Today, I stumbled on a little book an Orff colleague published called A Walk in the Wildflowers. It’s a collection of short autobiographies of 12 esteemed American Orff Schulwerk teachers and their testimonies to the marvels of this work. I re-read my piece and as often happens, felt that though I wrote it 11 years ago, it still holds up today. Indeed, it deals with some of the same ideas I recently wrote in the post “Through the Eyes of the Other.” And foreshadows the Intern Program I created and the mentoring work I’m now doing, both designed to pass on the baton with encouragement and advice. I particularly like the last paragraph. Enjoy!
As marvelous as the Schulwerk is for developing the musical intelligence of each child fortunate enough to cross its path, its reach is much greater. At each turn in the path, I began to realize how this work was leading me far beyond the narrow field of music education and deeper into the promise of a humanity at once ancient and contemporary. While everyone speculates about the future that awaits our children, the only thing we know for certain is uncertainty. How does one prepare for the unknown? By being wholly present in the present and using to the maximum capacity the resources of the human brain, heart and body. The Schulwerk aims us back toward the tried-and-true essentials of human health—our need to play, to imagine, to create, to respond, to think deeply, to know others and be known, to shape our raw emotion and intuitive responses to the world into a well-crafted, tempered, artistic expression. In short, I was discovering that the world I was trying to create with the children in each 45-minute class was the world I wanted to live in. This must have been what Gandhi meant when he said, “Be the change you want to see in this world.”
If the fates are kind, my race feels far from wholly run. But I am at the point in my career when I’m looking carefully around wondering to whom should I pass the baton and what simple advice I’d have to tell them. Perhaps I would begin with this realization— to be the Orff teacher I aspired to be, it was not enough to simply teach the children. The studies in world music and jazz, the teacher training workshops and courses, the habitual reading and writing about the core ideas, the stimulation of being in a community of brilliant colleagues, the application of Orff ideas and ideals to an adult performance practice, the wide range of ages (preschool through university through adult and lately, seniors in the home where my mother lives) I’ve worked with, the wide range of cultures I’ve worked in, created a shimmering web of relationships, each of which stimulated and strengthened the others.
The metaphor of a path evokes a straight road with clear borders, but what I have found instead is a veritable network of criss-crossing trails. With so much to explore, it is no wonder that we insist on the term Orff approach. We can never arrive. All we can hope for is to approach the complete vision of this timeless and borderless work— one lifetime is simply too short! Or to put another way, we arrive in each moment that we open our imagination to the possibilities and trust what arises, open our bodies to fully carry and express our thoughts, and open our hearts to the children and receive their brilliant, quirky and fresh ideas and expressive outbursts.
It is silly to suggest that anyone try to emulate this precise model, but perhaps useful to say out loud that though no two Orff paths are alike, they all need to lead beyond the horizon of our present knowledge at any given time if the Schulwerk is to fulfill its promise. As I look to the next generation of Orff teachers, I would advise them to read voraciously, write reflectively, study ceaselessly, keep pushing the boundaries, stand up against institutional thinking, beware of the cute and contrived, distinguish between glitz and substance, dream big, work the details and let the children be their guides. Watch the children’s faces, their bodies, their gestures, listen to their ideas, see past their behavior and look into their souls. For the children are the “messages we send to a time we will never see” and we want them to be well-prepared to spread the good news.
And above all, enjoy the journey!