November 20, 2014
Themes from Music City
Reflections from the AOSA conference in Nashville, TN.
I had not planned on attending conference this year, but upon discovering Jos Wuytak, our last direct connection to Carl Orff, would be presenting probably for the final time in America, I knew I had to come. I have seen him many times in the past, but still felt compelled to see him one last time. He is now 80 years old. He informed me of this upon sitting down next to me to watch a session. You would never know his age by watching him. "Eighteen?" I asked with a smile. He laughed heartily and said, "Yes! In my heart, and in my mind! But, no, 80 years old." It meant something for me to be able to tell him he was the reason I came to Nashville. The AOSA asked him to share some of his history with the Schulwerk at his sessions, and as I listened to him speak, I started to think about what the "big ideas" or enduring understandings are in his view of the Schulwerk, and how they compare with other presenters. I began to focus on detecting important themes across my sessions. The one that Jos was the most adamant about was "Activity and creativity in community." If he wanted us to remember one thing from his work, it was that.
Jos contributed heavily to the pedagogy of the Schulwerk. He was introduced to Carl Orff by one of his professors because of his aptitude for pedagogy. He felt an instant connection with Carl Orff and began working with him and Gunild Keetman. He translated the volumes and added pieces of his own to Carl Orff's work. He revised the French volumes into a set of three, again adding his own work, corrected by Carl Orff,, and changed the key from C to F because "it is better for children's singing". He explained that he created the body percussion with the snaps for the sopranos, the clap for alto, pat for tenor, and the stamp for the bass, to be used in the teaching of the Orff music.
In his session he wanted to be very clear in communicating his process for teaching. "Activity and creativity in community." he said. He explains it is important to start by telling the children verbally what they are to do, but do NOT let them do it yet. Then, you, the teacher, must show them what they are to do, but do NOT let them do it yet. Then finally, the students do it, but you, the teacher, do NOTHING. "DO NOT SING WITH THE CHILDREN!" he said. Do not help the students when it is their turn he explained, because if you do, they will not gain their independence of you. He then went on to demonstrate how this works by teaching us. He started with the idea of the 4 measure phrase, and underscored the importance of two-handed movement, as an integral part of the teaching. He mentioned the quote from Confucious, "If I tell you, you forget. If I show you, you MAY remember. If I involve you, you understand." He had us touch the fingers of our left hand while counting to four as we did so. This built toward question/answer by demonstrating how the end of the first eight beats continues on, and the end of the second eight beats needs to have the "Final Point". (Ending on or before the 8th beat with a quarter note.) He expressed the importance of expecting quality music performance, by continuing to repeat until our performance met his expectation. At the same time, he repeated the quote "You have the right to make a mistake." many times. He began with body percussion and then used outlandish vocal gibberish question and answer improv sessions first in the group, and then when the group was comfortable, moved on to individuals answering him, and finally, individuals doing both the Q and A. From there we moved to unpitched percussion, and finally pitched percussion using the same format. He highlighted the importance of first the group and then the individual. In our rondo creations, he saved the last section to involve everyone else who was not chosen for one of the individual parts.
Jos expressed how important and natural it was for the schulwerk to evolve, but at the same time wanted to express these ideas and aspects as essential and enduring components of Orff teaching. There were strong connections here with John Fierabend's work also. The idea of community, the importance of group and individual work, not singing with your students and the key of F (and G) being best for singing, all aligned with Jos's teaching. John Fierabend also shared the significance of certain research that has come out recently, and some rationale for why certain practices are important. One key example is why singing in F is a better key for children than C. He explained that the muscle used for chest voice singing pulls down to lengthen the vocal chords to allow the pitch to go down, while the muscle used for the chest voice must pull up. It is not one muscle used for the whole range, which is why there is the catch between registers. The chest voice for most children tops out at G or A which is why songs like Twinkle, Twinkle are often sung out of tune on the So and La in the key of C. Once in their chest voice, some children do not leave it for the rest of the class. For this reason, beginning the class with a descending vocal siren and singing in the key of F or G are so important, to avoid students getting stuck in their chest voice.
John Fierabend also underscored the importance of individual response for vocal development, and the importance of movement in supporting learning in music activities in general, and as a good strategy to build in listening repetition. He shared research that showed that the whole song method is best for simple songs, but that the rote or phrase method of teaching a song is most effective for more difficult songs. Adding movement to the simple songs allows students to be engaged and enjoy the repetitions for listening they need to learn the song correctly with the whole song method. Adding movement to music listening creates muscle memory and stores the information in the brain in more places. John Fierabend felt that our goal as elementary music educators should be to ensure everyone can sing lullabies to their babies and can appreciate and respond to beautiful music when they are 30. In short to be "Tuneful, Beatful, and Artful" children who grow into "Tuneful, Beatful, and Artful" adults.
Lenka Pospisilova was the special international presenter brought from the Czech Republic. She has taught at the Orff institute, and it was immediately clear that she was brought here for her imaginative and seamless teaching process. She demonstrated how, with one playful concept, an entire musical performance could be built utilizing movement, body percussion, ostinati, voice, and pitched and unpitched percussion. "Jimba" is what she called the pop bottle caps that she passed out and "gave life to" by having hers talk to her and guide the activity. She asked us what our "Jimba" was feeling, and then listened to hers. "Jimba wants to jump!" became a vocal warmup as hers jumped from place to place on her body and we copied and echoed. We then added a second "Jimba" and used the caps to make variety of light and pleasant tapping and scraping sounds as we copied her example. She added a song and we accompanied the song with our caps, and then danced with our caps in the accompanying folk dance. We had to trade with someone to make a matched set of colors that established our groups for the next step. She taught our groups vocal ostinati, and finally began to add instruments. She incorporated all of Jos's aspects of "Activity and creativity in community"!
I ended the conference seeking more information about the voice. I saw Rachel Batchelor Pollard present on "What's Going On In There?" She masterfully described and demonstrated each structure of our voice, its purpose and how it functions. She is from a growing group voice teachers from the Estill Voice Training method. By manipulating each structure of her voice she was able to demonstrate all basic categories of vocal timbres, and most importantly, how to avoid injury by avoiding constriction of the false vocal folds. If you feel a "tickle, scratch, or cough" while using your voice, those are the warning signs to be cautious. I look forward to learning more about this new research on the voice to improve my own vocal skills and health, as well as that of my students.
The conference encompassed Jos ideal of "Activity and creativity in community." I felt this as I engaged in the creative activities in all of my sessions in community with Orff colleagues and very dear friends new and old. I know I am a better teacher and happier person because of friendships in my community of Orff. I so appreciate all that Jos, and those who followed have contributed to growing and developing all that is Orff Schulwerk.