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Orff and Global Music

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

A Reflection of the article ‘The Wayward Wildflower’ by Catherine West

Link to the article:

Catherine West
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Shared with permission from:

The Recorder, Volume 62, Autumn 2019, Special Issue: OMEA's 100th Anniversary, pg. 54 - 60. (Ontario Music Educators Association,

I’m honoured that the IOSFS considers my article, “The Wayward Wildflower: Orff and Global Music” worthy of posting here. Re-reading it today I realize that my thinking has evolved since writing it, and that much of what I’ve learned has come from the shared knowledge I’ve encountered through discussions, workshops, websites and shared resources posted on the internet – in short, through the shared wisdom of many valued colleagues. Sharing is what I’d like to consider in this blogpost.

I fell in love with Orff when I heard the arpeggiated bordun accompanying children’s singing in 1985. I subsequently fell in love with the Orff community when I attended an Ontario chapter AGM: the business part of the meeting was dispatched in 10 minutes and the members jumped to their feet to share teaching ideas. I experienced the delight of one musical game after another as the teachers eagerly modeled their creative ideas. I had already rejected the crushingly competitive atmosphere of the traditional faculty of music, and was astonished to learn that there were professional musicians who worked collaboratively as a given. I signed up for the chapter board on the spot!

The topic of my article is global music, so how does this relate to sharing? I’d like to consider that AGM sharing session as an aspirational model of what can happen when we share music of any origin. When we perform the music of different cultures, we are sharing traditions, with luck, reaching across racial, social, ethnic and political divides to create understanding, appreciation and friendship.

But the sharing is broader than that; when I attend an Orff workshop and love a teaching strategy or a piece of repertoire the clinician introduces, I’m usually expected to use it, adapt it, teach it to my own students, and make it my own. This process happens so organically that we sometimes forget that appropriation can also be an issue for us. There are courtesies to be observed when using something we learned from another practitioner, although often we do not know how far back the lines of transmission go.

Everything we learn from others, and pass on in one form or another, needs to be acknowledged and honoured, its lines of transmission articulated, our situation in receiving it communicated, our questions about it honestly stated. Global music is one area that we need to be especially sensitive to in this moment, but there is a larger world of influence that needs acknowledgement. It’s difficult to track the seeds of a wildflower, because they blow about in the wind, are swept downstream by rainwater, creeks and rivers, are ingested and deposited miles away… but we can try to know, and trying is the point.

What influences do you honour in your own Orff teaching practice?

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