So, my Get a Life gap year is over. May was spent trying to work out whether to go back to my job as a primary music specialist in the beautiful Scottish Borders. This proved to be rather an agonising decision. Music is such an important element of the curriculum, giving kids opportunities to explore styles and cultures from around the world, and to express themselves creatively. It is the area that most primary teachers feel least able to teach successfully. After a good day at school I felt as if I'd opened hearts and minds to the wonders of the musical world, laying foundations for a lifetime of participation and enjoyment.
In the end, though, it was obvious what I had to do. This year I have had the opportunity to plan and do things properly, to enjoy working hard but also have time to breathe, and even to get enough sleep sometimes! This has meant that ideas have begun to flow. I’ve been able to explore new avenues of work and have learned a huge amount. Opportunities are opening up, but only because I’ve got time to invest in talking to people. Resigning was hard, but now it’s done I can put all my energy into the future.
Going fully freelance was a good enough excuse to have some new photos taken. What do you think? (With thanks to John Need for his patience and good humour.)
Planning one major project dominated June. After a gestation of nearly 5 years, the piece commissioned by Jean Middlemiss from Sally Beamish for the centenary celebrations of Dalcroze UK will finally be premièred in Glasgow on 27th October. Ring Time is a ten-minute piece for three instruments consisting of several short movements, to be used for Plastique Animée (PA). PA can be defined as a physical realisation of music. Red Note Ensemble will work with three professional dancers to create the first performance of the piece. However, this is just the beginning. The process will be filmed, and the resulting documentary will be part of a Ring Time pack which will be available to Dalcroze practitioners as the basis for projects in Dalcroze or other contexts. Here's the logo, designed by Helen Wyllie.
Dancer and Dalcroze colleague Helen Gould came to Glasgow to run the dancer auditions with me on 14 June. We selected around 20 of the 37 applicants for the workshop audition during which we introduced some Dalcrozian concepts and exercises, then set a task for them to work on in small groups. There was a wonderful energy in the room and we had lots of positive feedback, so much so that we are planning to offer some more workshops for dancers together. It is curious that so few dancers have even heard of Dalcroze. One comment was particularly revealing. “It was very interesting to take the music as the starting point for a choreography.” This sounds ridiculous to musicians, but dance training works in a totally different way to the one we might expect.
The three dancers we appointed are all fabulous, so it’s going to be very exciting. If you’re in Scotland, look out also for Ring Time workshops in Dumfries, Edinburgh and Banchory in November. And tell your friends to come too!
Working with Sally (above) has been a huge bonus and privilege this year.
Other things in the pipeline include a weekend with Mull Mini Music Makers, presenting at the SAME conference, a potential project based on memory and dementia with one of Scotland’s National Arts Companies, and Barefoot Strings – Dalcroze morphing into string playing for youngsters.
Once again, I would like to thank Alison McGillivray and the Trustees for giving me some invaluable time to think. This year has been a turning point. As I write, I am a delegate at the ISME (International Society for Music Education) conference in Glasgow. Today’s plenary by Evelyn Glennie was truly inspirational. Her music and her silences fill the space because she is entirely connected to the here and now. We can all benefit from this kind of focus. Building on what I’ve learned this year, I hope to be able to maintain a pace and attitude that will enable me to experience life to the full, and to create spaces for communication, creativity and mutual learning in my work.
As a thank you for reading this far, here’s a bonus photo of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. (And why not? You can improvise it if you like!)
Hot on the heels of one thought provoking and enriching experience came another. Only now, a few weeks on, have my thoughts distilled enough to write about working on the première of Sally Beamish's A Shakespeare Masque. This is in part due to being home from Malawi for only 24 hours before setting off for rehearsals in Birmingham and Stratford. Quite a culture shock!
Commissioned by Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore in partnership with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Shakespeare Institute, the work is a setting of seven especially written sonnets by Carol Ann Duffy. The brief was to create a Community work to celebrate the 400th anniversary of The Bard's death which would involve adult and children's choirs (there were three of those), audience participation, and a broken consort. No, I didn't know what that was either! The broken bit simply means that there is a mixture of instruments rather than, for example, only recorders. Sally chose to write for viols, a splendid array of lutes, percussion and a versatile recorder player. Some of the adult singers also had to play percussion.
Some of the broken consort. Ruffs and other costumes designed by Nik Corrall.
So what was my involvement? Central to Sally's concept of the piece is that the performers move around the space. She wanted them to move musically, and suggested that I could work with the director, James Farrell, to ensure the effect she was after would be achieved. So, once the geography and routes had been more or less settled, my job was to teach them how to move.
In most cultures, music and dance are inextricably linked. So why is it that when classically trained musicians are asked to move, they are covered in confusion? At the first full choir rehearsal, while Sally, James and I were beginning to see how things might work, singers kept sidling up to me to impress upon me that they had two left feet, would be holding scores and wouldn't be able to dance, wouldn't be able to remember any steps, couldn't possibly sing and move at the same time etc. etc. I knew the latter was nonsense as I'd seen them processing at St John's Smith Square. Obviously, fear and lack of confidence were the enemy here.
Sally's score incorporates several Renaissance dances, and she was keen for the movement to reflect these. I realised that two simple step patterns, used individually and in combination, would cover the " formal" stepping and be dance-like enough to create the impression the composer was after. Once the choir had had a couple of opportunities to practise these, the singers began to realise that I was not asking for the impossible. When encouraged to look into the space around them, they began to realise that stepping in time in a defined way was incredibly effective. The pavan was the most challenging (slow, combined stepping pattern, with some extra beats thrown in occasionally for good measure) but once the panic had subsided they began to enjoy the feeling of moving in sync.
One of the movements (it's that word again...) requires the choirs to speak rhythmically and clap rather than sing. We practised sending the message out with some classic Dalcroze exercises. What a difference!
Led magnificently by Rebecca Ledgard and her Ex Cathedra Vocal Academy team, the children picked up their actions quickly, and enjoyed walking and skipping into their positions like excited children rather than more formally. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.
