I vaguely recall, when, as a kid, I was dropped off at the Vancouver Academy of Music for my ballet lessons, wondering what the “Orff” program was. I know they were classes in some kind of method for kids. I knew the Academy offered Suzuki lessons too (where very young violin students learn to play before reading), which sounded like a cult to this hard core, music-reading piano student. I figured the Orff program was some interpretive “music and movement” thing for kids. It wasn’t until later I learned the Orff method involved the unity of arts including tone, dance, poetry, image, design, and theatrical gesture. I would have loved it.
Orff’s HUGE claim to fame, though, was his “Carmina Burana”. You’ve heard it before. Any big, sweeping, heroic movie involving horses, spears, battle scenes, tragic love scenes, rescuing of helpless damsels in distress, the overturning of the king, etc. etc. – this music is used. It has also been used in a humorous fashion, to exaggerate something, like a kid approaching his dad to confess he broke the living room window.
I actually got to sing in this crazy piece. “Carmina Burana”, a “scenic cantata”, is based on 13th century poetry, written in Latin and early German, full of primal force and energy. It must have been either when I was at UBC or in the Vancouver Cantata Singers, both lead by choral conductor James Fankhauser. “Fank” as he was known, seemed to sprout extra pairs of arms to cue every voice in the choir. I remember the stage was packed, it was hot, and I had to be peeled off the ceiling when I first heard the THWACK of the bass drum behind me – never had I sang so close to a symphony drum before. It is one thing to hear a huge work from the stage, where the blend is better, and quite another to be in the throng of it, hearing your neighbours’ individual voices around you while being right there with the orchestra going at it (which most choir singers don’t experience often) … and then hearing all kinds of drum whacks going on behind you. It’s like being caught up in a terrific current, only to be tossed over the edge into the waterfall. Honestly, it made me want to run wild in the woods, naked, screaming like a banshee … which er, um, is the exact nature of this music.
If you ever need to psyche yourself up for something big – be it a sports tournament, facing your in-laws, getting your cat into the carrier, or a date with a really cute person … this is THE music to play first.
A segment of Carmina Burana as used in the 2004 film, “Troy”.
Carl Orff was born July 10, 1895, in Munich Germany, and died March 29, 1982 in Andechs, Germany.