Summer Teacher Training

circlegroupSummer break for teachers can be a time to try something new, to challenge themselves musically, and to grow their teaching skills.  Many music teachers are inspired to take  an Orff Schulwerk course.  There are three “Levels” of courses, each of which introduces new materials.  When I took these summer courses years ago, it was a life changing moment.  I rediscovered the spark that had connected me to teaching music in the first place; I found a way to nurture creativity in both myself and in my students; and I found a community of like-minded teachers who became my friends and colleagues over the years.

This summer I taught Level I courses in the Denver area and in Los Angeles.  One student in the LA course posted a reflection on her blog.  With her permission I am re-posting it here.  For anyone who is curious about what the Orff Schulwerk Levels training is all about, this is recommended reading.

~ Liz

Click HERE for the article.


Life is precious and mysterious.  Everything passes.  Only light, love and beauty endure.  In this holiday season I had the thought to share this video by Louie Schwartzberg.  I’ve watched it numerous times, and it always brings me back to a place of gratitude.  Happy Holidays to one and all.


Creativity & Health

“If I’m not creative, I get sick.”

I heard this provocative statement a few days ago at the American Orff-Schulwerk Association National Conference. Eleven hundred music teachers gathered this week in St. Louis for an intense schedule of workshops, concerts and evening folk dancing. These annual conferences are great opportunities to see teacher friends from far away and to grab some new ideas and inspiration for teaching.

Mary Alice and Peter Amidon are two of my favorite workshop presenters. They are former classroom teachers who these days devote themselves to community dance and song writing. They presented a song writing workshop at this years conference. I found that it was great fun to brainstorm rhyming verses and to write some simple melodies to nursery rhymes. I thoroughly enjoyed their workshop, but I was especially struck by the opening story that Peter told. He described how when he first started teaching he was doing a number of creative projects on the side. He noticed that when he was doing the side projects he was healthy and full of vitality. But when he was teaching in the classroom, he was often sick. He finally came to the realization that it was the creativity of the side projects that was making the difference. His personal experience was, that if he wasn’t being creative, he actually got sick.

This is a radical thought that perhaps could be dismissed. But looking at a less extreme version of the idea, it rings true. When I am challenging myself to try new things, when I allow time in my day for curiosity and exploration, when I’m writing or arranging a new piece for my students, I am full of good spirits and good energy. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to see how this positive energy could lead to more well being and yes, even better physical health.

I think about my Dad, who at age 93 is learning new ukelele tunes and taking drawing lessons.  Could this be part of the secret of his longevity and good spirits?

What about you?  Do you feel a release of good energy when you’re involved in new projects and are stretched to create new ideas?  How does creativity affect your health?

~ Liz



“I was under the impression that we were doing all sorts of very creative things in my classroom.  Turns out it was mostly me doing the creating.” 

I’ve just returned home from teaching a two-week “Level One” course.  This is the first course in a three-course summer series that introduces the Orff-Schulwerk process to music teachers.  It is an exhausting and challenging time for everyone.  The experienced music teachers taking the course spend long hours each day singing, dancing, creating, playing xylophones and recorders, discussing, reflecting, composing.  For most, it is an experience of pushing beyond their comfort zone, and of expressing their musicianship in new ways.

I found some common themes in the reflection papers they wrote at the end of the course.  One idea mentioned over and over was that they now were inspired to “get kids beyond imitation and give them the opportunity to create.”  This to me is the core of the Orff-Schulwerk and the main reason I am still playing around with this process after so many years.

What I love about teaching music is not quite knowing where we are going with the materials.  I have a broad plan in place when I begin a project, but am alert to seeing where the energy is going.  It might be that the children are really excited about creating percussion accompaniments.  Another class might be motivated to be more physical, and will want to try out movement ideas.  Excitement is generated when the children are given choices, and when their decisions become part of the project.  The artistry of the teacher is in knowing how much to provide for the children and how much to let them improvise, arrange and compose.  Giving them too much structure boxes them in.  Giving them too little structure leads to chaos.  It can be a messy, but joyful process when we get it just right.  Often it’s useful to look for a balance between form and materials.  If the children are creating the form, then it can work best to provide the materials or create them with the whole class.  If the children are creating the materials, then it usually is a good idea to provide them with a clear form.

Some days of course, we simply gather around the piano and learn a new song.  But certainly in every class there can be opportunities to improvise and to create.  And yes, this is creativity involving not just the teacher, but the students as well.


Privacy and Comfort

I recently have experienced some dramatic personal events.  I lost two family members in close succession, eight days apart.  Because of these family sorrows I traveled back to my home state of Utah three times over a six week period.  I tried to keep my missed teaching days down to a minimum, but my students have seen substitute teachers a number of times in the last month and a half.

Teaching became a place of refuge for me during this difficult time. It felt great to dive into the needs and stories of my students, and to focus on preparing for upcoming programs.  During the school day I felt competent and in control.  My life had a normal flow.

However, in the middle of one class several weeks ago, a Kindergarten girl raised her hand.  “I’m so sorry about your sister,” she said.  I was taken aback.  My sense of safety was challenged, and I felt uncomfortable at best, violated at worst.  I was surprised that this Kindergarten teacher chose to give details of my situation to her class.  At my school the students are all young, Kindergarten to 2nd grade.  It felt misguided to talk about my family, both because of my sense of privacy, and because of the age of the children.

More recently, when I returned to school after the third trip to Utah, I found a tall pile of letters and hand drawn pictures.  The substitute teacher had apparently asked the students in each class, eight classes of about 22 students each, to write me condolence letters.  Ouch!  I know that she meant well, but the thought of my students discussing my personal grief was the opposite of comforting.  I would have been so much happier if the teachers and substitutes, when asked why Ms. Keefe was absent, had said simply, “She’s visiting her family.”

So the question that has surfaced for me is: what are the boundaries of personal and private at a school?  What are the actions that give comfort and what are those that violate privacy?  It’s good to feel the support of colleagues, but which personal issues of a teacher are legitimate areas of conversation with students?  The death of a family member of course is not the only problematic situation.  Perhaps a teacher is seriously ill, or is going through a divorce.  What should students be told?  What are the boundaries?

~ Liz