The première took place in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon on 22 April, the eve of the 400th anniversary of The Bard’s death. The BBC were out in force, broadcasting the concert live on Radio 3 and also streaming video live on their dedicated Shakespeare website. The church was full to brimming and the atmosphere was full of anticipation. Sally was interviewed by Sara Mohr-Peitsch and mentioned how important the movement element was. The performance went very well, with the singers clearly enjoying their added performing responsibilities. The audience buzz suggested that they loved it! For me, taking a bow with James beside Jeffrey, and just before Sally and Carol Ann Duffy were called up, was very special indeed. You can watch it all here at just after 49 minutes.
With Jeffrey Skidmore and James Farrell
Sally Beamish and Carol Ann Duffy with Jeffrey
Celebrations took place in The Duck and later in Carol Ann’s hotel, where the discussions ranged from the importance of librettists to the nature of creativity. Carol Ann’s poems are marvellous, suffused with Shakespeare references and quotes but completely accessible for today and tomorrow’s audiences. I was particularly struck by her description of what she called ‘the silent month’, that is, the gestation period of a new work. Sally’s explanation of how important the sonnets were when she was writing the piece was also moving. However, nothing could shake Carol Ann’s conviction that the evening was Sally’s.
In The Duck
Since then there have been four more performances in a variety of venues. The last one of the run is in Southwell Minster on 28 May at 7.30pm. More info here.
I am so grateful to Sally for persuading Jeffrey to involve me. That she was delighted with the result is thrilling. The experience has opened up a whole range of new possibilities, and has led to some decisions; but more of that later.
Although the trip to visit our dear friends Sophie and Eric in Malawi is incidental to my award, it would be a pity not to write a little about what I learned during our adventure. As we travelled around the country on its never-a-dull-moment roads, there was plenty of opportunity to observe the locals. I was struck by how naturally they all move, without holding tension in their bodies. It is standard for women and children to carry things on their heads. Perhaps this instils good posture? One of the most memorable sights was a line of young women carrying bundles of sticks on their heads, running along the edge of a dirt track and into a field of maize. Sophie managed this photo of the last one.
At the end of the second day of our three-day trek on the Viphya, an area in central Malawi, we camped by a forest school. Some children appeared. When I went to speak to them a small crowd gathered. I asked them to show me their new school building: two rooms with no glass in the windows, dirty concrete floors and a blackboard. Doors were conspicuous by their absence. Although lessons are meant to be taught in English as well as Chichewa, there was a lot of guesswork and sign language going on between us: smile really does go a very long way. Patrick, one of our guides, persuaded them to sing two songs. Eventually I realised that one of them was in English, catching phrases like "our education is important" and "please support our school." I wonder who those words were aimed at? I taught them a bit of Bee Baw Babbity, a Scottish song I use a lot with 4-6 year olds, and they understood enough to be able to divide themselves into lassies and laddies. Their eagerness to learn was striking.
Sophie persuaded them all to dance. They are so happy in their bodies! In fact, although there wasn't a parent or a shoe in sight, they all seemed happy. Salutary. They became a little shy when David offered biscuits, but no sooner had one boy taken a bite, they all laughed and tucked in.
That night was stormy, and we spent most of the night in a tent resembling a swimming pool. However, the children cheered us up no end as we huddled round our breakfast fire, trying to dry out a little, by singing Bee Baw Babbity every time I looked at them.
At Moa Cultural Centre, we were very fortunate to be invited to watch a group of about 30 traditional performers rehearse for a show the following day. Repetitive to the point of being mesmeric, the performers were totally wrapped up in their sequences of song, dance and clapping, changing to the next pattern in total unison. The rhythms and steps were completely embodied. The age range was wide, with some of the younger woman having babies on their backs. There was some drumming too. Although we weren't lucky enough to see them in their traditional costumes, we had seen those in the wee museum. Wow!
David and I have so much to reflect on after our first trip to Africa. We've learned a huge amount about the pace and rhythms of life. Time means something different in hot countries! Getting up with the sun is the only sensible thing to do. I've bought a number of chitenjes to use in my teaching, and the sights and experiences will provide inspiration for a long time.
David and Eric swimming at sunrise, Lake Malawi.
A parting conundrum: Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. 50% of the population is 15 or under. However, these children are generally healthier than children growing up in developed countries as they eat real food and get lots of exercise. They are empowered and trusted. We saw 6 year olds collecting wild mushrooms, and 10 year old boys keeping the goats and scrawny cattle off the road.
And here's the beautiful family we bought three dozen bananas from for 500 kwacha. That's 50 pence. As I said, lots to ponder.
Since January, Saturday afternoons have featured chamber music rehearsals in my house. Musicians amongst you will recognise that playing chamber music is one of the highest of human activities. As a teenager, I was lucky enough to play quartets with friends. This led directly to my decision to study at Manchester University where The Lindsays were resident. Lessons with Peter Cropper and weekly coaching from Ronnie, Roger or Bernard contributed to the fabric of my being.
As a teacher, I want to create chamber music opportunities for my instrumental pupils from as early as possible. Over the years we've had fun with Sheila Nelson 's quartets and trios, and I’ve adapted things as necessary. This year, however, I had time to compose a quartet for a group known as Papa Haydn's All-stars. The Emperor's New Clothes took the theme from the slow movement of Haydn’s op 76 no 3 "The Emperor" as a basis for four new variations, one featuring each player. The trick with junior chamber music is to make a sure that the parts are well within the technical grasp of the players. This way, the focus can be on those musical skills best learned through playing with others: listening, balance, phrasing, and generally feeling the music together. This is where Dalcroze comes in. Inspired by the personalities of the four young musicians, the variations are entitled Katie’s Swing (6/8), Jasper’s Tango, Supercool Susannah (5/4), and Noah the Jazzer. You can imagine the repartee amongst these bright and bubbly 10-12 year olds as I got them to swing, sway, make funny noises etc………..
This year’s other group was a trio of two young pianists and a violinist, known as Canonic Kids. Two of these pupils asked to play Pachelbel’s famous Canon so after a bit of thought, I came up with an arrangement for piano duet and violin. Obviously, the pianist on the lower part couldn’t be stuck with the ground bass for the whole piece, so half way through Aidan had to get grumpy, leave the piano stool, and walk round to take over the top part while Sofia shimmied down the keyboard a motif from the original, while Sandy played the bass line on his violin.
