Daphne East Elementary uses grant to purchase Orff instruments, begin ensemble

By Jessica Vaughn
Education Editor
Posted 2/21/22

DAPHNE — Students at Daphne East Elementary are learning about cultures and teamwork through a new kind of music.Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the State Department of Education as part of the …

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Daphne East Elementary uses grant to purchase Orff instruments, begin ensemble


DAPHNE — Students at Daphne East Elementary are learning about cultures and teamwork through a new kind of music.

Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the State Department of Education as part of the Alabama Arts Education Initiative, the school has purchased special xylophones called Orff instruments that the students are using to learn Zimbabwean music.

Before they leave the school, almost every student will have the chance to play the Orff instruments, said music teacher Jason Jackson, while fourth and fifth graders have the opportunity to audition to become part of the school's new Orff Ensemble.

"I have some fairly extensive training in Orff-Schulwerk, which is an approach to teaching music to kids," he said.

Jackson has spent 13 years in education, and has worked as a high school band director, elementary music teacher, and everything in between. This marks his second year at Daphne East, and the introduction year of Orff instruments to students.

What makes Orff instruments unique is the ability to remove keys that are not needed for the current piece. When working with kindergarten students, only two keys might be left on the instrument for them to play, Jackson said. As students learn notes and continue to advance in music class, they will eventually have all the keys memorized and no longer need to remove any.

Jackson teaches music students in the style of the traditional marimba music of the Shona people in Zimbabwe. The Orff Ensemble is also hard at work practicing these songs to play in the community at future events.

"I went the route of Zimbabwean marimba sound and those types of music because it's exciting and it's fun and very kid-friendly and approachable," Jackson said. "It's a lot of repetitive patterns, so once you get it down, you can remember it. But even though it's repetitive you can still play with different parts, when who's playing and who's not playing, and you can weave things in and out and add other instruments to give it a little more variety."

While Jackson is extremely excited about the ability to create the ensemble, he's equally excited to introduce every Daphne East student to the Orff instruments, and the Orff-Schulwerk method of teaching.

"It's very child-centered, and you're taking the ideas that the students are giving you so that whatever you're coming up with is theirs. Creativity is the keystone of everything about Orff-Schulwerk, and that's the kids' creativity, not mine," Jackson said.

Recent lessons have included playing a song without words or a title and asking the students to describe how the music made them feel, what they felt the song was about and creating new songs to play.

"My job is not really to be the teacher or the 'sage on the stage,' but the facilitator of their ideas and helping them organize and make something of what they've got," Jackson added. "Creativity is something that is deeply important to me, and it breaks my heart a little bit whenever I hear somebody say, 'I'm not creative.' Because yes you are, you just don't know, you just need somebody to help you pull it out of you. And I feel like today especially, there's so much technology and so much screen time and a list of things to do, everything is so scheduled, and you don't have time to just play. So, creativity and play, I'm very passionate about those."

The music lessons serve another purpose too - taking a moment to discuss the origins of the music being played. While the Ensemble focuses heavily on Zimbabwean inspired songs, students have also been introduced to Japanese and Spanish music. Jackson's class has discussed African culture and how deeply important music and community is, and Jackson plans to keep the lessons flowing.

"Music is an open book for cultures," he said. "Every culture has some type of music, vocal or instrumental or both. When you focus on these cultures, you're putting the book to the kids who might be from those cultures, and just to see those kids sit up a little straighter like, 'I know about that,' and then I make a point to call on those kids to help me, correct me if I'm wrong, tell me when I'm not saying something right, and the light bulb just clicks on for them and it makes it all worth it."

Jackson is hoping to schedule concerts in the community for the Orff Ensemble in the future. The group made their premiere at the school's Christmas concert last year. Every year, auditions will be held for fourth and fifth graders interested in joining the group.

"I love it," said ensemble member Hannah Rheliff. "My sister has always liked music too. She plays a ukulele, and I just joined this year because I love music. It's been really fun; I like learning more notes."

While the ensemble will likely stay at around 20 student members, Jackson has written an additional grant and is hoping to hear good news in the future. If awarded, the music department will be able to purchase additional instruments for students.

"Even though our grant project is not yet complete, I have already witnessed students' excitement build and develop into our own little family here in the music room," Jackson said. "Students who are typically quiet and more reserved and introverted in their general classrooms come to our rehearsals bubbling with energy and a sense of belonging. I have witnessed several students shift from being quiet and non-social to being exceptionally strong leaders in our group, nailing their parts every time, helping others when they struggle, and staying after to clean up. Providing these students this special space to belong has been a joy to experience. Students show up to the music room during playground time on Fridays, before school hours, and will often drop by during the day to ask if they can come inside to practice. Getting them to leave and head back to class sometimes becomes an issue."