational to the artistic to be made without a break, or rather that from the very beginning are and education are bound together as one unity, from the simplest pentatonic exercise to the proven art style… This therefore a demanding production, that not only presuppose the collaboration of the teacher, but also their continuing the work on the basis of these fundamentals…” (p. 227—The Schulwerk)
The Orff teacher is the one who refuses the cliché— “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” First off, the reality for just about any artist is that they will teach. Whether private lessons or group classes, occasional or daily, the artist often is a teacher both for financial reasons and for artistic reasons. If they must teach for practical reasons, why not learn how to teach artistically?
For the artists fortunate enough to stumble into Orff Schulwerk, they discover the possibility of keeping the thread between art and education unbroken in their own development. They discover how they can bring their highest artistic impulses into each class, be the students three or thirteen or thirty-three years old. They consider how to get the maximum musicality out of the minimum number of notes and technique and theoretical understanding, find beauty in the simplicity of a drone with a pentatonic scale, discover how to create complex effects from simple elements.
When trained in this way, putting on a Spring Concert featuring children from 1st through 8th grade will be quite different from the parents’ expectations of a school concert. They will find themselves as enchanted by the 1s tgraders playing Rain, Rain Go Awayon the Orff instruments as they are by the Middle Schoolers playing Balinese gamelan, Vivaldi and Jazz Blues on the same instruments. Instead of squeaky clarinets and out-of-tune violins playing complex music at an elementary level, they are playing both simple and complex music at an elemental level. Each developmental level is matched to its particular dignity and delight so that a 2nd grade musician is not an unformed 6thgrade musician, but a fully-formed 2ndgrade artist playing music that communicates to all ages. Elemental music, as envisioned by Orff and carried through by his successors, makes this possible.
The question of repertoire is fundamental. Consider choosing that which has withstood the test of time— authentic folk music of diverse styles, European classical music and American jazz— over the mere cute and contrived or contemporary pop music. Texts from Mother Goose, proverbs, classic poetry of all sorts and the plays we produced from folk tales, myths, classic children’s literature. At the same time that you lean toward the tried-and-true, keep your ear to the ground for the current and contemporary that meets elemental criteria— simple, payable, singable and memorable. Most importantly, by adapting classical repertoire to the Orff instrument ensemble, to children’s developmental levels, to the Orff invitation to widen the media into dance, body percussion, chant, drama, you will make each piece contemporary, new and fresh.By including improvisation and inviting children to help arrange and re-compose, artistry will be fully present in the educational venture.
Thirdly, in addition to choosing music with artistic depth, consider that the very process of teaching should be musical. Imagine each class as a composition in itself, with an enticing beginning, connected middle and satisfying end. The details of this are all in my book Teach Like It’s Music: An Artful Approach to Education.
These are some of the ways by which to keep your own artistic process and growth alive inside of the classroom so that teaching need not compete with your artistic development, but actually help feed and nurture it. At the same time, find time to keep our artistry growing outside of the classroom. Leave time to practice your craft, to play, sing and dance with others, to perform. Consider studying a new instrument or new musical or dance style. Listen to everything you can, attend concerts, go to museums.
If you are as excited about teaching as you are about performance, you’ll find your artistic interests and breakthroughs coming into the classroom with you and new ideas stimulated by your experiences— an integrated arts unit inspired by your trip to the museum, a new piece that you want to try after hearing it at the jazz concert, a new poem that suggests a movement study. If you lean more towards the performance end of the spectrum, you may find ideas arising in your classes that will find their way into your work.
In short, the marriage between your artistic self and your teacher self can be the perfect balance that enlivens and enriches both parties. Orff Schulwerk is the officiant at the wedding, joining them in a holy matrimony.
1) Pick the highest quality material in your work with children.
2) Teach in such a way that the class itself is like a piece of music or choreographed dance.
3) Keep your own artistry alive and growing throughout your teaching life by:
• Practicing and improving what you know.
• Studying new instruments/ musical styles/ dance styles.
• Creating with and performing with other musicians/ dancers.
Each music teacher will have their own blend of artful education and educational artistry. By keeping the conversation alive between them, the world of music education is elevated and the children are uplifted.