All this takes a lot of commitment from all concerned, including parents, so the deal is that they sit around our table drinking tea and putting the world to rights while I work with the kids. Cake is compulsory. I love the fact that strong connections are made between them too. So, when we all received an email from Mary on the Monday before the performance to say that Susannah had broken her arm badly, the emails of support were flying. Fortunately, the video I’d taken two days before had worked (although a little blurry at first, sorry), and Katie’s big sister Emily, a graduate of this particular chamber music scheme, was able to stand in at the last minute for the performance.The performances took place as part of Perform, our local music festival. These days the (non-competitive) class is simply called Open Chamber Music. It incorporates a few classes, including the Rosie Wilkinson Memorial Chamber Music Class for age 12 and under, which David and I started a few years after we lost our beautiful daughter Rosie aged 4 in 1991. I can’t think of a better way of honouring her memory than by encouraging young people to learn about communication, working together, music and humanity through playing music together. This year was particularly joyful. Wonderful!
My award is leading me in directions I couldn't have anticipated. Having space and time to develop in ways I hadn't considered is enlightening. I was so pleased to meet with Alison McGillivray at the weekend and have the chance to talk some things through. Thank you for your continued support and wise words, Alison; both mean a lot.
I was delighted to be an adjudicator at Fife Festival of Music at the end of January. It was enlightening to be on the other end of such an event for the first time, and to find out how different this festival is from the one I know well in Edinburgh. Hats off to Fife! As well as the string classes, I went on a musical adventure with 40, yes FORTY primary classes who came to Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy to perform. The class was divided into 8 sessions of 5 classes each (phew!) with everything from Primary 1 classes singing action songs to upper primary classes with a sea of xylophones playing smoochy jazz numbers. Some classes came in costume. We learned to expect the unexpected! My task as adjudicator was to congratulate everyone involved and say what I particularly liked. However, the Dalcrozian in me took over so the first thing I did each time was to make all the children stand up and perform movement to illustrate a relevant musical point. Needless to say, the noise level was rather high at times and I did get some funny looks, but they all seemed to enjoy themselves and the teachers were very pleased with this approach.
I was able to do something similar for most of the string classes, bringing participants forward to experience one or two musical points physically. However, the highlight for me was the Community Music Making class; an evening of ten groups ranging from full orchestra to a church band through folk bands and, to my absolute delight, an old fashioned Scottish Dance Band. Most groups included a very wide age range. This kind of music making makes the world a better place. In all seriousness, I was very moved by event and would like to publicly congratulate and thank Graeme Wilson for all his work in nurturing musical activity in Fife and beyond.
As part of my investigation into the connection between music and movement, I enjoyed an evening at Saddler's Wells in London with two Dalcroze friends, Drusilla and Mary. We saw Tanztheater Wuppertal's Like Moss on a Stone. Pina Bausch was an extraordinary artist, creating works which expose the human condition in its many guises. Beautiful, funny, touching and powerful, it was an evening we'll all remember. Thank you, Dru.
At the end of my series of Feldenkrais lessons with Jae Gruenke, my walking is freer and I feel more confident coming down hills and steps, hooray! Alison told me that Feldenkrais himself encouraged practitioners to make the method their own, to take it in their own direction, so I'm looking forward to attending some classes run by others.
Dundee was the venue for my latest training day for the Big Noise musicians, this time for the new recruits from all three centres. What a terrific bunch! It's such a pleasure to work with people who are so interested and open to new ideas.
Dalcroze UK's commission from Sally Beamish now has a name: Ring Time. The first workshop performances will take place at the end of October. Before that, however, there's the Ex Cathedra project, A Shakespeare Masque, to look forward to. Sally has charged me with helping the singers to move in a Dalcrozian way during the performances. Thank you, Sally for believing in me.
Since embarking on Dalcroze training ten years ago, my physical awareness has advanced by leaps and bounds. I’ll never be a real dancer, but I’m not afraid to try new things and through regular dance classes at Dance Base, my co-ordination and ability to isolate parts of my body in movement has improved. Early in my training I would suddenly be aware of a new link having been made in my brain, usually involving turning and three dimensional movements (I know they all are really…..) However, I have felt hampered in certain ways by the way my particular body works, which is why I was so keen to explore the Feldenkrais Method.
Over the last couple of months my weekly individual lessons with Jae Greunke have been revelatory. I’ve learned that my knees don’t have to point inwards: I simply need to learn to loosen certain muscles which have learned to behave in a certain unproductive way. Another lesson had a dramatic effect on one of my most troublesome weaknesses; that is, my slowness to find the natural opposing swing of arms and legs in movement unless I walk first. (I put this down to having been a bottom-shuffler rather than a crawler as a baby.) Although I still have to remind myself to let go of my top half and let it swing around that magic point through the base of my sternum, my walking is incomparably more enjoyable, comfortable and, well, natural. However, I lost it completely when coming down a very slippy Arthur’s Seat on Sunday, realising that I my shoulders were round my ears and that I was stiff from the waist up. So, this Monday we worked on coming down hills/steps. The lesson set me up to discover that tilting my pelvis from side to side makes it all much easier. Hooray!
During a chance encounter with tenor James Gilchrist at Snape in December, I found myself discussing movement in performance with him. Parasitic movements, that is, unintended movements that have become habitually attached to a “host” movement, are very common in singers. James believes that singers should move naturally when they sing, and we concluded that current training for singers has a tendency to eradicate this ability. Parasitic movement is also an issue for string players. Many of us find it hard to move one finger without others joining in, and I notice that pupils’ bow changes are often accompanied by extraneous actions.
James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook performed Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad and Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin at Kelso Music Society on 17 January, so I had the opportunity to consider how James’ movement compares to other singers I’ve heard and seen recently. The concert was absolutely stunning. In particular, we were taken on an exhausting emotional journey in the Schubert that was undoubtedly enhanced by James’ embodiment of the music. He really was the music, and I realise that we don’t actually see that very often. Far from being off-putting or mannered, his natural physical response to the music was captivating. It’s the sort of movement one longs to see at the opera; genuine and recognisable body language. (James and Anna are performing the same programme in Haddington on Sunday 31 January. Get there if you can.)
