Teaching music to primary-aged students in a group setting is, in my opinion, the most important job in the entire field of music education. I am not the first to think this way. World famous composer Carl Orff, composer of *Carmina Burana - a very popular piece you have most likely heard in commercials and dark epic movie themes similar to the Imperial Army theme from Star Wars - was so passionate about primary-aged music education, he created the Orff-Schulwerk method of music teaching specifically to inspire creativity and musicianship through exploration and movement.
The Orff-Schulwerk method caught on around the world, taking deep root in Africa, North America and throughout Europe. In fact, the beautiful mallet percussion instruments of wood (xylophone) and metal (metallophone) that you see in our music room (pictured) were inspired by African instruments and have been adopted into the Orff method titled Orff instruments. Among other famous musicians who dedicated much of their careers to primary music education were Zoltan Kodaly, Leonard Bernstein and Emilie Jacques-Dalcroze. At The Harbour School, we draw from best practice in music education and borrow concepts and pedagogy from all of them plus many more.
The surprising thing about primary music education is the amount of improvisation and creativity that is asked of the students. Our level of student input in determining arrangements, orchestrations, and rhythm is similar to what one would find in a composer’s course or jazz improvisation course. One of the reasons for our Orff-barred instruments is that they are designed to sound harmoniously in three major keys - there are no “wrong notes”. Essentially in their initial setup they are all the white keys of the piano (although we can add 2 accidental notes). Because of this our students can creatively improvise musical phrases with ease. We are developing a sense of phrasing, call and response, rhythmic vocabulary and melodic patterns. We develop all those through experiential echoing while moving around the room to establish pulse in the body or utilizing various levels of body percussion such as patting knees, clapping, snapping fingers, tapping shoulders and so on.
All levels learn musical concepts and express them weekly in our lessons through performance of various repertoire. As a student progresses through the grades they will experience the entire scale in solfeggio (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do), rhythm, mallet technique, percussion technique and beginning wind instrument technique with the recorder in G4 and G5. And all the time, students will be singing at every lesson.
Once we get into G6 we are entering a whole other world of music education philosophy and practice. This year we established our first-ever concert band. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a round of applause to The Buccinators Symphonic!
Students in this ensemble select one wind instrument (flute, clarinet, trumpet or trombone) and as a class we learn how to play together. This is truly the value of all music classes at THS: to play together. Music matters but the music can only exist amongst a group of individuals who decide to become a we/us and set aside their I/me mentality. When there are notes, we should hear sound. When there are rests, we should hear silence. Music is sound and silence all organized so the right sounds happen at the right times with the right volume. In music class, every student matters and the entire piece can be derailed by just one out of place note. What better way to increase individual awareness and develop teamwork and collaboration through music?
Music is the most enjoyable and one of the most disciplined experience a student will have in school. That’s not just a proven music education philosophy, it is how music works. Music is structured and organized, and it doesn’t have stray, random, or inappropriate sounds (unless it is created specifically for effect). Please watch this video and see just how high the stakes are in a music class.
To achieve perfection, both dedication and discipline are required. Such experience for a primary school student is important because it helps to develop the kind of learning resilience that will heavily influence his/her future success in both higher education and at the workplace. By not giving up and sticking with music instrument lessons, students learn skills that are far more important for success than simply being able to play an instrument.
So I ask you, can you hear the music in your life? Can you hear the music in your daily activities, job, family life? Listen closely...
*To hear Carl Orff’s extremely famous piece Carmina Burana, O Fortuna please skip to 3:36 here where the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and a small army of musicians perform the piece in its entirety.