Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

What We’re Working On

Parent: “What did you do in class today?”
Child: “I was a cat.”
Parent: “Oh.”

It is difficult for children to express exactly what they are ‘learning’ in a Dalcroze classroom. Having heard many exchanges which ended like the one above, I am writing to keep you more informed about what exactly we goes on in the room after we take off our socks and shoes.

Of course, in the mind of the child the most important thing we did probably was that he became a cat. And not just any cat, but one who plays, prowls, chases mice and catches one for dinner. The class attempts to take every possible advantage of a child’s passion for drama and role-play. While he was busy being a cat, he was also moving to music that moved very softly (the prowl), music that moved very quickly and lightly (the chase), and music that slowly crescendo-ed to a loud accent (the pounce).

Experiences like these are meant to align the child’s sense of music with the way she naturally moves. This will, hopefully, inform the way she perceives and responds to music, and the way she might engage a musical instrument.

In these posts I’ll attempt to describe some of the things we accomplish in class over the course of the year. I hope to pass along ideas for following up the experiences that we have had, and let you in on some of the discoveries that seem to happen each week. I will welcome your comments, questions and discussion. You can expect a new posting every month or so.

The work for the 4-5 year-old groups is sometimes different from that in the 5-6 year-old groups. But there are some general things that all ages focus on, especially in the beginning weeks.

In a eurhythmics class sound equals movement, and vice versa. Many initial experiences are meant to help the student begin to discover this for himself. Students will hear music that walks, runs, skips, gallops or marches. Most do not need to be asked to move appropriately to what they hear – it is most often their natural impulse to do so. The students also are given opportunities each week to have the piano match as closely as possible their own improvised movement to give them a deeper experience. To build on these experiences at home, put on music that walks, runs, skips, sneaks, slides, rolls, marches… and see what your child does! (See my previous post that suggests ways to use Saint Seans’ Carnival of the Animals.)

In this first semester, the 4-5 year-old groups will have classes built around basic oppositions: slow and fast, long and short, heavy and light, for example. In the first 30 minutes of class, we will experience the subject in as many ways as possible: songs, stories, and games requiring the students to follow changes in what they hear on the piano or drum. In the last 15 minutes, the students have an opportunity to play or conduct the music themselves. For example, if they have experienced soft walking and loud pouncing, individual students can try these sounds out on the drum while the class responds to what they hear. Or student conductors will create gestures for loud and soft, while the class responds on percussion instruments.

The 5-6 year-old groups will work with these same concepts but within a more structured musical context that will include beat, duration and meter. Games and activities will ask them to recognize and respond to quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. I have begun to teach them a rhythmic ‘language’ to describe what they hear, and we have begun to work on recognizing the notation.

I welcome all questions and comments throughout the year. If there is something specific you would like me to address in a future post, let me know! I look forward to hearing from you!

Michael Joviala

Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

Reinforcing the Classwork at Home

The Dalcroze classes are now in full swing (ok, pun intended), and the kids have heard and experienced music with a variety of tempos, rhythms, and dynamics. They  have been encouraged to express those changes in movement. Children naturally learn in many different ways. Some like to watch in class and ‘do’ at home. Some are more active in class. All learning styles are appropriate and children instinctively give themselves what they need at this age. So, the more opportunities they have to hear, experience and respond to music, the better. Parents are often interested in ways to continue the work at home. I’ll share some possibilities in this article.

In the stories I create for movement in the class, I attempt to take full advantage of children’s natural connection to the world of animals. The composer Camille Saint-Seans uses the same phenomenon in his “Carnival of the Animals”, a perennial favorite for children since its composition in 1886. The different temperaments and tendencies of various orchestral instruments are matched with an appropriate animal. Using a recording at home, it would be possible to reinforce many of the experiences we have been having in class.

You might start by simply playing a track, and asking your child to become any animal they like. The simple act of moving like that animal as the music plays is enough to get a wide variety of nuance as the dynamics, rhythm and tempo change. There are no wrong answers. Of course, you can also tell them the name of the movement. Each short piece has a specific way of moving, and many exhibit one or both sides of a musical opposition (slow/fast, high/low, etc.) You might enjoy seeing what they respond to as they listen. Here is a list of some of the musical features of each movement that might catch kids’ attention:

1. Introduction and March of the Royal Lion: A stately and proud march, something kids love to do. Contrasts between high and low (in pitch) between the two pianos; loud dynamics.

2. Hens and Roosters: Starting and stopping.

3. Wild Donkeys: Fast and loud.

4. Tortoises: Slow and soft. (contains a musical joke – Offenbach’s popular Can-Can played very slowly)

5. The Elephant: Heavy with a medium tempo. (more jokes: music by Berlioz and and Mendelssohn originally written for flutes, now given to the low basses)

6. Kangaroos: the opposition of short and long; starting and stopping.

7. Aquarium: Light, gliding, running.

8. People with Long Ears (Donkeys): Lots of oppositions. Fast and slow; high and low (meaning pitch); loud dynamics.

9. The Cuckoo in the Woods: Phrase length awareness. The piano plays phrases (musical sentences) of different lengths. The “cuckoo” of the clarinet marks the end of each phrase.

10. Aviary: High, light, fast, soft.

11. Pianists: moving between high and low (pitch).

12. Fossils: Short, light, quick, loud dynamics. Twinkle Twinkle is tucked into this movement, along with a few other French folk tunes which may or may not be recognized. But this movement is really just about the dance!

13. The Swan: legato (smooth and connected), gliding, soft.

14. Finale: All of the animals are brought back. See how many you can recognize.

There are many recordings of this piece, and it is often packaged with other orchestra kid’s favorites such as “Peter and the Wolf”. I have a fondness for Leonard Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic from the 60’s. He does talk about each movement before he plays it, and his voice might not be every young person’s cup of tea these days. He uses young musicians whom he introduces on the recording however, and the idea of that might be inspiring for some. Pictures books related to the piece abound, and this could be of further inspiration.

This type of play can be done with many kinds of music, not just Carnival of the Animals, and not just orchestral music. So plug in the ipod, pull up something interesting, and enjoy some active listening with your child today!

Michael