Concurrent is a new organisation under the umbrella of The University of Edinburgh that is exploring improvisation between performing arts practitioners. Its study day on 16 January brought together musicians, dancers, academics, a cook, a skateboarder, a dance psychologist and music and dance therapists to discuss and explore various aspects of how real time improvisation happens. At the last minute I was roped in to dance/move in the first session. Franziska Schroeder gave 6 musicians and 6 dancers three improvisation tasks. What did I learn? It’s quite hard to improvise in movement with an unfamiliar group in front of an audience! Although I was trying to interact with the musicians as per the task, the connection failed. Much more time was needed to make this experiment effective, I think, but I was glad to be involved.
Dance psychologist Peter Lovatt was the stand-out contributor for me that day. He engaged everyone in faintly silly dancing at our seats and then asked us to re-order the moves at random. Research has found that 20 minutes of this sort of improvisatory dance activity leads to a range of mathematical and other problem solving tasks being completed more quickly with no loss of accuracy. Interestingly, dancing a routine you know won’t have the same effect: yet more proof that rhythmics (the movement element of Dalcroze) is good for everyone.
So, movement is generally viewed as being a good thing. With my primary music teacher hat on, it is perfectly obvious that children need to move. The hardest thing we ask them to do is to sit still. I know myself that if I sit or stand still in one position for too long, my productivity plummets. Jae has reassured me that swaying, changing seating position, and generally shifting position is the most healthy way to operate. Moshe Feldenkrais stated that posture is for posts. I’m not a post. Neither are you. Move.
In fact, come to my next Drop-in Dalcroze class next Thursday, 4 February, and put Sunday 6 March's class with Jacqueline Vann in your diary now. Go on, get a move on!
Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh's friendly volcano.
If the number of performances and arrangements of J. S. Bach’s music is anything to go by, I am one of many who find his pieces life-enhancing. However, it requires a particular kind of vision and confidence to take a substantial work such as the Goldberg Variations and create a new version for musicians and dancers. A collaboration between Scottish Ensemble and Andersson Dance did just this. The buzz at Tramway in Glasgow for the première on 13 November confirmed that this event was eagerly anticipated by many.
You can see some film clips on The Guardian website. As a Dalcrozian, what struck me most was the way the musicians owned their movement, suggesting that the research and development phase must have incorporated plenty of time for them to get out of their heads and into their bodies. The lines between musicians and dancers became increasingly blurred as the piece unfolded, with the players abandoning their instruments from time to time. There were some beautiful movement duets between dancers and musicians. One of the most striking and effective sections happened in silence. All performers walked freely in the space, gradually slowing down to stillness, all facing the same direction, before taking a few single steps in unison and dispersing again.
I loved the way the new piece unfolded, starting relatively calmly, bursting with joy in variation 1, and becoming more whacky in a post-modernist way as it progressed. Let’s hope they do it again soon: see it if you can.
Jae Gruenke, my Feldenkrais teacher, joined me at the Goldberg performance. She was a dancer in New York before re-training and was able to talk me through some dance history on the way home. So much to learn! I’ve now had three lessons with her and am beginning to understand better what Feldenkrais is and how it can help me. The mind/body connection is endlessly fascinating. It has come as a revelation to me that my knees don’t have to work the way they always have. All I have to do is learn to release certain muscles and use others in a different way. It’s surprisingly hard work. The third lesson focused on buttocks and as Jae so nicely put it, “This is not a lesson one ever gives to a first-timer……” Who knew that one side of one’s bahoochy could be so dominant?
At the end of November I went to Birmingham to work with Jeffrey Skidmore and his wonderful choir Ex Cathedra. As part of next year’s Shakespeare celebrations, the choir has commissioned a piece from Carol Ann Duffy and Sally Beamish. Much of the music is dance-based, and Sally envisages movement as an integral part of the piece. She suggested to Jeffrey that I could help the singers with their movement. Working on some of their Christmas music was a bit of an experiment all round. In 45 minutes we touched on three pieces, processing in two and getting to know Gardner’s Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day a bit better by analysing in movement the metrical changes which give the piece its character. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience (for me, at least.) I was lucky enough to attend one of their marvellous Candlelight concerts with Sally in St John’s Smith Square, London, on 15 December. One piece in the second half involved some of the singers processing and I was delighted to see that they had incorporated the ideas we’d worked on. What a difference it makes when singers step with the music rather than shuffling along! Heads were up and the whole performance was lifted. Sally was pleased. We also met director James Farrell, and designer Nik Corrall. I’m very much looking forward to working in this team.
These three movement stories have shifted my thinking on again, leading me to realise that there are lots of ways of using my Dalcroze experience with musicians without doing yet more training. In fact, more training would be a distraction from what I really want to do. The journey to this point has been rather difficult at times, and it’s not what I was expecting to happen when I got my Get A Life Award. However, I am now sure that I want to look out, using and developing my skills with musicians and other artists, rather than looking in by studying more.
Photo by Maker Ltd.
Being a Dalcroze teacher has turned me into a scavenger. No piece of music is safe. So, when you see me stopping the car to scribble in my diary, or trawling through IMSLP (Petrucci Music Library) for some obscure piece, you can be pretty sure I’ve heard something that’s given me an idea for a lesson. I also buy concert programmes (extortionate as they may be) so that I can make notes about the pieces.
On the Sunday at the end of October we went to St Andrews to hear St Salvator’s Chapel Choir and the Kellie Consort perform Bach Cantata BWV 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden in the morning service, as part of the Voices Festival. What a great piece! Although my daughter thought I was making critical notes in the order of service about her siblings who were both performing (as if!) I was, in fact, making notes about the music. The third movement Den Tod Niemand Zwingen Kunnt is a glorious duet for soprano and alto that could be very useful in an aural class, and the chorus Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg is a brilliant example of dramatic word painting.
