Orff music method easy-going for kids

Jun 7, 2013

Portage Public Schools teacher Marcia Working

“There are some students who may be struggling academically. They come in here and because it’s very hands on and tactile and kinesthetic. They’re able to excel at it. The smiles on their faces going, ‘Oh, yeah. I can do this. I fit,’” says music teacher Marcia Working.

Tuesday is Working’s last day in public schools, but for 30 years she’s been using the Orff Approach at 12th Street Elementary School in Portage.

“The philosophy of the Schulwerk is that you pull from what the students know and what you do naturally,” she says. “So, there is a lot of speech and movement because that’s what kids do. There is a lot of play. We do a lot of games to learn concepts.”

Carl Orff was a twentieth-century German composer who also originated the Orff Schulwerk approach to music education for children. Schulwerk is German for school work. It’s not a teaching methodology. It’s a philosophy.

“You know they’ve learned that concept when they all of a sudden say, ‘Oh why don’t we do this,’” says Working. “Today somebody started clicking their sticks to the beat. That’s part of the Orff Approach. Instead of getting angry at that kid or saying, ‘Oh stop doing that.’ You say, ‘Oh, let’s use that.”

When the program first started, Carl Orff was given instruments from Africa that had removable bars. Working says that’s why a lot of the music they play is set in panitonic.

“When you are set in panitonic, there’s no wrong notes,” she says. “So, they may not hit exactly the notes you want but, there’s not going to be a dissonance. It’s all going to sound good.”

The instruments include metallophones, glockenspiels and xylophones. Students learn how to play songs on the instruments, hearing it and seeing it visually on bars of the instruments as well as on the staff. Working says that they start to make connections to patterns and “those patterns are what music is made of.”

“We did a piece in fifth grade that’s actually a lullaby. And, we did recorder and guitar. When I first sang it to them they were like ‘Oh, man, a slow song,’” she says. “By the time we finished building all of the pieces and putting it all together, we did our final performance. When we got done, I had one of my fifth grade boys look and me and go, ‘That was beautiful.”