Choir director teaches music through self-directed learning

By Zach Armstrong

PRINCE GEORGE, Va -- J.E.J. Moore Middle School Choir Director David Dockan teaches music to Prince George students through self-directed learning with the Orff and an informal music approach.

The Orff Approach is a developmental method used in music education that allows students to learn musical concepts and develop their musicianship through speech exercises, improvisation, and movement. The approach dates back to the 1920s when German composer Carl Off developed it alongside his colleague Gunild Keetman.

“We're living in an age where the model of teaching isn’t just a teacher telling a student how to do things, it's more about finding answers for ourselves through research or creating” said Dockan. “This allows students to have a more in-depth understanding of how music works,”

In a way of combining the Orff and an informal learning approach, students will tell Dockan what songs they currently enjoy and will learn how to play that song on instruments along with Dockan.

“It’s fun to see them practicing because they want to get something right not because I want them to get something right,” said Dockan. “It sort of opens up the floodgates of creativity rather than limiting a student’s creative abilities,”

In a release, Dockan said "For Informal Music Learning, I ask my kids what they're listening to, what's on the radio, or what's their earworm. Then I use that to guide what types of music I will use with them. One of my favorites was "Happier" by Marshmello, which we took and put it onto xylophones. They created an accompaniment and played the melody all around it."

Dockan joined the Prince George County Public Schools in 2016 teaching at North Elementary before moving to Moore Middle. He continued his education during the summers, studying the Orff Approach at Rochester, New York's Eastman School of Music en route to Orff Schulwerk certification. From there, he earned his Master's in music education from Ohio's Kent State University.

He attended West Virginia University for music education. While there, he was a student conductor and led choirs, and was a section leader in the marching band.

“I just love seeing the joy that music brings people and when I’m performing I don’t have to worry about anything that's going on,” said Dockan. “Music has given me so many opportunities and I just want to spread that love and opportunity to other students,”