Reflections on Orff Schulwerk Level I Training in L.A.

First, a personal newsflash: Kevin and I got married last month! We threw a beautiful local al fresco celebration, visited our hometowns in FL and CO, then hightailed it back to L.A. in time for me to leap into some training that I’ve been anticipating since I dipped my toe into an L.A. Orff Association (LACAOSA) workshop last spring and it rocked my world.

Kids moving!This time I dove off the deep end into Orff Schulwerk Level I Training. It’s the first of three levels of study that are taken at least a year apart to allow for exploration and integration in between. Certification follows successful completion of Level III. Orff Schulwerk “levels training” is offered annually all over the world during June, July and August, and in Los Angeles through Cal State L.A.’s Extended Studies Program. L.A.’s 2013 Level I faculty included:

    • Lead Instructor Liz Keefe, composer, Orff specialist and American Orff-Schulwerk Association (AOSA) National Conference presenter from Reed Elementary School in Tiburon, CA
    • Movement Instructor William Salmon, Orff specialist and music, movement and drama teacher at Chandler School in Pasadena, CA
    • Recorder Instructor Robbie Trombetta, Orff specialist at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA
    • Program Coordinator Dr. David Connors, Orff specialist, Acting Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of Music at Cal State L.A., and AOSA National Conference presenter

Dr. Connors led Level II training while Liz led Level I. The two groups shared him for morning warm-ups and Will and Robbie as movement and recorder instructors.

Swaying and playingThe LACAOSA workshop I attended last spring integrated music and movement beautifully, so I arrived for the 2-week, 4-unit Level I course thinking I would meet teachers there from music and movement backgrounds. Now I know it requires music education as prerequisite training. A bit of what follows may be gibberish to non-musicians, but most of my comments will make sense to educators, parents, and creative thinkers in the performing and visual arts, language arts, sciences, maths, and beyond.

As I reflect on this training now with a little rest under my belt, process comes to mind first. I’m thrilled to have received example after example of masterfully crafted creative experiences, and a wealth of culturally and historically rich repertoire and resource information that will ignite the explorations of my young students this year.

Playing recorderAnd in a big breakthrough for me, the soprano recorder and I have begun a friendship after years of reluctance on my part. I’m ready to embrace it now, as a child-friendly vehicle to 3rd grade fine motor and music reading explorations that signal a year of transition from lower to upper elementary. I’ll find some recorder “woodshed” time next, working for the musicality that Robbie modeled.

Additional breakthroughs abounded. For one, I saw through a blind spot in my thinking:  I hadn’t realized yet that I can access a variety of major and minor tonal centers on barred percussion, without resorting to accidentals, despite all those lovely xylophones and metallophones being oriented to C. (Ah, the magic of pentatonic!) And while Liz coached us one morning to simplify, simplify, I had an “aha” moment, complete with goosebumps: I suddenly physically and psychically got that Orff’s incremental, experiential approach will ground my savvy students’ musicianship deep in their bodies, voices, ears, minds, and hearts.

Boys movingA crescendo of realizations kept building in me while my post-honeymoon glow fizzled. Haha! But seriously, I was blown away by how members of our class of music teachers of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, personalities, shapes and sizes were re-energized again and again—despite varying levels of comfort with group processes, messy commutes, long days, rigorous movement segments, and nightly homework—by explorations combining music, movement, speech, story, improvisation, and small group collaboration. I confess amazement at the potency of our experiences and the energetic shift from whew to wow! that kept happening in the room. Now I’m psyched to offer my students refreshing, integrative “imagination sessions” in the midst of their own busy lives.

And the relationships I’ve begun with my fellow participants and our instructors are priceless! Our new connections within this passionate tribe can aid us in the teaching year ahead, providing community, access to a great mix of musical disciplines and cultural and generational perspectives, and support to keep ourselves healthily self-ful (to borrow an evocative term from MUSE School CA’s head of school and self-efficacy expert Jeff King). Maybe those of us who are local will even get together for a little folk dancing!

Children clappingAs an educator and mother, I’ve always believed that compelling arts experiences in childhood aren’t just preparation for adulthood, but are unforgettable life events in their own right. While, yes, they engender self-confidence and appreciation for differing gifts and interests, grow and connect critical neural pathways, teach planning, practice, teamwork, and completion processes, and help “set the stage” for dynamic relationships and passion-based work in any field.

Today I’m vibrating with energy, like Orff Level I training plugged me into a 500,000-watt circuit board. As I enjoy facilitating all kinds of collaborative, integrative, music-centric experiences this year, I’ll be anticipating the pedagogical fruits of Orff Schulwerk Level II. I predict from watching our instructors work that it includes saying less and less when facilitating music learning and creative exploration, and eliciting more and more. Inspired by their quiet educational artistry, I’ll seek to emulate it as my students sing, play, move, imagine and create their way through 2013-14.

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