Orff Approach

The Orff method, also known as Orff-Schulwerk or Music for Children, is an approach to music education conceived by the German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982). It was developed in the 1920s and 1930s while Orff was music director of the Günther-Schule, a school of dance and music in Munich.

Orff Approach

The Orff method, also known as Orff-Schulwerk or Music for Children, is an approach to music education conceived by the German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982). It was developed in the 1920s and 1930s while Orff was music director of the Günther-Schule, a school of dance and music in Munich. The guiding principles were contained in his publication Orff-Schulwerk (Mainz 1930-5), to which revisions came later. The first of many foreign versions was Music for Children (Mainz 1956-61), an adaptation in English by Doreen Hall and Arnold Walter of the University of Toronto. Orff's approach, developed for children but latterly used also with adults, was based on his belief that the easiest method of teaching music is to draw out the student's inherent affinities for rhythm and melody and allow these to develop in natural ways, leading the child by his or her intuition from primitive to more sophisticated expression through stages parallel to western music's evolution. Orff accomplishes this by means of a carefully planned program, beginning with speech patterns, rhythmic movement, and two-note tunes, then moving logically into pentatonic melody. Adult pressure and mechanical drill are discouraged. Improvisation is encouraged. Major and minor melody are introduced as the final stage of the program. Orff designed a special group of instruments, including glockenspiels, xylophones, metallophones, drums, and other percussion instruments to fulfill the requirements of the Schulwerk courses.

Introduction of the Orff Method in North America

On the initiative of Arnold Walter, the Orff approach was introduced formally to North America by Doreen Hall (after special studies in Europe 1954-5) in a demonstration in the summer of 1955 at the RCMT. A course prepared by Hall was introduced in 1956 at the University of Toronto, and a summer course was begun in 1957 at the RCMT. Among the participants was Sister Marcelle Corneille, who was to apply the basic principles at the kindergarten and nursery school levels at the Institut pédagogique de Montréal until 1966. At that time the Orff program had to meet the requirements of the Quebec Ministry of Education, and at the École normale de musique Miriam Samuelson began teaching a course intended to train specialized teachers. As head of the École normale, Sister Corneille was able to invite teachers from Europe and Canada for master classes. An International Orff-Schulwerk Conference (in which Orff participated) was held at the University of Toronto in July 1962, at which time the summer course was greatly expanded with the encouragement of Richard Johnston, who became director of the Summer School in the fall of 1962. The RCMT courses were lengthened in 1966 from two weeks to three and were revised to accommodate three levels of instruction leading to a teacher's certificate. They established the RCMT as the major centre for the dissemination of the Orff-Schulwerk method in North America.

Spread of the Orff Method in Canada

Keith Bissell pioneered the use of the Orff method in the Scarborough schools in 1958, and by 1962 the other major Metropolitan Toronto school systems had adopted it. By the mid-1960s Orff programs were also offered in Montreal by the Hungarian-born pianist-composer Gabor Bartha, who opened a private studio in 1964. In 1965 the CBC broadcast the three-part radio series 'Living Through Music,' featuring children from Scarborough trained by Joan Sumberland. The series won an Ohio State Award in 1966 for educational broadcasting. A graduate from the École normale, the harpist Donna Hossack taught the Orff approach privately 1966-71 in Montreal and St-Lambert, and introduced it to adult classes in Vancouver when she moved there in 1971. In 1972 Carole Irvine-Kurz began giving Orff summer classes to 4 to 12-year-old children for CAMMAC. Others involved in the spread of the Orff approach (by then also known as Music for Children) included Trudi Le Caine, wife of Hugh Le Caine and stepdaughter of Arnold Walter, in Ottawa; Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming, author of Music for Fun, Music for Learning (Toronto 1977, 1982), in Toronto; Sandra Davies at the University of British Columbia; Jean Woodrow in Edmonton; Morna-June Morrow, Edna (Little) Knock, and Beth Douglas in Winnipeg; Nancy Vogan at Mount Allison University; Mario Duschenes in Montreal; Doreen H. Coultas at Memorial University, and Valda Kemp in Halifax and at Dalhousie University. In 1976 when the École normale became part of the UQAM the Orff program gradually expanded.