Any Dalcroze teacher will tell you that what takes the longest is finding exactly the right piece to illustrate a musical concept. In fact, it’s even more complicated than that when one starts comparing recordings. Having selected one, I often play others to the class too as the comparisons can be so illuminating.
Richard Alston chose three fabulously contrasting pieces for his company’s recent performance in Edinburgh. Brisk Singing brought beautiful choreography together with movements from Les Boréades by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Alston points out that Rameau was known in his own time as “le dieu de la dance”. He purposefully uses not only the dance movements, and the piece ends with a duet for the two lovers to the gorgeous (if not snappily titled) Entrée D’Abaris, Polymnie, Les Muses, Zéphirs, Saisons, Les Heures Et Les Arts. Alston quotes John Eliot Gardiner as saying that this piece is “perhaps the most melting and gravely sensual writing for orchestra to emerge from the entire baroque era.” Discuss! Having achieved the unusual combination of remembering that I have a recording of this AND being able to locate it, I was disappointed when listening as it created rather a different mood from the one in the theatre. It’s taken faster, and has a slightly quirky character. Upon investigation I discovered that John Eliot’s recording is hard to come by now, which is frustrating, so if you happen to have it…….
Other genres also provide inspiration. Recently, I managed to get almost a whole week of lessons out of the James Bond theme. It’s got something for everything: mood/character for improvisation, minor mode/chromatic alteration for aural, and syncopation for rhythmics. I even taught a violin pupil how to play chromatic scales using the mi fa fi fa motif. This way she was able to hear the semitones as real notes rather than a series of squidges. It was great fun playing the theme as a duet with her in loads of different keys. This is where solfa comes into its own; just start on lah and the rest follows easily.
The purpose of this blog is to chart my investigation of the connection between music and movement though Dalcroze. It may seem as if not much is happening, but I can assure you that lots of thinking is going on. Positive developments include making contact with fellow awardee, bass player Elizabeth Bradley. By coincidence, Liz and I grew up in Edinburgh together. She’s investigating the connection between music and meditation. Can’t wait to read her blog (get a move on, Liz!)
I’ve also booked a series of Feldenkrais lessons with Jae Gruenke, starting this month. The hope is that by learning more about how my own body works, I’ll be able to help others to move better in a Dalcroze setting.
Playing in an orchestra for the first time in ten years is a luxury. Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony should be on everyone’s bucket list (well okay, perhaps not everyone’s…...) It’s a fabulous play. I’m enjoying my violin so much that I even took it on holiday to Colonsay last month. Colonsay is my favourite place in the world. Being there grounds and inspires me, and a lot of thinking took place that week. Playing Bach to the sunset felt good.
As things have begun to settle down after the chaos of the summer, I’ve realised that the most important result of my award is that it has given me is time to think. September has been a month of small revelations.
Dalcroze believed that his method was a way of regulating emotions and personality, so it was probably no coincidence that I decided to focus my lesson for the annual CPD day for qualified Dalcrozians at RNCM on 13 September on theme of Identity. Having written down a selection of our own identities e.g. teacher, mother, partner, student, performer, we explored the chords used by Purcell in his Fantazia Upon One Note, throughout which the second viola plays middle C. As all the chords include the dominant/5th note of the scale, we discovered that this was chords F major (tonic), C major, dominant 7th, F minor and its relative major, A flat. Each of these chords has a different feel in the context of the piece. Readers who know the work will understand this particularly in relation to the modulation from F minor to A flat major. (You can see the first page of the facsimile of Purcell's score below.) By the end of the lesson, the class had an understanding of the structure of the piece and its harmony though movement. We then considered whether we could allocate any of our identities a particular chord. The room went very quiet at this point as, for some people at least, some pennies dropped.
For me, the simple realisation that I am the constant “C” running through my life whilst things move and shift all around was strangely reassuring. Since then, I’ve started to reconsider how I might use my “gap year” whilst still focussing on exploring the relationship between music and movement. By opening up possibilities in my own mind, ideas have started flowing in a way they simply couldn’t when I was working all hours. This is luxury! One immediate result is that, having focussed on the piano for the last several years for Dalcroze purposes, I’m re-establishing my identity as a violinist. I didn’t realise how much I was missing it until I started playing again.
It was a great pleasure to have Helen Gould, dancer and Dalcrozian, staying last week. Having a captive dancer with whom to discuss how choreography works was an opportunity not to be missed. In the Dalcroze world, Plastique Animée (PA) is a physical realisation of a piece of music, enabling listeners to “see” the music. There was much discussion this summer about exactly what it is and how it differs from dance. My (possibly rather simplistic) view is that unless the movement mirrors the music closely, it is dance rather than PA. Helen explained that for many contemporary choreographers, music is just one of many elements to be considered when creating new work. Dalcroze can help dancers understand music better so that they can use it as they choose. Obviously there is a huge range of styles out there, with Mark Morris and Richard Alston often being cited as working closely with the music.
This new piece of understanding helped me to interpret and enjoy Scottish Ballet’s current touring programme, Elsa Canasta. Inspirational CEO and Artistic Director Christopher Hampson introduced the programme, explaining his rationale for including an extra piece Maze, choreographed by Scottish Ballet dancer Sophie Laplane. Her stunningly enjoyable work used the music to enhance witty moments in a masterful way. Bryan Arias’ Motion of Displacement sensitively explored themes of migration, which have such resonance in today’s world.
The final piece, Elsa Canasta, was a revelation. Until reading the programme, I had no idea that Cole Porter was a friend and supporter of Serge Diaghilev. In addition to bailing him out on several occasions, Porter composed a ballet score for him. Diaghilev rejected it, claiming he “didn’t like jazz”. Choreographer Javier de Frutos read about this and set about finding the music. A piano score was located and re-orchestrated. His new ballet, premiered in 2003, won the Critic’s Circle National Dance Award, but until now had not been performed again. In Scottish Ballet’s new version, he has re-imagined the work. You can find out more about the piece here. See it if you have the chance: it’s a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Having a live band in the pit and a singer on stage makes it even more immediate. Bravo, Scottish Ballet!
