A special thanks to Anne Carley of Brasstown Press for contributing this article.
Some Questions and Answers about The Isabel McNeill Carley Orff Essentials Collection
What Are These Books? • The Isabel McNeill Carley Orff Essentials Collection is a four-book uniform edition, created in 2011. Three of the books are fresh new editions of Isabel McNeill Carley’s series, Recorder Improvisation and Technique (a/k/a RIT One, Two and Three). Rooted in the Orff Approach, all three books emphasize ensemble playing, creative improvisation, and the joys of making music. The fourth book is entirely new. Making It Up As You Go – Selected Essays: Writing about Music, Improvisation, and Teaching contains 21 essays by Isabel Carley, newly edited and organized into a collection of her words and wisdom.
What is Recorder Improvisation and Technique? • The RIT series – Books One, Two and Three – is unique. RIT thoroughly melds the Orff Approach with the use of recorder – in improvisation, in ensemble playing, in rhythmic training, in composition. From the beginning, there are songs for the student to play, improvisations to nurture the musical imagination, and ensemble materials to deliver the excitement of rhythmic layering and patterning.
The three RIT books present carefully planned lessons in playing the recorder, learning to improvise, ensemble musicianship and speech, movement and compositional form. The books have been the texts for many Orff Certification Courses in North America and elsewhere and are cited in the American Orff Schulwerk Association's own "Supporting Materials - Sources" for recorder instruction.
The RIT books are vital pedagogical resources for the Orff approach to lifelong music education. They can be used in classroom or lesson settings, for children, teens and adults, because so much of each lesson results from the interactions between teacher and students. The lessons provide a carefully designed framework, intended to be adaptable to each group.
As new notes are introduced, exercises in ear-training and technique precede specific assignments in improvisation. Folk songs and dances and short pieces arranged or composed for recorders and Orff ensemble supplement the exercises.
Isabel Carley’s inventiveness, stepwise approach and thoughtful collection of traditional music from around the world provide teacher and students alike with the roadmap for a fearless exploration of rhythm, listening, playing, notation, improvisation, ensemble, practice, recorder technique, ear training, theory and, most of all, the joy of making music with others.
The 2011 uniform editions of RIT One, Two and Three retain the content of the previous well-known editions, but are completely re-typeset and redesigned, in a larger format, with the addition of more reference materials, a Table of Contents, and an updated, fresh look. Companion materials, including more beginning recorder repertoire, are planned for release later in 2012 as e-books from Brasstown Press.
What is the progression from RIT One through RIT Three? •
RIT One • From simple echo and call-and-response using two notes, RIT One immediately brings teacher and students together in ensemble playing. Improvising comes gradually and naturally as confidence and complexity both increase. By the end of eleven lessons, the notes from low C to high G have been introduced, along with C, G and F pentatonic scales and modes.
Eleven tightly integrated lessons introduce soprano recorder repertoire and technique. Each lesson includes improvised and collaboratively composed exercises, making the process dynamic and spontaneous. Not limited to simple major tonalities, RIT One introduces pentatonic scales, including minor modes.
RIT Two • When RIT Two transposes the fingerings and modes to the alto recorder, students are comfortable with the patterns and adapt easily. The book, an introduction to the alto recorder, is based on the previous pentatonic fingering patterns learned on the soprano. The full major scales (F, C, G, and Bb) are freshly presented through improvisation, innovative exercises, and new repertoire. Extended improvisations, more thickly layered arrangements, and longer compositional forms are explored.
RIT Three • RIT Three shifts freely between alto and soprano recorders, while exploring the riches of musical traditions from around the world. The book explores other diatonic modes for the recorder, concluding with advanced shifting-chord techniques and paraphony (parallel movement) examples. These examples are both historical and improvisatory for the student.
What Is the Role of Improvisation? • Improvisation is the through-line for the three RIT books. By the end of RIT Two, students have astonishingly broad experience with improvisatory techniques drawn from the history of western music as well as world-music traditions. By the end of RIT Three, not only are students skilled recorder players, but they understand compositional forms, and have become confident, inventive improvisers.
What’s in the Essays Book? • Making It Up As You Go – Selected Essays: Writing about Music, Improvisation, and Teaching includes new versions of familiar titles known to many readers of The Orff Echo and the two Orff Re-Echoes volumes, and an important article on hand drum technique first published in Orff Canada’s Ostinato.
Significantly, nearly half the essays are new work, previously unpublished, from Carley’s handwritten manuscripts, typescripts and computer files. Grouped into three sections, Origins, Practicum, and Exhortations, the book provides a wealth of information and opinion from the life of a smart, dedicated, Orff teacher.
Who Was IMC? • As the first American honors graduate of the Orff-Institut in Salzburg (1964), a co-founder of the AOSA (1968), and editor of The Orff Echo for its first fifteen years, Isabel Carley was one of those first-generation North American pioneers who established the Orff approach on this continent.
She taught preschool and school-age children, as well as adults. She wrote, edited and composed extensively, and was an active member of the AOSA. She performed in and led ensembles for early and world music. She taught at Orff certification courses, presented at AOSA, MENC and other conferences, and always advocated for student-centered, creative education. She retired from teaching in 2004, after 40 years in Orff-Schulwerk.
