In November 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 50th anniversary of the American Orff Schulwerk Association’s (AOSA) national conference. It was an Orff event like no other I have experienced before. With over 1000 music educators, 10 professional development opportunities and over 40 different presenters to choose from, I arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, with feelings of excitement and nervousness that I would not have enough time and energy to take it all in. Being the South African representative I was given royal treatment as an “honored guest”, and was able to meet many of the amazing people who run AOSA. I ran into many familiar faces from my Orff experiences in San Francisco, and I made new connections with people who share the love of Orff Schulwerk.
I attended 10 different workshops and participated in a wide variety of activities ranging from playing ukulele, to singing gospel and spiritual music, to learning how to tap dance, to talking about cultivating strategies for collaboration in the classroom and to integrating the study of angles in mathematics with music. It was interesting to see the ways in which people have developed their teaching practice through the Orff Schulwerk approach. I experienced many different styles of teaching and different ways of understanding what the Schulwerk is all about. It reminded me that is indeed the beautiful thing about Orff Schulwerk: no two people will approach it in the same way.
Here are four lessons I took away from my experience at AOSO’s national conference in 2018:
The Orff Schulwerk approach is not just for recorders and xylophones. Jeri Crosby led a workshop in teaching the ukulele using the pedagogical sequence of the Orff Schulwerk approach. She applied all the well-known concepts such and ostinati and drones to the ukulele, and was able to get a room of people, most without prior experience in playing ukulele, jamming to songs such as Rain, Rain, Go Away and A Ram Sam Sam. Jeri also has a website where she generously offers all her teaching material for free! Check out www.youkulelenotes.blogspot.com for beginner ukulele inspiration.
Sometimes you just have to throw out your lesson plan and give in to the spirit of the moment. In a captivating and energetic singing session, René Boyer led us to lift our voices in praise, singing layers of melody and harmony based on spirituals from The Underground Railroad. We sang in a group, 50 people strong, our voices ringing in the massive exhibition hall, all our eyes fixed on René, following her every gesture to make music together. It was a powerful experience. René remarked that she had planned something entirely different, but upon seeing the eagerness of the group she changed plans and decided to do something completely different. She certainly showed us what a gifted pedagogue she is by being able to do that as successfully as she did.
Movement, movement, and more movement! In a presentation, given the rather straightforward title of “One Guy’s Approach to Middle School Choir”, Brian Gonzales showed us how movement – normally a no-go for most middle school music teachers – can be used to create an environment of trust, safety and creativity for pre-teens going through that awkward and often difficult phase of life. He remarked that kids have to be comfortable with their bodies before you can expect them to be comfortable with their voices. Brian taught us Moira Smiley’s body percussion arrangement of Bring Me Little Water, Silvy, a well-known American song by Huddy Ledbetter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWa2868KY-w), by breaking down the pattern into chunks and building it up slowly. The phrase “you are enough, you are perfect as you are” was said during the presentation, and even as adult hearing these words, I realized it has a powerful effect on one’s feeling of competence and ability when exploring body percussion and creative movement.
Team teaching is the most dynamic and effective way to teach groups of people. Without uttering a word, Sam Heminger and Joshi Marshall led us in learning a beat passing game that seamlessly developed into a funk based body percussion pattern to the tune of The J.B.’s Pass the Peas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUkfiLjooxs). Before we knew it we were belting out the familiar pentatonic riff with our heads bopping to the groove. The Orff process was so well integrated into their teaching style that it almost went by unnoticed because I was so captivated by the musical journey they were taking us on. Without a doubt, working as a team affords you a special kind of effectiveness in teaching; from being able to model the way a game should be played, or breaking off into groups and teaching different parts of a piece to bring together at a later point.
I would like to thank the South African Orff Society for their support in making it possible for me to attend the 2018 AOSA national conference. It was an invaluable experience that reaffirmed to me why this Orff thing, which we love so much, is worth pursuing and dedicating oneself to.