In my head, Dalcroze and Porter are worlds apart, but they both had strong associations with Diaghilev. The possibility that they might have met through the great impresario makes my brain fizz!
For Edinburgh residents, August is an exhausting month. Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) programmes top-notch concerts, theatre, opera and dance, whilst established and aspiring thespians, comedians, jugglers, musicians, dancers, circus performers and general lovvies descend on my beautiful home town to perform in the Fringe. And there’s the Book Festival too. It’s a tremendously rich, exciting and stimulating three weeks. However, real life continues, and the schools go back in the middle of the month. Thanks to my award this year has been slightly different for me, but I still had to balance teaching with my desire to make the most of the opportunities to learn by watching and listening to the great artists of our time. Through Dalcroze my interests and tastes have broadened, and I appreciate the arts in a more holistic way now. In the face of thousands of options, my solution was to go to as many EIF events as I could manage. There’s not space here to discuss all the riches, so I’ve selected a few highlights.
As my award is to give me time to learn more about the relationship between music and movement, I was particularly interested in some of this year’s dance events. I loved everything in Sylvie Guillem’s Life In Progress, but the last piece Bye (choreographer Mats Ek) made a huge impression. Wearing a cardigan, Sylvie danced to the Arietta from Beethoven’s piano sonata op 111, somehow managing to make this music domestic and oh-so accessible. As the last piece in her final tour, it endearingly captured the slightly flippy puzzlement felt by many women of a certain age about life. Ballet Zurich’s performance of Sonnett was inspired by Shakespeare’s late sonnets. In weaving together music, dance and language, Christian Spuck created a thought-provoking piece that certainly fulfilled the festival’s remit to challenge. I also loved their performance of Wayne McGregor’s Kairos which made excellent use of Max Richter’s reimagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
For the middle week of the festival, I returned to the real world and taught on a course for young string players. From the moment of my first Dalcroze experience ten years ago, the knowledge that this work is of huge value became embedded in my soul and began to influence the way I live my life. In recent years there have been no active Dalcroze teachers in Scotland, so it remains an uphill struggle to convince people of their need for something they’ve not heard of and is so difficult to explain. Progress is slow, but I’m pleased to teach regularly on the BMus course at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and that Dalcroze is part of the Making Music module at St Andrews University. Working with the fabulous musicians at Big Noise is a particular delight, and giving workshops for local authorities is an excellent way of spreading the word. St Mary’s Music School is starting to make good use of my training, and the number of Dalcroze classes at Saturday Music Classes has doubled this year. The first of my trainees gained the Foundation Award a few months ago. Things are moving forward, but there’s a long way to go.
I was delighted, therefore, to introduce the eighty local children (and their families and teachers) who attended Caritas Strings at George Watson’s College to the joy of learning the Dalcroze way. Each of the five groups had a Dalcroze class in the morning during which we worked on elements of their orchestral pieces, then in the afternoon I worked with the orchestras. This kind of integrated works is tremendously satisfying all round: for example, I was pleased that through movement and listening activities, one group really seemed to grasp that a semibreve ends on the W of one not the F of four (and they even had enough bow……..) The kids were great, and teaching team was marvellous.
Seeing how these children responded to Dalcroze reminded me why I was drawn to it in the first place. During the last week of the festival I tried to combine their freshness of approach with my own experience. I repeatedly found myself thinking about performances through the Dalcroze Subjects (e.g. Nuance, Repetition and Contrast, Time, Silence etc: I’ll return to these in future blogs as they are completely fascinating.) For example, Volksbühne, Berlin did a magnificent job of staging Murmel Murmel by Dieter Roth. With a script of 178 pages using only one word, Murmel, this play had been considered unstageable. This will have to go straight into my Repetition and Contrast folder. It’s also the first time I’ve been to a play which was so clearly in 3/4 time: absolutely hilarious! Another highlight from Berlin was Komische Oper’s Die Zauberflöte in which the singers interacted with animations that were reminiscent at times of Monty Python. Augmentation and diminution were at play here: the dialogue was replaced by silent film style cartoon exclamations (saving a lot of time), and the Queen of the Night was magnificently portrayed as a huge spider.
To me, Silence is one of the most interesting Dalcroze Subjects. Selecting musical highlights has been very difficult, but I was struck several times by meaningful silences in concerts. Conducting the European Youth Orchestra in Mahler 5, Gianandrea Noseda took an unsually long pause after the 2nd movement, during which the atmosphere in the Usher Hall took on a meditative quality. This had a palpable impact on how the 3rd movement was heard. The Arcanto Quartet’s Queen’s Hall concert was marvellous, but it’s their Purcell Fantazias that will stay with me. The voicing of the last chord created an extraordinary sound which was held in the hall by all present long after the bows had stopped. The pairing of baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Daniil Trifinov might seem unexpected, but their concert on Saturday morning was sublime. By choosing to run the gorgeous Berg songs straight into Schumann’s sublime Dichterliebe, we were taken on its journey from a new starting point. The last song ends with what has to be one of the most beautiful metacrusis' ever written (discuss!) and time stood still in the long silence we all held at the end. For me, these moments are the closest I get to understanding life. Surely this is why arts are important?
I returned home exhausted at the end of July from an incredibly intense two weeks of Dalcroze centenary celebrations in Geneva and Vienna. My assumption that this experience would reinforce my hunger for more Dalcroze training has turned out to be not entirely correct. It was absolutely wonderful to meet and share experiences with Dalcrozians from around the world, but rather than building my confidence, I realise that a number of questions have taken root about my future plans.
Discussing the work with people who have permanent Dalcroze jobs in tertiary education was fascinating. I had already been pondering the conundrum of whether I want to teach musicianship through Dalcroze, or train Dalcroze practitioners. In the UK, the Diplômées do both, but the pedagogical training is the core of the work. This is carried out on a freelance basis. I love teaching my move2music adult class, and am delighted that my students passed their Foundation exams so well last session, but it is constantly very hard work to create inspiring lessons which address the needs of the class and cover the syllabus. By contrast, the series of drop-in workshops I gave in Glasgow in the spring was great fun.
