Reflection on the Composition Process and Goals
Literature on education, and particularly on music education, abounds with pleas for student-centred learning and creativity in the classroom (Burnard & Murphy, 2013, Haddon & Burnard, 2016). As theorists continue to demonstrate the multiple ways in which students learn, educators are responding with many new approaches and ideas. Contemporary approaches to music making and responding, as developed in the Contemporary Music Movement, have also had an impact on the music classroom of today (Paynter, 1992). While we should not necessarily throw out more traditional methods, it is certainly important for teachers to analyse, adapt and change their methods, incorporating valuable new ideas to create successful learning experiences.
While studying the course Composition in Music Education, my goal has been to arrange a suitable piece of music for use in a high school classroom. I have combined ideas of the Contemporary Music Movement, Orff pedagogy, aural learning and mixed-bag pedagogy. Through choosing to arrange modern repertoire and presenting this with a variety of techniques, I have aimed to provide a resource that caters efficiently for all learning styles, situations and needs of students.
Recognising the pedagogical value of the ostinato in the Orff approach, I looked to the contemporary use of the ostinato in minimalist music. I listened to a variety of works by composers such as Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Michael Nyman and Ludovico Einaudi, identifying how the ostinato is used and developed, and how different parts interact. I eventually choose to arrange Einaudi’s “Eden Roc,” for several reasons. The style and instrumentation used form a link between popular and classical styles. The piece is easily broken down into melody, harmony, rhythm section and ostinatos. The harmonies are beautiful, yet simple enough to enable a bordun on F and simple chord changes. The melody is extremely repetitive, encouraging aural learning, while the cyclical nature encourages experimentation of musical layering. The largely pentatonic structure of the melody also facilitates singing, providing “a way in” for many (World Science Festival, 2009). The repetitive nature of each part also facilitates improvisation.
I listened to “Eden Roc” extensively, noting down the melody, rhythms and chords aurally on manuscript. From there, I worked on arranging and creating resources, so as to make use of the various elements of Orff pedagogy, aural learning and mixed-bag pedagogy. I simplified the basic chord structure, and used some rhythmics ideas to arrange my own percussion parts and ostinatos. I simplified the melody slightly, and composed a new melody over the final section. I also wrote a countermelody, to add further interest and learning opportunities.
I have largely focused incorporating elements of the Orff approach, as the sequential and integrated aural learning methods (Frazee & Kreuter, 1987) have shown to be successful for students of a variety of abilities, including those with mental and physical handicaps (Dervan, 1982, Shamrock, 1997). Simple ostinatos are a main feature, which students would learn aurally, through imitation, speaking the rhythms (on a neutral syllable), performing with body percussion (as seen on the score), singing, and gradually transferring this to instruments (Frazee & Kreuter, 1987, Goodkin, 2001). For the un-pitched percussion rhythms, I have used the corresponding body percussion techniques as identified in Frazee & Kreuter (1987). However, these could easily be changed to suit different learning needs and abilities, or provide extra challenges. I have used a typical Orff ensemble arrangement in my score (the Orff version), based on the structure of scores in Orff & Keetman (1952) and Frazee & Kreuter (1987). I have also made use of the abbreviations and symbols seen in these scores. In the Orff version I have avoided using piano to avoid covering the other instruments. However it could be incorporated if played only in the outer registers (Frazee & Kreuter, 1987). This Orff version could provide a useful stepping-stone towards the mixed-bag version of the score, which I have adapted to include all instruments. In addition to ostinatos, I have incorporated a moving bordun, which could be played either broken or as a chord. The simplicity of the arrangement encourages exploration among the students, focusing on elements such as dynamics, tone colour, tempo and layering, incorporating new ideas into the performance. Students could also experiment with moving the tonal centre (the bordun) (Frazee & Kreuter, 1987).
