A happy belated birthday to Carl Orff, the man whose birth gave me my life. He turned 127 years old yesterday, the last 40 residing in the other world. I imagine him pleased to know that people are still performing Carmina Burana and equally pleased to know that the Schulwerk, his education vision, continues to rise and fall in its various interpretations around the world. The American business model would insist on a steadily rising arrow to measure success, but Orff was more interested in the Medieval Wheel of Fortune as the way things go on this planet, alternating periods of good fortune and bad, growth and decay, periods of flowering and periods of decline, intense interest and development and then a falling away.
In the American Orff practice, the national association grew from a handful of 10 people in 1968 to some 5,000 members by 1998. Now it is down to some 3,000. There were hotspots of Orff activity at various times in various places (Memphis, Denver, Las Vegas) where now very little is happening and summer courses that attracted large numbers that now attract small numbers. Likewise, in the international Orff world, there were countries bursting with Orff activity that have now dwindled and new places where the wildflower seed has taken root and the flowers are thriving. So it goes.
In 2003, I had the great privilege and pleasure to teaching in the first of many Special Courses to come at the Orff Institut (another Institution that has had severe rises and falls in its carrying forth of Orff’s vision). One day we went on a field trip to visit Carl Orff’s widow Liselotte Orff (his fourth wife) at the home in Diesen where she and Carl lived for many years. She pointed out the very piano that Orff used to compose Carmina Burana and I sat down and spontaneously began to play and sing an improvised Wheel of Fortune Blues.
Sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down.
The wheel of fortune’s spinnin’ round and round.
When it hits the bottom, well, what can you do?
Just sit yourself down and sing out the blues.
I got the Wheel of Fortune blues,
I got the Wheel of Fortune blues.
From the top of my head down to the bottom of my shoes.
On I went with several verses and then at the end, looked up at Frau Orff and with a moment’s worry that I had committed some sacrilege, asked, “Was that okay that I played that song?” and was relieved when she answered with great enthusiasm:
“Carl would have loved it!!”
I hope so. Thank you again, Carl Orff, for this most marvelous ride on the ferris wheel, with so many times when I sat at the top looking out at the beautiful view. May there be more!