This week, Kathryn and Theresa spoke with Ryan Diefenderfer about his experiences implementing the Orpheus approach with his high school ensembles. Ryan works at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Arizona, teaching the marching band, concert band, orchestra, chamber ensembles, and jazz band. He is also working on a master’s degree at Arizona State University and was recently named a quarterfinalist for the 2024 Grammy Music Educator Award

Episode 49: Orpheus in Action: A Student-Led Experience

The Orpheus Approach

The Orpheus approach is inspired by the New York based professional Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, founded in 1972. Orpheus is a conductorless orchestra, which means the ensemble members make all decisions, including planning, repertoire, rehearsals, and even member selection. 

Throughout the interview, Ryan shares how he first learned about the Orpheus approach and why he felt this would benefit his students at Paradise Valley High School. This includes: 

  • How he first introduced the idea to the student leadership team, before talking to the full ensembles 
  • How Ryan scaffolded the rehearsal process to help students adapt to a student-led ensemble 
  • Suggestions students made throughout the process and how they were implemented
  • What an Orpheus-style performance looks like, and how the clinicians reacted at a concert festival 
  • The students’ perceptions, and what they hope to do moving forward. 

“Find some opportunities for students to solve their own musical problems…If you have a choice between telling students how to direct a musical phrase or letting them do it, let them do it.”

Ryan feels the first step music teachers can take when moving toward an Orpheus-style or student-led ensemble is to find opportunities for students to solve their own musical problems. Students don’t always need the teacher to provide a solution. Be sure to check out the full interview for more inspiration and ideas. It’s available on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. You can also listen right here, on Spotify Podcasts!

Connect with Ryan and lear more about his work: 

Interested in learning more about student ownership in ensembles? Check out these past episodes:

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