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Jacques Dalcroze

Background to Dalcroze Eurhythmics

 

DALCROZE EURHYTHMICS, developed by the Swiss composer-educator-per

Dalcroze01former, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, is a musical-pedagogical education based on the relationship between music and movement of the body. It involves the integration of rhythmic study through movement and ear training, singing and listening, and the exploration of musical language through improvisation.

The principal techniques are practical and experiential, but the training also draws on a body of aesthetic and educational theories. The goal of Dalcroze training is the development of an accomplished musician who is a performer and also a skilled teacher.

 

JAQUES-DALCROZE described his method for teaching music to children as follows:

“The object of my method is to establish an intimate correlation between the functions of our body and those of our mind, to make the child understand himself, to develop his faculties of concentration, energy and judgement, to make him conscious of his innate rhythms, to teach him to put into action that which he conceives and not to conceive anything which he cannot act upon. It seeks to make the child conscious of his personality, to lead him imperceptibly to be his natural self, to free himself from the conventions of fashion.”

 

Dalcroze Eurhythmics

Dalcroze Eurhythmics is a unique approach to Music Education. It is based on the premise that the human body is the source of all musical ideas. Physical awareness or kinaesthetic intelligence is one of our most powerful senses, yet it is often taken for granted. We use it in everyday situations to keep our balance, judge distances, and manipulate the objects around us. In a similar way, we must move with flexibility, fluidity, and economy in order to play a musical instrument with both passion and skill. Dalcroze Eurhythmics allows us to gain a practical, physical experience of music before we theorise and perform. This ensures that the whole person (not just the fingers and the brain) is educated in the development of musicianship and artistry.

Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) was a Swiss composer and pianist. In the early years of the twentieth century, he began to research the effect of human movement on musical perception, and the impact of musical elements on movement technique. He called his approach to Music Education, Eurhythmics. It means, literally, “good rhythm”.

His work developed and gained widespread acclaim in the period immediately prior to World War I. Artists in theatre, dance, and visual forms began to attend his classes. The demonstration lessons he gave in Germany attracted professionals in fields such as physiology and psychology. In this period, Jaques-Dalcroze’s followers and supporters included Stanislavski, pioneer of modern theatre; George Bernard Shaw, British writer and critic; Marie Rambert, choreographer and founder of Ballet Rambert; and Adolphe Appia, visionary stage designer. Clearly, Dalcroze Eurhythmics had made a major impact in fields beyond Music Education.

Today, Dalcroze Eurhythmics still attracts high-calibre performers due to its emphasis on educating the “whole person”. It also earns credit as a mechanism for cross-fertilisation between artforms. Prominent figures include the American composer and performance artist, Meredith Monk, who studied at Steinway Hall in New York. The British pop singer, Annie Lennox, studied at the London School (she even named her band Eurythmics).

Dalcroze Eurhythmics provides a concrete approach (movement) to an abstract art (music). In learning about time, space, energy, weight, and balance through movement, we develop a framework with which to approach the same elements in music. Movement is a universal and fundamental human experience. If its impact in everyday situations is the creative well-spring of the composer, then human movement is the point of entry to the deepest level of musical comprehension.

Dalcroze Eurhythmics has a three-part structure, consisting of Rhythmics, Solfège, and Improvisation.

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Rhythmics

Rhythmics classes

engage the whole body in the physical exploration of musical rhythm, melody, harmony, form, etc. This involves locomotion (moving through space) and gesture (while stationary). Our bodies gain a physical memory of moving to music. Rhythmic exercises refine body memory in terms of technical accuracy and artistic sensibility. It is this refinement of our physical memory that will ultimately inform and improve our instrumental and vocal performance. Rhythmics classes examine the relationship between time, space, and energy in music and movement. They focus on technical mastery of rhythmic ideas found in various musical repertoires, uniting the technical and expressive components of performance. In Rhythmics classes, technique becomes the vehicle for musical expression.

 

Solfège

Solfège is the European term for the study of pitch through ear training and sight-singing. Jaques-Dalcroze sought to enliven such studies by incorporating concepts of rhythm and space. In this way, the duration of pitches, and the distances between them, can be studied in tandem with the pitches themselves. This is known as Rhythmic Solfège. Jaques-Dalcroze’s concern for producing a flexible performer is reflected in his exercises for teaching keys and scales. Known as the Dalcroze Scales, they train the ear and voice to begin any scale somewhere other than the most obvious, fundamental note (the tonic). Considering the extent to which late nineteenth-century harmony strayed from the tonic, he saw this as an invaluable skill for theoretical analysis, and performance adaptability. This is still the case, today.

 

Improvisation

Communicating and teaching musical material through an instrument tests the flexibility, fluidity, and economy of the Dalcroze-trained musician. Improvisation classes involve the presentation of a particular musical idea, using all the means at the disposal of a composer, instantaneously. For example: play or sing a theme which contains mixed meter, features a tritone in the melody, and can be sung in canon. This capability is the foundation of the Dalcroze teacher’s Art. As a class of students move through space, the teacher gives musical cues with the piano, the voice, or a percussion instrument. Such stimulus engages the ear, and makes us want to move. High-quality stimulus cultivates technical accuracy and artistic sensibility. Concern for the physical origins of music has a profound effect on the Dalcroze-trained performer. Improvisation provides the aesthetic and kinaesthetic building blocks for quality music making.

Dalcroze Eurhythmics has no political or religious affiliations, and should not be confused with Rudolf Steiner’s Eurhythmie.
© Andrew Davidson 1998

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