Teacher use of Orff method in elementary music classes draws film crew to Howard


October 29, 1999|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OUR SMALL corner of Maryland is receiving international attention this week. The Orff Institute in Salzburg, Austria, has sent a videographer to Gorman Crossing Elementary School to film music classes taught using the Orff method for a documentary.

Matt McCoy, music teacher at the year-old school in North Laurel, said the video will celebrate the use of the Orff method in music classes all over the world.

Originated by German composer Carl Orff about 50 years ago, the method stresses making music as a way of learning to understand it. But more about that later.

How the method came to be taught at Gorman Crossing -- and to be filmed for the documentary -- is a story that combines excellence and serendipity.

McCoy, a general music teacher, is a 10-year veteran of Howard County schools.

During a summer studying for his master's degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., McCoy ran into then-Howard County music teacher Dan Lejeune, who introduced him to Orff Schulwerk, as the technique is called.

McCoy liked it immediately.

"I found it to be a good fit creatively," he said, "and immediately practicable in the classroom. It's a very joy-filled experience."

McCoy returned to Minnesota for three more summers to become certified in the technique. It is not easy to describe outside the classroom, he said, but its underlying philosophy is clear.

"We really do believe that children need to play with the elements of music as much as learn about them," he said. "The children guide a certain amount of what happens in the activity."

His pupils progress through five years of music classes, learning music the way they learn language, he said.

In language, babbling comes first, then short words, then longer words and conversations as the child matures. Finally, writing preserves the thoughts that are first expressed in speech.

McCoy said he sees this progression in his pupils' increasing musical skills.

By the time they are in fifth grade, he said, they are improvising variations on themes and scoring their compositions.

While he does teach his pupils to sight-read -- sight-singing is an important skill for the Orff method -- it's not the centerpiece of Orff musical education.

"We believe in having them make good-quality music," McCoy said. "Reading will come later. Let's have them make [music] first."

His fifth-grade class is working on a new piece, based on a story about a monster.

After learning the story and discussing some key musical elements, the children split into three groups.

One group is refining a xylophone piece the children have written. Another is creating a dance to illuminate the plot and a third is developing sound effects to dramatize the story.

While the pupils do perform occasionally for parents and younger children, proficiency in performance is not the goal of the technique.

"It's really about the process," McCoy says. "The results are a celebration of how we got there."

A certain pride in his pupils creeps into McCoy's voice.

"Having the gentleman from Austria come is really a feather in the cap of the kids," he said, adding that there are many other Orff programs in the United States that could have been filmed.

Carolee Stewart teaches music education at Peabody Institute in Baltimore and is former president of the American Orff Schulwerk Association. She was instrumental in the decision to make the documentary.

She has visited Gorman Crossing often as a friend of McCoy, and thought his classes would be an excellent example of the technique's success.

At her suggestion, Gorman Crossing was added to videographer Coloman Kallos' itinerary.

McCoy said he is thrilled with the way things have turned out.

The best thing about his job, he said, is "quite honestly, going into work each day."

"There's never a dull moment," McCoy said. "[The pupils] stretch me creatively as much as I stretch them."

Craft magic

Waneta Wine is returning to the Savage Library.

She will present a children's program on papermaking at 10: 15 a.m. Nov. 6.

The Columbia resident has been the Savage Library Grandparent for five years.

Twice a year, she has brought her brand of craft magic to the library.

Children in her programs make quilted book bags, examine insects -- Wine is trained as a field botanist -- and create Native American crafts.

It is never the same activity twice.

Wine cautioned that unlike her other programs, this one is limited to 15 children older than age 9. Papermaking is a more time-consuming -- and messier -- activity than some.

She said she wanted to appeal to the messy children for once, instead of the neat ones.

Wine will demonstrate how to recycle paper using a blender, paper scraps and maybe some decorative tidbits for color and texture.

The children will take home samples of handmade recycled paper -- and they will have a great, gooey, good time.

Information: 410-880-5978.

An accomplished artisan, Wine is still learning new techniques. She enrolled recently in the London City and Guilds correspondence course in needle arts.

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