From Old School to New Schulwerk: Addressing Sound Worlds of Contemporary Popular Music

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From Old School to New Schulwerk: Addressing Sound Worlds of Contemporary Popular Music  Evan S. Tobias

To Cite or Download the article:  Tobias, E. (2011) From Old School to New Schulwerk: Addressing Sound Worlds of Contemporary Popular Music.The Orff Echo, 43(4), 19-23.

This article, written for the Orff Echo, addresses considerations for integrating popular music in elementary music classrooms. In the article I draw on how Doug Goodkin (2001) frames Whitehead’s notions of romance, precision, and generalization in terms of the Orff approach. The following excerpt gives a sense of what I address in the article:

Designing environments conducive to students’ romance in action of and precision with popular music requires knowledge of the related concepts, lexicon, and contexts through which people engage with these musics. This means considering the contemporary sound worlds that inform popular musics’ creation and practice along with understanding the nuances and musical aspects that characterize and differentiate its varied genres and sub-genres. Whether addressing rock, rap, or reggaeton, knowledge of these musics’ sound worlds is key to developing precision and relevant generalization of our own and students’ engagement with popular music.

We might therefore (1) consider how precise the concepts and skills included in our classroom are for popular music and (2) approach popular music in ways that apply closely to students’ lifelong musical engagement. This means being willing to ask questions such as: How are the drones, patterns and progressions that infuse my curriculum appropriate and relevant to today’s popular music? To what degree are students’ generalizations and interactions with popular music in my classroom representative of how it is practiced and engaged with in society?

Though the article acknowledges how popular music could possibly be used in conjunction with the Orff approach in music classrooms it also questions whether the Orff approach is the most appropriate way to frame popular music in elementary music classrooms. The article provides a critical lens from which to consider how popular music is integrated in music classrooms. For instance I suggest that:

Using the familiar Schulwerk concept of elemental or simple rhythmic or pitched patterns in the context of this aesthetic may hinder students from developing a sense of flow and rupture given the holistic nature of how one uses phrasing, rubato, changing patterns, accent shifts, rhythmic cadences, and dramatic pauses when rapping. Similarly, a focus on functional harmony or intonation makes little sense in the context of most rap music. The disconnect between popular music sound worlds and those of elementary music classrooms may explain why much of the “rap” music published and performed in school contexts sounds metric, quantized, and curiously unlike rap music that has occurred over the past decade. In other words, we might evaluate the precision of how we integrate rap and other popular musics to generalize and connect more closely with their sound worlds. If we are to take Goodkin’s and Whitehead’s notion of precision seriously, we might observe differences between music upon which the Schulwerk is based and contemporary sound worlds to consider how the musical lexicon developed extensively through Orff workshops might not be the most appropriate or adequate to address popular music.

Along with these issues the article addresses:

  • Considering the sound worlds of popular music
  • Incorporating recordings of popular music in the elementary classroom
  • Expanding the instrumentarium
  • Re-interpreting popular music
  • Ways that a strict adherence to the Orff approach might limit experiences with popular music
  • Approaches to learning more about popular music to assist in pedagogy

You can download a copy of the article.

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