Last summer I participated at the International Orff Course “The Singing Garden” in Pilsen, Czech Republic with the generous support of the Sistema Fellowship Resource Center. Why Orff? At the Take a Stand conference in Los Angeles in 2014, I was very impressed by the performance of Youth Orchestra of Salinas, an El Sistema-inspired project in California that uses Orff instruments in their pre-orchestras as an introduction to music making before students attempt a more complex orchestral instrument in their second year. I wanted to explore how far the Orff Approach can be used as an entrance into ensemble playing in an El Sistema-inspired program.
About eighty people—kindergarten and music teachers, musicians and dancers, Orff specialists and novices from all Eastern European countries, Great Britain, Turkey, Iran, Hong Kong and Australia—met in Pilsen for this weeklong course. The Orff Approach is much more than playing with Orff instruments. It is a holistic approach which combines music, movement, drama and speech similar to a child's world of play. The German composer Carl Orff founded it in the 1920s. There are Orff associations all over the world now.
The course included workshops in all areas of the Orff Approach. I was really fascinated by the playfulness of the different activities. Many of them were simple but there was a beauty inherent in this simplicity that was stimulating. I was impressed with how these activities were able to overcome not only the cultural differences but also the differences of experience of the participants. A professional violinist was having fun with a kindergarten teacher or a folk dancer, all doing the same movements or patterns. The Orff Approach enables people to create art with rudimentary elements. My experience was that, unlike playing my instrument, I didn't have to worry about technique at any point. There was a natural flow in every action that was liberating.