What is Orff Schulwerk?

Orff Schulwerk was developed by German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) and his colleague, Gunild Keetman (1904-1990). It is an approach to music and movement education that aims to develop the human being through creative, elemental, and engaging activities in music and movement. Active music making is experienced through speech and singing; body percussion; playing melodic and non-melodic percussion instruments; and moving and dancing. These activities are mostly conducted within a group, and with a focus on being artistic and musical.

The Orff educator studies the many processes that can develop a musical idea from the simple to the complex, and to which all may contribute and in which all should experience success. Improvisation is a fundamental part of the process, and the instruments that form part of the Orff instrumentarium (melodic and non-melodic percussion) allow for successful improvisation.

The Orff educator provides musical experiences which not only develop aural, visual, kinaesthetic, and creative skills, but challenges the intellect. The cognitive development of a child is greatly enhanced by a well organised, developmentally structured, and inclusive music program. The child being offered a chance to develop his or her musical potential through Orff Schulwerk is given an opportunity to develop cultural understandings, social interactions, personal well-being, and enhancement of 21st century learning

About Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman

The time after World War 1 was one that was ripe for modern thinkers in Germany. Carl Orff was one of these as was Dorothee Günther, a dancer and choreographer. Sharing a common belief in the symbiosis between music and dance, they formed the Günterschule in Munich in 1924, a centre for teacher education in gymnastics, rhythm, music and dance.

 “As a musician I was interested in trying out a new way of teaching music…this meant that the starting point was an artistic one, rather than a purely educational one”.
– Carl Orff

The Güntherschule offered the chance to delve into new ways of thinking about music and Orff and the students explored and experimented with different sounds, with combinations of music, movement, and drama, and moved away from playing the music of the great masters, to enable the students at the school to create their own music.

Gunild Keetman arrived at the Güntherschule in 1926 as a student. She had been raised in a financially well-off German family and had learnt cello and piano as a child. After she concluded her studies at the Güntherschule she stayed on as a teacher remaining there until 1944. Keetman was composing many of the pieces used for the Güntherschule’s dance troupe that toured Europe to high acclaim, each member playing their own music, and alternating roles between dancer and musician.

Orff’s work with the Güntherschule was brought to international attention following an invitation to present music and dance for the opening of the 1936 Berlin Olympic games.

This resulted in a performance with Keetman conducting the orchestra made up of drums, rattles, bells, tambourines, xylophones and even glasses filled with differing amounts of water tapped with a mallet. One thousand children performed the dances under the direction of Maja Lex, another student turned teacher at the Güntherschule.

Orff became less involved in the Güntherschule as he gained confidence in Keetman’s musical and pedagogical skills, and spent more time on his own composing. In 1937 he presented his most famous work, Carmina Burana. This, along with his other well-known works illustrate his interests of the combination of text, music and dance, supported by rhythm.

The government took over the Güntherschule site in 1944 and the building, instruments and archives were all lost in a bomb attack soon after. All in all, 650 teachers had been trained in elemental music and movement education in the twenty years since its inception.

Orff’s interest in education was renewed when in 1948 he was invited to conduct a series of radio programs for a Bavarian network where music written specifically for children would be played on air. It was called Music for Children—Music by Children. He could see the value in a “music exclusively for children that could be played, sung and danced by them but that could also in a similar way be invented by them—a world of their own”

For the radio programs, Orff again enlisted Keetman.

This meant a new phase in her work. It was she who experimented with pedagogical steps that would ensure success with the children performing. By all accounts she was a wonderful, intuitive teacher who demanded the best from the students through encouraging them to listen to each other and work together as a group to present the performance.

Following the initial radio programs, a television series was created which could unite language and music with movement, something no possible through radio. Once a month on Saturdays from 1957 to 1959 a live broadcast was televised designed for the whole family. It introduced Orff’s daughter Godela as commentator, with Keetman directing the children and explaining the musical themes.

The great amount of attention on what Orff and Keetman were doing with creative music education resulted in The Orff Institute—a place of pedagogical study—being established in 1961 under the auspices of the Mozarteum University, Salzburg.

This Institute now offers courses in German for those interested in becoming creative elemental music and movement educators. It caters for the English-speaking community through a biennial nine-month course, and annual weeklong summer schools, both attended by people from around the world interested in gaining more experience and knowledge about the Schulwerk.

Keetman was to become critical in the development of Orff Schulwerk and without her, it is unlikely that the Schulwerk would be what it is today.

About the Victorian Orff Schulwerk Association

The Victorian Orff Schulwerk Association (VOSA) is a not-for-profit, professional organisation managed by a volunteer committee of music and movement educators who support and engage in the philosophy and principles of the Orff Schulwerk approach to music and movement education. We are united in the belief that learning music through listening, singing, playing, moving, dancing, and creating, should be an active, holistic, and joyful experience.

VOSA is based in Victoria, Australia, and was formed in 1977. This association forms part of the Australian National Council of Orff Schulwerk (ANCOS) and is part of the global Orff Schulwerk community through its affiliation with the International Orff Schulwerk Forum, Salzburg (IOSFS).

The VOSA committee organises regular professional development events, including training courses. We publish regular newsletters for VOSA members, plus provide opportunities to network and be part of discussions on all aspects of music education.

We welcome new members!

VOSA is committed to supporting a diverse and inclusive membership, and supporting the dignity and well-being of all.

For detailed information about membership visit our membership section.

The VOSA Code of Conduct

VOSA has a document outlining clear guidelines for expected behaviours of the committee and its members in relation to activities associated with this organisation.

It provides clear expectations related to VOSA’s mission statement and how we can uphold the integrity of this association.

One of the purposes of our Code of Conduct document is to remove any confusion in the unlikely scenario of misconduct. The VOSA Code of Conduct can be downloaded using the button below.

2022 VOSA Committee Members

Katie Hull-Brown

Vice President
Michelle Mann

Michelle Mann

Leeanne Barber

General Committee

Martina Golding
Dr Beth Rankin
David Rattigan

The VOSA Constitution

VOSA must by law have a governing document that sets out the rules and procedures for how the group will operate.

We are in the process of editing and updating our existing constitution, so until that time we are governed by the ‘Model Rules’ as set out by Consumer Affairs Victoria.

You can download the Model Rules here