I also found myself becoming overwhelmed by the vastness of the work. Rather than empowering me, attending workshops and lectures on movement technique, historical and social context, neuroscience, musical applications, motor development etc. left me feeling painfully inadequate. Rationally, I knew that I needed a quiet spell of doing other things in order to be able to process everything that I’d experienced and learned.
It was unfortunate, then, that after two days at home, I had to go to teach on Dalcroze UK’s International Summer School. Taking place in a new venue, Coventry, there were some added pressures this year. Delighted as I was to be with friends and colleagues, I approached my teaching with some trepidation. Rather than trying to attend any classes myself, I took as much time out as possible to plan and practise. After the first couple of days my confidence was beginning to return. I was enjoying the teaching and the classes seemed to be going down ok. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it is a pity that I didn’t follow my strong instinct to refuse to teach the public children’s class. Having been cancelled the previous week, a few children signed up at the last minute, and I agreed to let it go ahead. In the end there were four and a half kids (one had to leave in the middle). Unfortunately, nothing I did made the class gel. Being watched by a group of adults with notepads, the kids were understandably self-conscious and didn’t want to move. I allowed my lesson to be derailed and things went from bad to worse.
Although it is painful to write about this episode, it serves to illustrate the demanding and precise nature of Dalcroze. However, there’s no denying that my confidence has taken a huge knock. I was very glad to get home.
So, where does this leave me? The complications of family life mean that my mind has been filled with other things, which is probably a good thing. Edinburgh in August provides plenty of distraction and life is pretty busy. But will the energy and enthusiasm required for my plans return?
Lovely group, all needing our lunch after an intense aural class.
Having au paired in Vienna between school and university, I was determined to attend the 2nd International Conference of Dalcroze Studies which took place at MDW (Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst) on 26-29 July. Due to my rather too full-on work schedule, there was no question of my preparing a presentation this year. However, thanks to my award from Katherine McGillivray’s Get A Life Fund, I hope to have time to formulate something about the music/movement connection in time for the next conference in 2017, or even for the ISME (International Society of Music Education) conference in Glasgow next summer.
Having enjoyed the beautiful train journey from Geneva on Saturday, I was able to spend Sunday visiting old haunts. “Haunts” turned out to be a curiously apt word as I felt as if I was walking with a ghost of my 17-year-old self. Quite unsettling, to be honest! However, fortified with coffee and Sacher torte, I joined the Dalcroze throng in Am Hof, close to Stephansdom in the old town, at 5.00pm for the unveiling of a plaque marking the birthplace of Emile Henri Jaques, who renamed himself Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. Falling 150 years to the month since his birth, the performances and speeches were surprisingly moving.
First thing on Monday morning I had the task of introducing two workshops. The first of these was given by Elżbieta Aleksandrowicz and Justyna Soberieraj-Bednarek from the Grażyna and Kiejstut Bacewicz Academy of Music in Łódź, Poland, and was entitled Rhythm, Dynamics, Form….. Composite elements in painting and movement on the basis of selected works by Stanisław Ignacy Witkeiwicz. Witkacy (as he is known – 1885-1939) was a writer, playwright, poet, painter, photographer and art theoretician whose work continues to exert huge influence in Poland. This inspiring and stimulating workshop was a rhythmics class designed to help us understand and interpret some of his paintings.
Thankfully, introducing my dear friend and colleague Bethan Habron-James’ workshop Dalcroze by distance learning: Exploring the legacy of Heather Gell posed fewer linguistic challenges. A student of EJD, and revered teacher of Joan Pope and Sandra Nash, Heather Gell introduced thousands of Australian children to Dalcroze Eurhythmics through schools radio broadcasts in the 1940s and 50s. Given that the essence of a Dalcroze lesson is the interaction between students and teacher, the workshop explored the issues raised by playing for a lesson in the absence of a class.
During the events in Geneva and Vienna I was repeatedly impressed by the tremendous photographs of movement taken in the early part of last century. Promotion of the method through the rapidly developing medium of photography was taken seriously. Frédéric Boissonnas’ images have become iconic in the Dalcroze world. One of the things he captured so well was the “Dalcroze skips.” Joan Pope’s workshop They skipped into a new century! was a welcome chance to understand and learn the six skips. A hundred years ago, people were keen to explore the freedom afforded by the developments in clothing and fashion, and many contemporary movement leaders including Ruby Ginner and Margaret Morris (who was married to Scottish Colourist J. D. Fergusson) used skips as a learning tool. As usual, Joan put her all into the lesson. It was a privilege to be there.
On Tuesday I attended two workshops exploring the connection between Dalcroze Eurhythmics and the theories of Rudolph Laban. Bill Bauer did a great job explaining to those of us without a solid understanding of LMA (Laban Movement Analysis) and his Effort-Shape Theory how it can all be mapped onto and translated into something useful in a Dalcroze setting. Alison Curtis-Jones showed how Laban took ideas from Dalcroze although he believed that natural human movement has nothing to do with metric rhythmic systems. Some Dalcrozians, including Myriam Ramberg (Marie Rambert), defected to Laban, so this was contentious stuff.
The UK contingent was hugely proud to have three of our colleagues programmed in the evening performance. Mary Price O’Connor performed her silent movement piece My Heart has Four Chambers, Kaye Barker showed her solo choreography to Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, and Kathryn Williams played Ferneyhough’s Unity Capsule. Kathryn’s paper on how she had used Dalcroze techniques to learn this incredibly challenging piece for solo flute, in which there are often two things happening at once, was illuminating. It certainly helped me to appreciate the tour de force of her performance. Quite exceptional.
By Wednesday I must admit to having reached my capacity for taking anything in, so decided simply to enjoy the atmosphere. Lying on some chairs in the room with the video link, which overlooked Schloss Belvedere, I slept through a bit of the final keynote speech.
Saying goodbye to new friends from around the world was difficult, but many people shared my feeling of saturation. A large group gathered to eat schnitzel, drink beer, and share experiences. The conference was tremendous but quite overwhelming on top of ten days in Geneva.
