Carl Orffs philosophies in Music Education


While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, his greatest
success and influence has been in the field of Music Education. Born on July
10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused to speak about his past almost
as if he were ashamed of it. What we do know, however, is that Orff came
from a Bavarian family who was very active in the German military. His
father’s regiment band would often play through some of the young Orff’s
first attempts at composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of
his past, Moser’s Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy of
Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first world war.
After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera
houses then returned home to Munich to further study music. In 1925, and for
the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the
Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich where he worked
with musical beginners. This is where he developed his Music Education
theories. In 1937, Orff’s Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany.
Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of Carmina Burana,
Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En
trata which were rewritten to be acceptable by Orff.
One of Orff’s most admired composers was Monteverdi. In fact, much of
Orff’s work was based on ancient material. Orff said:
I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales and
legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as old, but rather as
valid material. The time element disappears, and only the spiritual power
remains. My entire interest is in the expression of spiritual realities. I
write for the theater in order to convey a spiritual attitude.1
What Orff is trying to say here is that he does not use “old” material, but
material that is good enough to be used again. If one eliminates the fact
that this material was written many years ago, then there is nothing to stop
that material from being any less legitimate in recent times.
Orff’s work in Music Education has been astounding. In the early 1920’s,
Orff worked with Mary Wigman. Wigman was a pupil of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze,
another very influential name in Music Education. In fact, Orff’s approach
to music is very similar to Dalcroze’s, but Orff focuses on education through
percussion instruments. In 1924, Orff joined Dorthee Guenther and together
they founded the Guenther School. The schools focus was coordinated teaching
of gymnastics, dance, and music. Orff believed that music, movement, and
speech are not separate entities in and of themselves, but that they form a
unity that he called elemental music. When Orff refers to elemental music,
he means the music, movement, or speech created by children that requires no
special training, or in other words, the things that children do without
really thinking about it. The basis for the Orff method is the belief that
the historical development of music is reenacted in the life of every
individual. This means that, when a child is young, he is similar to a
primitive human being - at least musically - in that both are naive and rely
primarily on natural rhythms and movement to make music. Although this
theory has not been very widely accepted by most music educators, this is
where the Orff method of teaching music begins. The Orff method was so
impressive to the public that the Ministry of Culture recommended the
adoption of the Guenther-Orff experiments in the elementary schools in
Berlin. Unfortunately, the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of war stunted
the growth of these plans. Finally, in 1948, the German broadcasting
authorities urged Orff to resume his educational activities.
The Orff approach, not unlike the Suzuki method, begins with the idea that
music should be learned by a child the same way a language is learned.
Suzuki calls this the “mother tongue approach”. A child learns to speak
simply by listening and then imitating and then, later in life, the child
learns