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Minnesota Orff Workshop Blog

by Sarah Hruska-Olson 

On October 25th, I attended a Minnesota Orff Chapter workshop presented by the internationally known elemental music expert and master Orff Schulwerk teacher, Steve Calantropio.  I looked forward to this event for months, not only because of Mr. Calantropio’s excellence as a presenter, but also because of the workshop’s topic. For a full biography of Steve Calantropio visit the Minnesota Orff website. On the chapter website’s description of the workshop, the following question was posed:

 “Does the philosophy [Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman] described as Orff-Schulwerk still have relevance in today’s ‘goal and standard’ oriented climate or have the skills, concepts, and materials they outlined in their collaborative work been replaced or transformed into something else?”

The presentation was titled “Why Orff Schulwerk” and it answered the question posed above through exciting and thought provoking examples of elemental music and the Orff Schulwerk teaching process.  

As a school music educator, I have noticed the current national emphasis on standards based learning has had an effect on music education.  Although there is not a standardized music test that school children must take, there is definitely an increased scrutiny from administrators upon sequenced goals and demonstrable outcomes in every subject, including music. 

This is certainly not a bad thing!  For example, I should be able to demonstrate by the end of this school year that my Kindergarten students have improved their ability to sing in tune, that my third graders can read and perform sixteenth notes accurately, and that my fourth and fifth graders can sing in three part canon, play simple melodies on the soprano recorder, and find the resting tone in major and minor modes. 

On the other hand, there are aspects of my school music instruction that are difficult to quantify in terms of a scope and sequence, even though I consider them to be artistically fulfilling and worthwhile.  For instance, my first and second graders used creative movement to make a human garden as we acted out the poem, “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.”  

Steve Calantropio’s workshop, entitled, “Why Orff Schulwerk” provided some great examples of how elemental music can serve as great material for both goal based, “convergent” learning and more improvisational, creative “divergent learning.” 

Our day was filled singing, body percussion, folk dance, creative movement, speech rhythms, ear training games, and barred instrument and recorder music.  Many of the musical examples we explored originated from various folk cultures.  For instance, we used a familiar nursery rhyme as a starting point for learning a traditional Bulgarian dance known as a Horo.  We used two and three syllable speech rhythms to help us learn the basic pattern to a Bavarian dance called the “Zwiefacher.”  The changing meter in the Zwiefacher dance helped prepare us to learn a piece composed by Mr. Calantropio called, “The Farmer’s Dance.”  In small groups, the workshop participants created farm pantomime movements to accompany the changing meter of the song. 

Although some of the day’s activities were designed to challenge adult musicians, there were  some helpful ideas for primary aged children.  We used fruit icons as a visual cue for a rhythm canon by Gunild Keetman.  This activity inspired me to make my own fruit icon cards to use for an activity with my first and second graders at New City School.  We learned how to create a template to help children create a visual canon.  This activity is something that could be done in collaboration with the art teacher or even with a sub.  We also learned a great mallet exercise based on the poem “Fuzzy Wuzzy” and an ear training game based on finding a toy bear under plastic cups.  (The game can be adjusted for difficulty.  We started with two cups for the so-mi pitches and worked our way up the full chromatic scale.)

 Some important ideas that I took away from this excellent day of elemental music are:

  • Movement, body percussion, and speech rhythms are great starting points for elemental music making activities.
  • Seemingly complex musical works can be deconstructed to reveal a simple structure.  This type of deconstruction is very useful for planning an instructional starting point.  (For example, we used a descending Aeolian scale as a starting point in learning a vocal canon.)
  • Singing in canon is a very important way to introduce children to the sounds of counterpoint.  That is why we sing so many rounds!
  • Convergent teaching gets a bad rap sometimes, but it is O.K. for a lot of our teaching to be based on helping students reach a particular goal, such as a polished performance of a musical piece.  (Not all activities need to include improvisation, although there are many ways to provide choice to students.)  It was very validating to hear this from an expert on Orff Schulwerk. 
  • Once a particular musical goal has been achieved through convergent teaching, one aspect of the activity can be extended to provide divergent, improvisatory learning. One visual that really inspired me looked something like this:


  • Divergent teaching is a great way to help students apply a particular concept they have learned by creating their own new variations.  In turn, it demonstrates mastery of musical learning goals. 
  • By combing convergent and divergent teaching strategies, we keep elemental music making relevant and accessible!

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