“Step the beat!” “Move to the music!” These commands are examples of what one may hear during the first couple of minutes of a Eurhythmics lesson. While they may seem a bit strange for a music student trained in a more conventional tradition, these simple instructions can make a huge difference for aspiring musicians.
To an outsider, a Eurhythmics class may look like a dance lesson. Students are barefoot, stepping, skipping running, moving their arms up in the air, making gestures, and clapping – everything happening while someone plays the piano. But don’t fool yourself; the movement is all about the music!
The teacher improvises on the piano so the students can move to a pattern, meter, phrase or other element in the music – it’s all part of a plan to help students fully experience and understand a musical subject. At a given point, both the teacher and the students discuss the theory behind the exercises, and the proper musical notation is written. Through body movement, the mind learns, analyses and understands. From basic movement such as walking, participants learn about the weight transfer found in the concept of beats. More “complicated” movement, such as skipping or waltzing, bring compound meter to life. Virtually all musical elements can be interpreted by the body in physical space: durations, dynamics, pitch, meters, tempo, moods, phrases, etc.
In a Eurhythmics lesson, the whole body must be aware, listening and responding to the musical signals around it. These body movements are an essential part of how to feel and internalize those musical concepts, so that later, the music can be naturally performed and understood. The entire process leads to a performance that is truly in touch with its musical meanings. The human body is the primary musical instrument, regardless of which instrument one plays. We need to be able to really feel the music inside our body in order to properly play an instrument or sing.
As a choir director and singer, I work with amateur choirs that decided to add scenic elements to their live appearances. The groups perform Brazilian folk and popular repertoire. The Dalcroze experience has helped me to better lead rehearsals and performances. The aforementioned exercises and philosophy have been extremely useful to further develop the overall musicality and “feeling” of the music of the groups.
Sometimes, the choir members have to move from one point of the stage to another while walking the beat and singing a tune at the same time; other times, a group might use gestures to enact a phrase or verse of a song during a performance. The choirs sing three or four-part arrangements, and it is very common for these types of arrangements to have complementary rhythms pattern between the lines. This sometimes can be a little hard for nonprofessional singers to execute if they don not feel the right moment to join. Eurhythmics helps to make this happen.
Some of the exercises can also be used to prepare the groups for rehearsal of a piece, especially when practicing difficult sections. Choir members can step the beat or its subdivisions and move through the meter of the music in question; they can become accustomed to intricate musical patterns by clapping them, first separately and then together; they can work on the complementary rhythms between the parts by moving and gesturing to one another. If there are background vocals in harmony to a leading melodic line, they can gesture the length of a long or short note and perceive how the harmonic rhythm works throughout the piece.
The Eurhythmics experience provides tools that allow people to easily comprehend the ideas of the music, its notation and its meanings. Eurhythmics contributes to better musicianship and artistic appreciation. As these musical concepts are internalized, they can be properly transformed in beautiful and pleasant performances and spectacles. Thus, music can fulfill its purpose as a form of art that truly expresses the deepest emotions of life.
(Article published in the American Dalcroze Journal – Dalcroze Society of America, Volume 34, Number 2 – Spring 2008, as a 2007 DSA Memorial Scholarship Recipient)