Carl Orff Canada

Music for Children/Carl Orff Canada/Musique pour enfants, a national association made up of provincial chapters, was formed in 1974. Doreen Hall was the first president, followed in 1977 by Keith Bissell. The first provincial chapter was organized in British Columbia in 1974 and others followed. By 1985 ten local or provincial chapters had been formed, including the Quebec chapter founded in 1980. A twice-yearly bulletin originally named Music for Children/Carl Orff Canada/Musique pour enfants, but renamed Ostinato in 1982, has promoted the association's aims, and by 2004, 18 conferences had been held, eg, in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton, Montreal, and Calgary.

Canadian Teacher-Training Centres

Courses were integrated into the B MUS degree program at UQAM in 1985. By 1990 UQAM was the only university in Quebec to offer a course (45 hours long) in Orff pedagogy. Guest teachers included Jos Wuytack from Belgium, and Anne-Marie Grosser and Jeanne Mulciolli from France. By 2000, teacher-training courses were being offered at the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the Calgary chapter of Carl Orff Canada, the University of Lethbridge, the University of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, the University of Regina, the University of Manitoba School of Music, the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, the University of Ottawa, the Ottawa chapter of Carl Orff Canada, the University of Quebec at Montreal, and Mount Saint Vincent University.

The Orff Approach in Elementary Schools

In the 1990s, the reinstatement of music as a core subject in many public school curricula across Canada forced all elementary teachers to be prepared to teach music as well as all the other subjects. Carl Orff Canada endorsed courses in many of its centres to prepare teachers (many of whom have little or no music background) with the fundamentals to teach sight-reading, rhythm awareness, and a basic knowledge of music terminology.

Assessment and Projections for the Future

Though Music for Children, and variations of this method, was used in an increasing number of Canadian schools in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there remained skeptics who criticized the relative neglect of early training in reading and technical skills and the absence of a clearcut teaching methodology. Because of these shortcomings, the Orff program's popularity with teachers was limited, and there were those who saw its value as a supplement rather than as a basic study course. However, the influence of Orff and Music for Children in 20th-century music education was firmly established, and the popularity of this method continued to grow in the early 21st century with more than 1000 music educators teaching Music for Children across Canada in 2004. The Orff Institute provides courses for teachers and promotes research into further applications of the method, including its use in music therapy. As well as providing courses in the private sector, by 2004, Carl Orff Canada was reaching out to public elementary-school teachers to provide them with basic music knowledge to enable them to teach music as a vital part of their overall curriculum.


Further Reading

  • NL of C. Arnold Walter-Carl Orff correspondence (1953-70)

    Walter, Arnold. 'Elementary music education: the European approach,' CMJ, vol 2, Spring 1958

    Bissell, Keith. 'Carl Orff's Music for Children: a reply to the critics,' Recorder, vol 6, Oct 1963

    Johnston, Richard. 'The word for the method is zest,' Varsity Graduate, Christmas 1963

    Clark, Eileen. 'A report from the Orff Institute,' Recorder, vol 7, May-Jun 1965

    Walter, Arnold. 'Orff Schulwerk in American education,' Recorder, vol 17, Dec 1974, Mar 1975

    Hall, Doreen. 'Music for Children's past, present, future,' Music for Children/Carl Orff Canada/Musique pour enfants, 4, Feb 1976

    Bissell, Keith. 'Orff, song and tradition,' ibid, 6, Jun 1977

    Hossack, Donna. 'Canadian folk music and materials in Orff-Schulwerk,' BC Music Educator, vol 22, Summer 1979

    Otto, Donna, ed. 'Orff-Schulwerk and the BC elementary fine arts curriculum,' ibid, vol 29, Summer 1986

    Morrow, Morna-June. 'Thirty years of the Schulwerk in Canada,' Ostinato, 32, Jan 1986

    See also Writings for Doreen Hall.