Links between my composition, the Orff formula and early Baroque music.
What is the Orff Approach?
Well, according to Estrella (2019), the Orff formula is a “method of teaching children about music that engages their mind and body through a mixture of singing, dancing, acting and playing through the use of percussion instruments. For instance, the Orff method often uses instruments like xylophones, metallophones and glockenspiels. Improvisation, composition and a child’s natural sense of play are encouraged in the Orff approach.”
When I first read this from Estrella, I immediately thought of various repertoires from the early Baroque period that could be taught rote, sung, danced and played. In particular, early French baroque music such as the minuet, sarabande, gigue, gavotte etc. (types of music that are associated with dances) has given me an idea of how to create my own composition.
From the early Baroque period, it was known that composers composed a simple bass line first (with figured bass) and later composed the melody on top. But why was this the case and not the other way around?
According to David Schulenberg (1984), written out figured bass figures (indication on what notes of the chord you had to play) in the Baroque era was considered to be functional harmonies or “foundation pillars/ building blocks” in music. On the other hand, the melody was seen to be “the icing on the cake” which were supported and guided by the chords of the bass which created a homophonic texture. The importance of the role of the bass in composition and in performances can be seen in various treatises of the time such as C. P. E Bach’s The Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments.
What did I take from this into my original composition?
After my research, I started to use the same process as was suggested in CPE Bach’s treatise. Hence, my compositional process turned out to be:
- Compose a bass line (French bourdon- drone)- 3 simple chords, no more than an octave range
- Filling out the chord (harmony)- Using notes that are not too high and not too low, faster rhythmic values e.g. minims and crotchets compared to the tied dotted minims in the bass.
- Compose the melody (that is suitable to our vocal range)- use short phrases that can be sung and played in one breath.
- Compose the percussion section- composed 3 different rhythmic patterns that could be performed and transferred from body percussion and to instruments. (Clap= castanets -> high hat, Patschen= claves ->snare, Stomp= djembe -> bass drum)
I wanted to start section A with a bold and heroic statement with a well supported constant G drone in the bass. This statement was achieved by beginning the section with ‘f’ in all the parts with a rhythmically driving percussion section.
Here, I wanted to change the effect/ mood of the piece to a calm and cantabile style. This was achieved through the use of rhythmic unison. This created a homophonic texture which silenced the bold and grand style of section A. In addition to this, I also wanted to explore a different structure within the section. In this case, I’ve chosen to do a 2 bar phrase call and response pattern between all the parts. Through this, I found that each part had a turn in playing the melody and the supporting line. In addition to this, the layering of the call and response patterns from the highest to lowest instrumental lines seemed to have flowed smoothly into the next section in a logical manner.
In this section, I incorporated 3 elements of surprises). Tempo, time signature and articulation changes. From a moderate simple triple tempo to a sudden change in compound duple time, this section gave a hectic and almost ‘technology malfunctioning’ feel to it. In addition to this, the sudden fast quaver pulse and the displaced accent in the 2nd harmony part was exciting and interesting. It got students who were playing harmony 2 to play a crucial role in not only keeping the beat together but also creating interest by agitating the other players in the band/ ensemble through their unexpected accents. (It also gets them to take the music home and practice the part because it’s challenging!).
Section D (improvisation):
It wasn’t until I composed section D that I realised that section C was going to be the climax in this piece. To admit, I would have to say that getting back to Section D in a smooth and logical way was the most challenging part in composing this piece. This is mainly because I wanted Section D to return to a happy and light character. This problem was solved by placing harmony 2 and various chordal instruments to play the oom- pa- pa rhythm while the bass sustained and alternated from 2 notes (C and G). I found that students could aurally distinguish and hear the repetitve nature of the harmonic line and base their improvisation on top of it a little better without feeling like some parts were missing.
“The circling of the tonic and dominant chords and the various moods it surpasses gave its name, the ‘Merry go round.'”
Relation to Orff?
Through this process, I later realised that my composition had further connections to early Baroque music and Orff!
- Rhythm (percussion)- The dancer’s rhythmic footsteps can be transferred to body percussion then to percussion instruments! Students explore movement and enhance their motor skills.
- Short bar phrases- This can be taught phrase by phrase and through imitation- aural/ rote learning.
- Pentatonic with occasional B’s (no F’s)- Using the notes of the pentatonic scale helps students to not worry about “sounding bad” and being unsure of what notes to play. John Paynter’s Creative Movement emphasises that providing students with various resources (in this case the improvisation note chart) decreases anxiety and enhances student’s confidence and creativity.
- Singing in letter names to transferring it over to a xylophone/ metallophone/ glockenspiel (letter names are carved on each of the blocks). Students will know which notes to play on the instruments because they have rote learnt the piece by singing, moving and playing.
- Articulation (expressive techniques)- students experiment with their instrument and try out various sounds it can make. Students quickly learn that by playing the instrument differently, a different effect/ mood is created in the music. e.g. staccatos vs. legato passages
Also, you get to play the composition on your OWN instruments! (not just ORFF)
Please check out my composition in the link below and click the like button!
Hope to hear from all of you soon!
Estrella, E. (2019, January 24). How the Orff Approach Is Used to Teach Children Music. Retrieved from https://www.liveabout.com/the-orff-approach-2456422
Paynter, J. and P. Aston (1970). Sound and Silence: Classroom Projects in Creative Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schulenberg, D. (1984). Composition before Rameau: Harmony, Figured Bass, and Style in the Baroque. College Music Symposium,24(2), 130-148. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40373749