Because music is often a social activity, the Dalcroze classroom is a great opportunity for kids to experiment with roles that will also be important for them as they move through life. Over the past several months, I have become interested in giving them experiences of leading, following, working with a partner and being a member of a large group, all areas good musicians navigate with ease.
At 4 and 5, children are such natural followers that, when asked to become the ‘engine’ of a train, they will very often simply end up following the ‘caboose’. I gently encourage them to make a directional choice that allows the train to follow a winding path throughout the room. As they go the music mirrors their movements as closely as possible, giving them a more solid experience of their own tempo choices. Of course, when they speed up, it is easy for many children to loose track of the ones following them as they become caught up in the thrill of moment. If their train falls apart, we regroup and I encourage them to carefully lead the cars so that the train stays together, and the passengers safely arrive at their destination.
Once they become skilled at this, they are ready to lead a partner in a room full of pairs making independent choices. We become taxis drivers and passengers, and an observer stepping into the room would see (on a good day!) many different things happening: taxis driving alone and with a passenger, stopping for red lights, going slowly in traffic or on the expressway, and many other surprises the children come up with on the spot. This is done without music, so that I can narrate what I see, helping the children become aware of possibilities other than their usual favorites.
The older children seem to be moving into a more social phase of their development. I often notice that the 5-6 year olds are more interested in directing their playfulness towards each other than are the younger children. They have experienced walking alone vs. walking with a partner vs. moving with the whole group, taking their cues from the music. In a follow-up activity they mimed playing an instrument while I ‘conducted’ solos, duets, and full orchestra to the opening movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I have also made time to improvise freely with different combinations of non-pitched percussion instruments in solos, duets, trios and whole ensemble configurations.