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American Orff-Schulwerk Association Founding Members
Isabel McNeill Carley
by Esther Gray*
For Isabel Carley, who edited the AOSA Orff Echo for 15 years and transformed it from a slick newsletter to a professional journal, and for whom our AOSA library is named, Orff Schulwerk began with a mysterious German book and a xylophone. As Isabel recounted the story, German friends who lived in the U.S. returned from European travels during the late 1950’s with an alto xylophone and a copy of Volume I of the German edition of Music for Children. At that time in Indianapolis Isabel maintained a private music studio where she taught three levels of music classes for children along with private recorder and piano lessons and adult recorder classes. She, her husband James, and their three children performed regularly as the Carley Consort. The Schulwerk was largely unknown in the U.S.
Isabel found her friends’ xylophone and book "both perplexing and tantalizing." She ordered a copy of the book for close study. When she read an announcement for the 1962 Toronto Orff Schulwerk course, she enrolled. The two weeks of classes with an Orff conference sandwiched between them excited Isabel. Decades later she remembered sessions vividly. Carl Orff, Gunild Keetman, Wilhelm Keller, Barbara Haselbach and Lotte Flach had come from Europe to teach along with Arnold Walter, Director of the School of Music at the University of Toronto, and Doreen Hall of the Toronto faculty. Isabel met colleagues in Toronto who later became leaders of what she referred to as "the Orff movement."
The Orff emphasis on ensemble attracted Isabel. She was fascinated by the rhythm instruments, the unfamiliar barred instruments, and rhythmic training with speech. In particular, supporting the valuable learning that can come from improvisation appealed to her. She returned to Indiana determined to teach music with Orff instruments instead of piano.
Drawing upon her college German, Isabel spent the year 1963-64 studying at the Salzburg, Austria, Mozarteum’s Orff Institute, the first year of its existence. She participated in 36 hours of classes weekly, three daily hours of movement, nothing in English. She recalled that among other faculty Orff and Keetman taught the group from time to time. Isabel was grateful to have private composition lessons from Carl Orff by his invitation. She completed the elements of the three-year teacher education program of the Orff Institute in one year and earned her certificate with honors.
Isabel has taught countless workshops, AOSA conference presentations, and summer Orff certification courses, including 12 summers at Denver University and five summers at the Florida State University Orff program, which she directed. She is especially known for recorder, for her work with Orff improvisation and arranging, and for her instruction using traditional American and British folk sources for modal music, rhythmic speech, and children’s music/movement games. She has published Orff instructional materials including a unique series of books for teaching recorder through improvisation, Recorder Improvisation and Technique (Brasstown Press), as well as recorder consort music, piano music for children, anthems for junior and youth choirs, solo suites for recorder and piano, and original suites for recorder ensembles. Her editorial essays about Orff Schulwerk that appeared in the Echo over the years raise timeless issues about the theory and pedagogy of the Orff approach. Many of them can be read in Volumes I and II of Orff ReEchos: Selections from the Orff Echo and the Supplements (1977 & 1985), which Isabel and the Echo editorial committee edited.
Osterby, Patricia. Orff Schulwerk in North America, 1955-1969.Ed.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1988.
*Esther Cappon Gray teaches Literacy Studies as an associate professor in the Special Education and Literacy Studies Department of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She was one of the founders of the Kansas Orff Chapter, and served eight years on the Editorial Board of The Orff Echo. She earned her Orff Schulwerk teaching certification at Denver University, and completed a doctorate in Language Education with a minor in Music Education at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. She currently serves on the AOSA History Committee and is writing a historical book about the development of Orff Schulwerk.
Our mission is: to demonstrate the value of Orff Schulwerk and promote its widespread use; to support the professional development of our members; and to inspire and advocate for the creative potential of all learners.