As well as learning aurally, it would also be beneficial for students to listen to and perform for each other, further consolidating their musical understanding (Taylor, 2012). To assist in this, I have kept the necessary harmony and steady beat present in most parts, so that the piece can still be played if various instrument lines drop out while students perform for each other.
Improvisation is a fundamental aspect of the Orff approach, as students use developed skills and knowledge to show their musical independence. (Frazee, & Kreuter, 1987, Goodkin, 2001). I have indicated for Section 2 to be used for improvisation, once students are familiar with the sound of the chords and the tonal changes, and have performed the original melody over the top. This section is the most simple in terms of chord structure. In a classroom situation, it would be beneficial for the teacher to first demonstrate. Alternately, students could improvise over a different section. Students could also add their new improvised ideas to the composition, recognising that composition is “the logical outgrowth of a healthy and stable system of education” (Lawrence, 1978, p. 138).
Interestingly, Benedict (2009) questions the actual level of creativity involved in the Orff process, stating that the strict and repetitive implementation of the Orff approach often serves rather to alienate students from the music. While the basis for this opinion, coming largely from a Marxist viewpoint, remains questionable, it is at least an important reminder for music teachers to continually assess their approaches and goals. We need to ensure creative and holistic, child-centered, meaningful learning remains at the centre of music education. Each learning experience must be scaffolded with care and openness to new directions. Pedagogical methods should never take precedence over the needs of students.
Other Aural Learning Pedagogies
Support for aural learning goes beyond the Orff approach, and is widely advocated by researchs such as Green (2001). In response to this, I have sought to provide a variety of learning resources in addition to traditional notation. I have created audio files for each part, other notations such as TAB, chord diagrams and basic structure outlines. While much of the score is simple and repetitive enough to be learnt aurally through the Orff approach, these resources could provide extra assistance where necessary, and help to ensure that the focus is on the music rather than the notation (Lawrence, 1978). Having said this, it could also be a useful activity to have students creatively “notate” various parts of the music, through graphic scores or their own notation methods, encouraging students to consider and discuss the purposes, benefits and limitations of notation.
Mixed-bag arrangements are extremely useful for the music classroom, where multiple abilities and levels of knowledge and confidence are present. Through careful organising, these types of arrangements can provide challenge and interest, inviting students to experiment with different instruments and instrument combinations. For my arrangement, I have provided parts for every instrument (where appropriate), in all necessary transpositions for the melody, countermelody, chords, harmony, bass line, and percussion. These have been organised according to transposition, with occasional alterations to cater for instrument capabilities and ranges. While correct notations have been provided, some instruments will sound at different octaves. I chose the key of F major, to suit the variety of instruments.
To aid in maintaining a balanced ensemble, regardless of instrument combinations, I have created and arranged additional parts, including extra harmony parts, and a solo at the end. I have also incorporated multiple parts for each instrument, even though some of these may not be their usual role. However, this enables students to adapt for different ensemble situations. I have altered parts where necessary to enable the greatest range of possible instrumentation. Where notes have been altered, these have been done in such a way as to fit with the original music. Each part provides different levels of challenge. For example, the melody I composed for the Coda would require dexterity and confidence, while the bass line provides a good role for less competent students. It is up to the class and the teacher to choose individual roles to create a balanced ensemble.
My goal with this arrangement has been to provide innovative resources and ideas that incorporate the benefits of a variety of pedagogies. It is up to teachers to evaluate and adapt these resources to suit the needs of their individual classroom. Through using the creative approaches I have discussed, students would be encouraged to develop critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaborative skills and independence; attributes greatly valued in our modern world (Sauter, 2009, Shamrock, 1997).
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Green, L. (2001). How popular musicians learn: A way ahead for music education. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.
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Taylor, D. (2012). Orff ensembles: Benefits, challenges and solutions. General Music Today (Online), 25(3), 31-35. doi: 10.1177/1048371311414879
World Science Festival. (2009, July 23). The Power of the Pentatonic Scale [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne6tB2KiZuk