Skipping with Joan Pope
I was delighted to be one of 430 delegates from 6 continents who gathered in Geneva last week for the centenary congress organised by Institut Jaques Dalcroze (IJD) which they choose to call WAOUH! Most of the events took place at the conference centre at HUG (Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève) which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t have many dance studios. I suspect that not many conference breaks there are enlivened by delegates dancing around in formation to Pharrell Williams' Happy, with line leaders wearing oversized glasses.
Active lessons took place in cleared medical classrooms. Flexibility and creativity being part of the training, we Dalcrozians adapted quickly. However, the fact that a maximum of 120 places were available at any one time in active workshops necessitated strategic queuing. I managed to get into some wonderful lessons. Anne-Gabrielle Chatoux-Peter, who was awarded her Diplôme earlier this month and teaches in Paris, taught a delightful lesson on anacrusis. Lisa Parker, recently retired from Longy, gave an entertaining lesson on three against four starting from the premis that Beethoven and Boccherini didn’t get along too well when they met at a party and ending with a gorgeous piece for violin and piano by Dalcroze.
Jeremy Dittus (Dalcroze School of the Rockies) cheered me up no end by teaching a class based on EJD’s solfège books. For readers not in the aural training loop, there are two widely used approaches which use the same syllables in different ways. Briefly, in the moveable doh system (sometimes called the Kodaly Method), we call the keynote of a major scale doh, so that there is always a semitone between 3rd/4th and 7th/1st degrees of the scale (mi/fah and ti/doh). Yup, that’s like Doe a deer, and is the system most commonly used in the UK. Moveable doh teaches function. However, the rest of Europe uses the fixed doh system. For them, doh means the note C. They don’t use letter names but call the notes doh, ré, mi. So, singing Twinkle Twinkle in F major would start fah fah doh doh ré ré doh. This system helps to develop absolute pitch (a kind of learned perfect pitch.) Confused? You are not alone! As you can imagine, there are often problems at international gatherings and quite often teachers abandon the syllables and use numbers instead.
Dalcroze favoured fixed doh but Jeremy presented evidence from the exercise books that he wanted students to fully understand the function of the degrees of the scale too. Hooray! I very much enjoy the aural training component of Dalcroze and relish the challenge of swapping between the two systems: I’ll have to be completely fluent in both by the time I do the Diplôme entry exam.
Pascale Rochet-Martinez’s class on hearing harmony was great fun and provided me with some more ideas for exercises. When I spoke with her at the end, discussing how hard many people find it to hear chords these days, she said that she thought that if EJD were alive now, he would develop far more exercises for this area of musicianship.
Silvia del Bianco’s lesson, based on an Argentinian song, was full of poise, grace, and insistence on everything we did being musical including how we moved, clapped and interacted. I have a lot to learn from her.
The final teacher I saw was Liu Kai from Beijing. This extraordinary young man taught a class on jazz rhythms in English and French. His piano playing was divine and manner delightful. The spirit in the room was fabulous as we were all having so much fun. He is one to watch.
Highlights from the lecture theatres included a presentation by Youn-Sun Choi on her piano improvisations to illustrate the Laban Effort System, understanding early 20th century music through movement (Aleksandra Bilinska), and an excellent presentation by Daniel Schön, musician turned neuroscientist which included the finding of a study showing what happens in the brain when people practice every day. New neural pathways are built and strengthened incredibly quickly BUT ONLY IF IT THE PRACTICE IS DONE EVERY DAY. I know, we knew this already, but seeing the images of brain activity was powerful.
My dear friend and colleague Bethan Habron-James delivered a thought-provoking paper entitled “Reflecting on Reflections.” Citing particularly her work in special needs settings, she shared her thoughts on the enormous value of keeping a reflective diary about all her teaching. It stuck me that this would be an excellent time to start doing this myself.
All this took place in glorious sun and heat, 37 degrees most days. The time Jacqueline and I shared in our wee flat with the inspirational octogenarian Joan Pope was incredibly special. Wine o’clock came around remarkably quickly and I learned absolutely tons from the chat. Joan has decided that I am going to research the history of Dalcroze in Scotland, possibly for the dissertation part of the Diplôme, and made me take notes while she told me what she already knows about summer schools in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. She has offered to be my tormentor in this piece of work. How can I refuse? All information gratefully received: please do get in touch if you or your Granny had Dalcroze experience in Scotland in the first half of the 20th century.
Below: Lui Kai and Lisa Parker
2015 marks the centenary of Institut Jaques-Dalcroze. Conveniently, it is also 150 years since the birth of Emile Jaques, who later renamed himself Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. So, in addition to celebrating the work, it is an auspicious moment for Dalcrozians to reflect on the history of the method and consider its future. From 16-18 July around 45 Diplômés from around the world gathered in Geneva for three study days, bringing with them Licentiates who teach in training programmes. I was privileged to be part of this group. Predictably, these super-motivated individuals grabbed this unique opportunity to share experiences and concerns. We were allocated groups and topics and the animated multi-lingual discussions continued through breaks. The conclusions will be drawn together by the organising committee (Silvia del Bianco, Louise Mathieu, Karin Greenhead and Hélène Nicolet.)
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to receive an award from Katherine McGillivray's Get A Life Fund to enable me to take some time out from my primary teaching job to focus on working for the entrance exam for the Diplôme Supérieur, the highest Dalcroze qualification. This blog will follow my journey. The meeting has been an inspirational start.
One topic which was discussed hotly was visibility and recruitment. Much work still has to be done to dispel the widely-held misconception that Dalcroze is only for little children. We discussed the importance of attracting the broadest possible range of musicians, some of who may decide to embark on formal training; however, just as important are all those who would like to continue to explore their musicianship through Dalcroze's ideas. Discussing these issues with colleagues who are on the faculties of institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh), Longy School of Music (Boston), and Kunitachi College of Music (Tokyo) reminds us in the UK that other parts of the world are more enlightened about developing musicianship through Dalcroze.
On Friday we visited a wonderful exhibition celebrating the centenary. This photo shows Martine Jaques-Dalcroze beside a bust of her grandfather. Martine has expressed her delight that I am planning to continue my training. What an honour!
Next post will be about the Centenary Congress here in Geneva, 20-24 July 2015.