This article was written in 1993 by Jos Wuytack and presented to the Master Class in Orff Schulwerk at the University of Memphis in 1995. It was published in the Carl Orff Canada Journal in 1993.
The question, “Can Carl Orff’s educational ideas be updated?” could be answered by a saying of the pedagogue himself: "That which is not up to date cannot become out of date." And, indeed, he conceived his Schulwerk through and through from the basic elemental nature of a child's world and according to artistic standards and aims.
For some people today, traditional nursery rhymes and children's songs are like digging up the outdated. But are these old sayings really obsolete? Fairy tales, rhymes and chants are powerful. They grew from magic roots and involve treatment of universal and archetypal characters. Therefore they are for all time. The essence of the “elemental” is absolutely human; namely that everybody is born out of pain and that they must die, but at the same time they can feel joy at the sight of the beauty of nature: flowers, animals, and other human beings.
A quotation from Romas Guardini clarifies this statement.
“Images are ideas that arise through an encounter with a certain object or event whose meaning, however, extends through the whole being. They illuminate existence. They express ways within which man can find his way. They belong to the deviation of consciousness. Deep within the human spirit lies the readiness to produce them and only few encounters with the forms of the world are necessary for this to happen. They are part of the stuff of poetry, wisdom and art and form a tradition that is everywhere effective.”
The “timeless” character of the Schulwerk lies in its quality of being elemental and pre-artistic. For Carl Orff the “models” in his five volumes make an inexhaustible “arsenal” of elementary musical and speech forms. And certainly, the resulting system is a well planned progression. The type and nature of the models are determined by sensing the state of the child's awareness and the stages of his mental growth.
But this timeless power does not exclude the possibility of a free and creative adaptation for the present day. Exactly the opposite is true. The model character of Schulwerk demands as a principle that the examples be constantly reworked in improvisation and in re-creation!
We cannot escape from our world of today; a world very different from the one when Orff’s ideas were being put into practice by Gunild Keetman. Then the experience was Germano-centric.
In 1993, the world is a much smaller place: We are informed about everything happening on this planet. Wars, famine, political changes, ethnic consciousness, economic survival have all constituted an unbelievable shift in the world populations. All over the planet there is a polyglot population, anxious to be heard and understood; a population where each individual is holding on to his own identity and culture. No longer is the world Euro-centric but truly cosmopolitan!
Here the Schulwerk has an important role to play. Because of its elemental nature, its taking hold of primary principles and its inclusion of other art forms, it can provide a way that all cultures can participate and yet maintain their individual differences.
Schulwerk still is "in statu nascendi.” The adaptation by other countries and cultures does not mean a literal and complete take-over of the German original, but rather each country has to reconstitute the ideas according to its own specific mentality, its characteristics and tradition.
That was my task in developing the French and the Flemish adaptations, with the approval of Carl Orff himself. It was a very demanding but enriching experience to transpose Orff's ideas to other circumstances and other countries, especially with the actual school situation in mind.
The Orff Schulwerk is widespread in all parts of the world and there has been a continuous, practical and theoretical involvement with its ideas. People have frequently asked me, "What is the real Schulwerk? Where can we find the “orthodox" way? What to think about the different directions? What did you change in the Schulwerk and are you still studying yourself?"
In the following paragraphs I shall try to explain in what manner I have adapted some of the original ideas of the Schulwerk.
I began a thorough study of the Schulwerk in 1958 at the Lemmens institute, Leuven, Belgium under professor Marcel Andries, who introduced Orff Schulwerk in Belgium. I experimented with these new ideas with children in a classroom situation, with youngsters in the youth movement and with theology students in the liturgy. Everywhere it worked wonderfully. it was active, creative, and social. Everybody could be involved in a democratic way. Music education became an open door for every child. Both Marcel Andries and myself were interested to see how Orff's ideas were put into practice at the Orff institute in Salzburg. We had fruitful experiences working with Gunild Keetman, Polyxene Matey, Herman Regner, and Barbara Haselbach. We were especially impressed by the rhythmic-verbal ability of Carl Orff himself.
We devised a series of lesson plans, where the "official program" was presented with the achievements of the Schulwerk. Our ambition was to create a training for teachers using the Schulwerk ideas. We organized workshops and courses all over Flanders which were extremely very successful. From this moment on, I used all my energy to guide the teachers in the use of the Schulwerk. Because there was not a pedagogical explanation in the original five volumes, I established a pedagogical outline explaining how to teach the proper techniques. Thus began my contribution to the Schulwerk.