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Gunild Keetman and Orff-Schülwerk

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Gunild Keetman (June 5, 1904–December 14, 1990) was a German educator, musician, performer, and composer who was the primary originator of the approach to teaching music known as Orff Schulwerk.  Keetman was born at Elberfeld, Germany, on June 5, 1904, to parents who seriously cultivated music and made sure it was an integral part of their daughter’s life.  Her parents also expected her to get a full education, which included study at the university level. Despite the turbulent times of World War I and the unfortunate restraints placed upon women, she went to the University of Bonn in 1923. She then transferred to the University of Berlin the following year. After struggling for a few years, she finally made what would become a pivotal decision in her life: she enrolled in the Güntherschule in Munich in 1926.  Carl Orff and Dorothee Günther had opened this school in 1924 in Munich.  It was here that Keetman finally found where she belonged and what she wanted to do with her life. She became fully invested in the school and would spend the next 18 years of her life learning, and then eventually teaching at the school.

As a teacher at the Guntherschule, Keetman had primary responsibility for the instrumental work. In 1930 she took leadership of the school’s dance orchestra; her compositions and performances with the Gunther Dance Group were acclaimed in tours across Europe. By 1932 Keetman and Orff had begun their collaboration on the first of an extensive series of books summarizing the kind of music making developed at the Guntherschule, Elemental Music Practice: Pieces for Small Percussion. Keetman produced six more collections of pieces between 1932 and 1934. These were the original Orff-Schulwerk publications.   In 1936 she composed the music and directed the Guntherschule music/dance performance at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games held in Munich. She continued her work at the Guntherschule until 1944, when the German government took control of the school.

In 1945, when Keetman was 41, the Güntherschule was destroyed in an Allied air raid.  It was a result of this event, however, that Keetman turned her writing focus to a significantly younger audience.   She began a struggle for educational reform, as she took the ideas and methods of the Güntherschule and applied them to music and movement education for younger children.   Administrators were not keen on educational reform during this time, so Keetman had the idea of broadcasting her methods by the radio, and later, television. After successfully broadcasting over radio, television, and records, the approach was becoming a success.   From 1949 tp 1956 Keetman taught children at the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria. In 1950, Keetman and Orff wrote the five Music for Children volumes, enabling the approach to reach an international audience.   It was also during this decade that Keetman turned her focus to training teachers at the Orff Schülwerk headquarters in Salzburg. She would continue to teach others to teach in this way until her death.

Keetman’s works are written for the characteristic “Orff instruments.” This includes the glockenspiel, xylophone, metallophone, recorder, and body percussion. The Music for Children volumes are designed to layer all of these instruments, one step at a time, eventually creating a polyphonic ensemble piece to be performed.   These compositions usually consist of basic beat or note patterns, allowing the children flexibility to choose pitches and compositional patterns.  Keetman strongly believe that play is essential to learning, and therefore gave students the opportunity to create anew within the wide boundary of her compositions. She also wrote works for the recorder, as this is another key instrument in the Orff-Schülwerk approach. It was one of her most beloved instruments to play personally, and she did so throughout her years at the Güntherschule. She later applied what she learned there to compose works for Orff-Schülwerk.  Examples from the radio broadcasts were notated and published in the five-volume collection (1950-54) titled Orff-Schulwerk: Musik fur Kinder (Music for Children), with additions in Paralipomena (1966).

These materials serve as models for creating improvisatory elemental music with children in the classroom.  Keetman’s work with teacher training began in 1961 at the establishment of the Orff Institute, which she co-directed until 1966 with Orff and Wilhelm Keller.  Thereafter Keetman, Orff, and others from the Institute traveled extensively – e.g., various European countries, Canada, Japan, Senegal – introducing Orff Schulwerk to potential music teachers through workshops and short courses.  From 1963 to 1975 Keetman co-directed with Orff 10 recordings of music from the Schulwerk volumes, titled Musica Poetica. From 1980 to 1986 she collaborated with Danish teacher and composer Minna Ronnefeld on eight books of musical compositions to be used by Schulwerk teachers.  Keetman died on December 14, 1990, at Breitbrunn, Germany.   Six more books from the collaboration with Ronnefeld were published posthumously.

My collection includes the following works by Gunild Keetman:

Five Kanons and Three Pieces for Flute

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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