2. Dalcroze and Arts
“I look forward to a system of musical education in which the body itself shall play the role of intermediary between sounds and thought, becoming in time the direct medium of our feelings…The child will thus be taught at school not only to sing, listen carefully, and keep time, but also to move and think accurately and rhythmically. One might commence by regulating the mechanisms of walking, and from thence proceed to ally vocal movements with gestures of the whole body. That would constitute at once instruction in rhythm and education by rhythm.”
(E. J. Dalcroze – “The Place of Ear-training in Musical Education” (1898) – in Rhythm, Music and Education – pages 4 -5)
Dalcroze Eurhythmics can be defined as a method of teaching music using natural body movements with its roots based in the work developed by Swiss music educator Emile Jaques-Dalcroze in the beginning of the 20th century. In essence, this method derives from the concept that the human body possesses all the ingredients necessary to understand the musical phenomena; the natural movements, as a reaction to the listening activities, are the basis for the study of rhythm and the connections that occur between body and mind can help one better understand music theory.
As a student of the Dalcroze method, and while participating in, and observing eurhythmics classes, I can clearly see the results accomplished by this work. The basic organic movement of walking, for example, is transformed into the concept of “beat”. All musical subjects can be first experienced in the body, and then translated into more abstracted ideas such as pulses, subdivisions, meters, phrases, patterns, etc. In the end, notation is also organically presented, in what teachers call the “Chalk Talk”, where the student replicates the sound of the music just experienced on the black board with the use of a piece of chalk. Those marks then become note heads, and complete figures, bringing the whole reading experience to life.
In a Dalcroze Eurhythmics class, it all starts with a “game”, where all the senses come to “play”. The students must use attentive listening, quick body responses and mind awareness, without necessarily “thinking too much”. The analyzing part of the process will come at its proper time. It is an education for the whole being.
The music used for the activities can be pre-recorded, but most of the times the teacher is improvising at the piano, while giving the students the initial aural directions. This improvised music is altered by the natural feedback from the students, with all its nuances, as the teacher watches and gets news ideas from them, in a constant collective composition.
Also parts of the Dalcroze training are the disciplines of Solfège and Improvisation.
Solfège is an approach to singing and ear-training that uses the Do-to-Do Scales to emphasize the functionality of each scale tone. In the Dalcroze Solfège, the fixed Do has a different tendency in each scale and the student is trained to recognize the characteristic half steps relationships in a certain tonality.
Improvisation is a major character in the Dalcroze world. From the beginning the teacher is always improvising so that the students can move, either at the piano or on other instruments. In the movement itself, there are no other specific rules to be followed but to let the music guide the body. Consequently, the student is free to improvise with body movements to feel what best adjusts to the music being heard. The same freedom of ideas can be used in improvising on the instruments, such as clapping or using percussion instruments, for example.
The study of Improvisation is seen as a necessary element and a contributing factor in all-around musicianship. It is inter-related with the other studies of ear-training and body movements. (Spector , I – Rhythm and Life, The work of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze)
The origins of the Eurhythmics system of music education are attributed to the fact that Dalcroze “became frustrated with the lack of musical connection his students had with their harmony assignments. Many were unable to hear what they had written and viewed harmony as purely mathematical and intellectual endeavor.” (Tucker, M – handout 2003). A hundred years later, and the same complaints are heard from different musicians from different parts of the world. My own experience prior to my Dalcroze studies, for example, attests to this technical and mechanical musical education format.
“I like joy, for it is life. I preach joy, for it alone gives the power of creating useful and lasting work.”
(E. J. Dalcroze – “Lecture at Leipzig – Dec 10, 1911”, in The Eurhythmics of Jaques-Dalcroze – 3rd Revised Edition – 1920)
Jaques-Dalcroze was also intrigued at his time by the same lack of connection between body movement and music from some performers and dancers. As a complete artist, he was interested in the other areas and persons of the field like Isadora Duncan, Piet Mondrian, Adolphe Appia. Appia saw in the public demonstrations of the new “rhythmique of Jaques-Dalcroze (…) the living germ of a dramatic art. Here the music, without further isolating the body in illusory splendor (at least during the performance, and without serving it), directs toward an exteriority in space which confers upon it the very first rank and supreme scenic expression to which all other factors are subordinate (…) Beauty is not its objective but its result”. (Spector , I – Rhythm and Life, The work of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze)
Apart from all the musical accomplishments a person can achieve in the Dalcroze Training (deep musical experience and understanding), one of the aspects that often comes to my mind is the artistic beauty of the lessons. The Eurhythmics lesson combines body movement, a group of people dancing together, aural perception and beautiful music, communication with others, creative and plastic use of the space with shapes and different explorations by the individuals and by the group of people, and visual delight. Frequently, the teachers ask the students to work in groups, and then they divide the class into performers and audience, so one group can watch the other. This experience has its pedagogical and comparative effect: how the other groups solved the same problem in different ways; and also an artistic effect: it is like watching a complete performance!
All united by the musical element and its quality of flow, the way music travels. (Alperson, R – “A Qualitative Study of Dalcroze Eurhythmics Classes for Adults” – 1995)