What was Isabel Carley’s vision for the RIT books? • While still in Salzburg, she identified the need for a more integrated approach to using the recorder as an essential part of the learning experience in the Orff classroom. She produced the first editions of the RIT books thereafter, for use in her classes at Barbara Grenoble’s University of Denver Orff certification courses in the 1970’s.
“The emphasis is on playing with the materials of music, on developing musical ideas, just as a composer does. In this way, music comes alive as an immediate and stimulating activity for children. Their participation and their own ideas are being explored and developed. That is why it’s so important to include real choices for the children – and for the teacher, too.” - IMC
What Is It Like To Teach from the RIT Books? • I can say a bit about my own direct experience. Although I used her methods for recorder instruction when I taught private lessons, during the late 1960’s, my first opportunity to really get to know Recorder Improvisation and Technique arrived almost ten years later. I was a junior instructor at the Orff Certification course at the University of Denver in the mid-1970’s led by Barbara Grenoble.
In Denver, beginning with RIT One, I used the book to teach teachers - temporarily students again - a way to introduce recorder and improvisation to their students back home. Some of my pupils were classroom teachers with little or no musical training. Others were quite accomplished musicians. To their credit, they were open-minded enough to trust that a young person like me might have something useful to share with them. More importantly, they came to see how adaptable their new knowledge would be for them.
My mother took another section of the same introductory class, teaching at a more accelerated pace, and with more complex detours along the way. It is a testament to the book itself that both of our classes worked our way to the end of RIT One by the end of the (three-week) Level I course. All three of the RIT books lend themselves to nearly infinite adaptability this way.
The books are structured as short lessons. One lesson can last for multiple class sessions. The keys to getting the most out of an RIT lesson include paying attention, active listening, and trusting the process.
The lessons are already elegantly planned, with plenty of room to expand, or to blast through, depending on available time and resources. What the teacher of an RIT lesson needs is, simply, confidence. Not only are you teaching improvisation, but you are improvising as you go. Relying on a bedrock of meticulous pedagogy in each lesson, you are initiating, responding, listening, trusting, adjusting, and above all, enjoying your interactions with the people in the class. The RIT lessons are effective when the living, breathing, connections among you and your students - whether they are children or experienced adult musicians - have space to develop. I found that the best preparation for a day’s teaching from these books was a good night’s sleep the night before. The more present and open to inspiration I could be, the better the day’s classes would go.
Describing her approach to applying Orff Schulwerk to North American students, Isabel Carley wrote, “I have attempted to construct a new kind of [American] curriculum, one that keeps repeating key activities, but with a difference each time. [This means] new suggestions, new demands, new contexts, new combinations of movement, of speech, song and accompaniments, using body percussion, unpitched percussion, and one or two bar instruments – whatever seems appropriate and the class is ready to play with.”
How Do the RIT Books Fit within the Broader Curriculum? • RIT One focuses entirely on soprano recorder, with speech, movement, Orff instruments and unpitched percussion. RIT Two introduces alto recorder fingerings and repertoire and theory, starting with parallels to soprano recorder fingerings and then immersing more in alto recorder. The emphasis is more on alto recorder in RIT Two, although there are many exercises and pieces to play with parts for both. RIT Three is, completely, intended for people comfortable switching back and forth between the fingerings. Some parts are designated for one or the other instrument, but the book does not favor one or the other. Repertoire in RIT Two and Three covers the full ranges of the C and F recorders.
Can I Teach Myself Recorder with the RIT Books? • Find a partner or small group to use these books. They work with two or more people. So much of each lesson is about listening and interacting, through improvisation and ensemble playing, that it is necessary to have at least one other person working the book with you.
A Personal Note • My connection to each of these books is, well, complicated. I taught from these books during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Then I came to own and operate the publishing company.
Brasstown Press, publisher of the four books in the Isabel McNeill Carley Orff Essentials Collection, was founded by my parents, James and Isabel Carley, in North Carolina in the early 1970’s. When she retired from teaching, my mother asked me to take the reins from my father and her. Since then, my husband and I have owned and operated Brasstown Press. In that capacity I served as editor and publisher for new editions of the three RIT books, and for the collection of essays, published for the first time in 2011.
We began this project of republishing the RIT books, and editing her essays into a companion book, in the spring of 2011, while my mother was alive. We anticipated a relaxed production schedule. That schedule accelerated dramatically in July of 2011, when, shortly after approving the new version of RIT One, just off the presses, Isabel Carley passed away. Through my grief, I saw that the American Orff Schulwerk Association’s annual conference, to be held in Pittsburgh in November 2011, would be the single best opportunity to pay tribute to my mother’s memory and professional contribution to the Schulwerk.
I felt more than ever a responsibility to honor her lifetime of work as a music educator, and make these four important books available, in their updated editions, to be a vibrant representation of her contribution to the Schulwerk in this country. Long story short, we made the deadline, and all four books were out by the fall of 2011. I was very pleased to see four stacks of books on display at West Music’s store in the exhibition hall at the AOSA conference in Pittsburgh.
These books really are special. I invite you to experience them!