Carl Orff the Music Educator


 While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, 
his greatest success and influence has been in the field of Music 
Education. Born on July 10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused 
to speak about his past almost as if he were ashamed of it. What we 
do know, however, is that Orff came from a Bavarian family who was 
very active in the German military. His father's regiment band would 
often play through some of the young Orff's first attempts at 
composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of his past, 
Moser's Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy 
of Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first 
world war. After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim 
and Darmstadt opera houses then returned home to Munich to further 
study music. In 1925, and for the rest of his life, Orff was the head 
of a department and co-founder of the Guenther School for gymnastics, 
music, and dance in Munich where he worked with musical beginners. 
This is where he developed his Music Education theories. In 1937, 
Orff's Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany.

 Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of 
Carmina Burana, Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for 
Catulli Carmina and the En Trata which were rewritten to be acceptable 
by Orff. One of Orff's most admired composers was Monteverdi. In 
fact, much of Orff's work was based on ancient material. Orff said: 

 I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy 
 tales and legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as 
 old, but rather as valid material. The time element disappears, 
 and only the spiritual power remains. My entire interest is in 
 the expression of spiritual realities. I write for the theater in 
 order to convey a spiritual attitude.

 What Orff is trying to say here is that he does not use "old" 
material, but material that is good enough to be used again. If one 
eliminates the fact that this material was written many years ago, 
then there is nothing to stop that material from being any less 
legitimate in recent times.

 Orff's work in Music Education has been astounding. In the early 
1920's, Orff worked with Mary Wigman. Wigman was a pupil of Emile 
Jaques-Dalcroze, another very influential name in Music Education. In 
fact, Orff's approach to music is very similar to Dalcroze's, but Orff 
focuses on education through percussion instruments. In 1924, Orff 
joined Dorthee Guenther and together they founded the Guenther School. 
The schools focus was coordinated teaching of gymnastics, dance, and 
music. Orff believed that music, movement, and speech are not 
separate entities in and of themselves, but that they form a unity 
that he called elemental music. When Orff refers to elemental music, 
he means the music, movement, or speech created by children that 
requires no special training, or in other words, the things that 
children do without really thinking about it. The basis for the Orff 
method is the belief that the historical development of music is 
reenacted in the life of every individual. This means that, when a 
child is young, he is similar to a primitive human being - at least 
musically - in that both are naive and rely primarily on natural 
rhythms and movement to make music. Although this theory has not been 
very widely accepted by most music educators, this is where the Orff 
method of teaching music begins. The Orff method was so impressive to 
the public that the Ministry of Culture recommended the adoption of 
the Guenther-Orff experiments in the elementary schools in Berlin. 
Unfortunately, the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of war stunted the 
growth of these plans. Finally, in 1948, the German broadcasting 
authorities urged Orff to resume his educational activities.

 The Orff approach, not unlike the Suzuki method, begins with the 
idea that music should be learned by a child the same way a language 
is learned. Suzuki calls this the "mother tongue approach". A child 
learns to speak simply by listening and then imitating and then, later 
in life, the child learns to interpret symbols as a written form of 
that language. So, then, a child should learn music in the same way. 
At an early age, a child is exposed to music and learns to sing and 
play percussion instruments, then, later in the child's musical 
development, he learns to interpret the symbols on a score as music. 
The music a child learns during this time of his life is very simple 
melodies that involve a lot of moving. Orff believed that rhythm was 
the most important part of music. This is because rhythm is what 
movement, speech, and music all have in common. Rhythm is what ties 
these all together to make what Orff called elemental music. Orff 
uses this approach because it is believed that children must feel and 
move to music before they are asked to conceptualize about it. 

 Speech is one of the key elements in the Orff approach not only 
because speech is an inherently rhythmic action, but because Orff was 
the only one of the major educational philosophers (Dalcroze, Kodaly, 
and Suzuki) to use speech in this way. Orff's thought was that a 
transition from speech to rhythmic activities and then to song was the 
most natural for a child. So, the student moves from speech to body 
rhythms such as clapping or tapping, and then finally leads to the 
playing of an instrument. Orff's philosophy continues on in this way 
even after a child has developed a skill for an instrument. For 
example, concepts such as meter, accent, and anacrusis are introduced 
in speech patterns, reinforced in other activities, and then studied 
in a musical context. A specific example of this is the teaching 
of the concept of a canon. A simple yet varied chant or other form of 
rhythmic speech is taught to the class. The students then use the 
idea of a "round" to explore how each entrance by each different part 
is achieved. Finally, the teacher notates the rhythmic pattern and 
shows how each part of the pattern works with the other parts. 

 Orff's approach to Music Education notes that speech, chant,and 
song are all points along the same line. That is to say that one 
leads directly to the next. Children's experiences with singing 
follow directly from speech. This means that melody is actually an 
extension or an outgrowth of rhythm. When children begin to learn to 
use their voices as musical instruments, they enter another 
pre-planned part of Orff's method. There is a very specific order in 
which students learn to use solfege. As with most other theories that 
involve singing, the descending minor third, sol-mi, is the first 
interval that is taught. Other tones follow in succession in this 
order: la, re, do, to complete the pentatonic scale, and then finally 
fa and ti. The Orff method uses the pentatonic scale because Orff 
believed it to be the native tonality of children. This is cohesive 
with Orff's belief that music history is relived in the development of 
each individual because he considered the pentatonic mode appropriate 
to the development of each child. The use of the pentatonic scale 
also gave the students confidence. After all, it's very difficult to 
improvise and sound bad when the only notes available are those in the 
pentatonic scale. This kind of constant affirmation is crucial to a 
child's development.

 The last part of Orff's elemental music is elemental movement. 
As stated earlier, the word elemental in this sense refers to the kind 
of action, in this case movement, in which the child participates with 
no prior training or instruction. Orff said that this kind of 
activity made it easier for children to become expressive. This is 
because children are more able to express their thoughts and feelings 
through movement and painting than through words. Allowing children 
to express themselves in this way allows them to use their imagination 
because, as we adults often forget, children have the most vivid 
imagination. After observing these actions, the teacher then relates 
them in some way to music and build musical concepts out of them. 
Unfortunately, many of the activities that adults scold their 
children for are the same ones that are the most suitable for 
expressing feelings, such as walking on tiptoe, hoping over imaginary 
obstacles, or spinning to the point of dizziness. These are actions 
that adults would react to as being 'fidgety' or 'squirmy' when, in 
fact, they are simply natural movements that children use to express 
themselves. The ideal Orff educator would encourage these behaviors 
and use them to teach musical concepts.

 The end goal of the Orff method is to develop a child's musical 
creativity. Where traditional Music Education dictates that a child 
must learn to read music right away in order to be a self-guided and 
independent musician, the Orff method focuses on the creative and 
expressive side of music.

 The instruments that are commonly associated with the Orff 
method distinguish it from other methods. Orff uses xylophones and 
various metalophones that use removable bars. This allows an educator 
to change bars for different modes or to remove unnecessary bars to 
keep from confusing young students. The Orff instruments are modeled 
after and are closely related to the Indonesian gamelans. These 
instruments allow great flexibility for children who have handicaps. 
For example, students with visual handicaps or hearing handicaps can 
hit just about anywhere on an Orff instrument set up to use a 
pentatonic scale so he can feel like he is being included.

 In conclusion, the Carl Orff has been a very influential person 
in the field of Music Education. He has demonstrated to us that the 
way to teach music to children is to let then go back to the basics, 
or elements, of speech, movement, and singing. He has reminded us how 
much we really expect children to learn music differently in the 
traditional method than it is natural for them to learn.


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