Un cours de rythmique Dalcroze avec les élèves en danse du Conservatoire de Vincennes et de Rueil-Malmaison
Un cours de rythmique Dalcroze avec les élèves en danse du Conservatoire de Vincennes et de Rueil-Malmaison © Radio France  /  Suzana Kubik

Live, feel, understand: music education according to the Dalcroze eurhythmics

“Music education through and for music”, this how Swiss pedagogue Emile Jaques-Dalcroze's defined its "eurhythmics”. But what does this mean in practice? Here is a report we made for the day dedicated to Dalcroze eurhythmics at the Vincennes Conservatory.

Saturday morning, 9 am sharp, at the Vincennes Conservatory. On the Auditorium’s stage, a choir improvises on Joe Dassin's Champs Elysées. Students, music teachers, musicians, instrumentalists, dancers, music therapists and even a pediatrician sing, walk in rhythm, improvise gestures and movements according to the music. This is the warm-up before the day devoted to Dalcroze eurhythmics, and this is not going to happen while remaining seated. One of the organizers, Anne Lamatelle-Meyer, music teacher and Dalcrozian explains: "Music is not only experienced through the ears but within the whole body. All our senses must be awakened. » And the tone is set.

In the audience, the panel brings together many participants from different backgrounds. And their motivations might sounds surprising at first glance. Take the case of this pediatrician from Rueil-Malmaison, who discovered Dalcroze eurhythmics through a young patient she has been following for several years. “That little girl is blooming, so comfortable in her life and her body. I learned that she was practicing Dalcroze eurhythmic at the Rueil-Malmaison Conservatory, and I wanted to know what it was. In my office, I see more and more often children who suffer from health problems caused by a too sedentary and passive school education, a situation that seems to get worse during teenage years. But what I see here is a complete method reviving the link between a child’s intellect and body, encouraging creativity."

Christine is a music teacher in Brittany, and she also works with disabled students. If she has been participating for several years in the Dalcroze eurhythmics awareness days, it is also for the method’s therapeutic virtues. ‘’Autistic students I introduce to music have very little to no body schema. I wondered a lot about the method I could use to allow these students to reinvest their bodies. The Dalcroze eurhythmics gives me the most creative tools to do just that."

Florence is a clarinetist within the Republican Guard, as well as a clarinet teacher. She supervises a student who struggles to master the musical pulse. “I realized that my education as a classical music teacher is not helping here at all. This student must understand by himself what a pulsation is, and therefore how rhythm is constructed over it. I've come to draw ideas for exercises that will make him more active in this practice’’.

Discovery workshops for music professionals is followed by lessons with students from Vincennes and Rueil-Malmaison Conservatories throughout the day. An opportunity to learn this teaching method’s many variations.

 On Dalcroze Day 2015, the audience took part in a choreography on a song by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze:

At the core of the learning method: the student

It might not be evident at first glance, the Dalcroze method is not a dance or a body expression technique reserved for dancers, neither is it a method of learning musical rhythm. It draws from both, but in a comprehensive approach - where eurhythmics, music theory and improvisation are the three pillars. A teaching method “for music and through music”, as defined by the Swiss composer and pedagogue Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, who designed it more than a century ago. Hélène Nicolet, who teaches Dalcroze eurhythmics to adults, seniors and students at the Haute école de musique and at the Jaques-Dalcroze Institute in Geneva, explains: “this is a method that uses the body's natural movement to develop a musical sensation through the body and then better intellectualize musical notions. The name “eurhythmics” was chosen because Emile Jaques-Dalcroze wanted to develop the human being in relation to the rhythm that has a presence in everything. He realized rhythm is the musical element that permeates every aspect of life and based his reflection on this assessment."

 Strongly established in the Swiss education system, Dalcroze eurhythmics is still quite confidential in France. Today, only “rhythmicians”, graduated from the Jaques-Dalcroze International Institute in Geneva, work in France. Anne-Gabrielle Chatoux was one of the first to introduce Dalcroze eurhythmics at the Paris IX arrondissement Conservatory. Today, she is in charge of musical training for dance and voice curricula at the Vincennes Conservatory. Of Swiss origin, she has been immersed in Dalcroze eurhythmics since her earliest childhood. As in alternative methods such as Montessori, Steiner or Freinet, the student has a very active role in the Dalcroze's eurhythmics  method. Anne-Gabrielle explains:

It is a teaching method in which the student has a central role and builds his own training, guided by the teacher. The Dalcrozian teacher is the same as any other, but he teaches in such a way that the child discovers by himself the concept at play. At first, the work is very intuitive: the child is given the opportunity to listen, compare and practice by himself. Progressively, the exercises become more complex until we actively try to understand what has been done so far. This is the conscientisation phase, a look back at what has been experienced, the moment when we make this very crucial link between intellect and perception. When reaching this stage, the teaching becomes similar to any other method. What is really important, and what makes Dalcroze method stand out from traditional teaching, is the phase preceding the conscientisation stage. But it is crucial to go through this phase, because without it, we remain on the sensibilisation stage.”

Anne-Gabrielle Chatoux enseigne la formation musicale selon la méthode Dalcroze au Conservatoire de Vincennes
Anne-Gabrielle Chatoux enseigne la formation musicale selon la méthode Dalcroze au Conservatoire de Vincennes © Radio France  /  Suzana Kubik

The Dalcrozian teaching is done either at the piano or by singing, relying on the body's natural movements. "The child is considered in his entirety, his body is his instrument, he resembles a big ear. And when you put a name on a musical notion, the body has already been experiencing it", explains Anne Gabrielle Chatoux. “For the same notion, many different approaches will be proposed to increase the chances of its assimilation. When I explain a triplet, for instance, we will first make the triplet heard through musical examples. Then we will dance on it with a headscarf, we will compare it to a rhythm that looks very similar, but which is different, we will sing it, we will tap it on a tambourine, we will listen to a song to identify it... and then we will just say to the student: what you did, felt, walked, danced, sung, is called a triplet and is written this way. In fact, when the child has integrated the triplet almost without realizing it, and he grabs his instrument, he already knows it."

 Dancers, but also singers and instrumentalists, approach musical education, breathing and even musical gesture through the Dalcroze method. As with Anne Lamatelle-Meyer, professor of musical training at the Paris XIII arrondissement Conservatory. She supervises several classes of instrumentalists, for whom the feeling of music through the body radically changes the relationship with the instrument. "For an instrumentalist, the regular inner pulsation constitute the basis, if you don't have it, you can't superimpose rhythmic elements on top of it. This is not a technical course, it is the responsibility of the music teacher, but we work on the score’s phrase, breathing, gesture direction, listening and understanding. When it comes to overcoming difficulties, the Dalcroze method has a major advantage: there is no punitive education and each child is moving forward according to his or her specific skills. Through different types of exercises we approach a problem by trying to go through all types of perception: auditory, visual, tactile, to bring the student to the notion’s understanding. In this way, every student, no matter his difficulty or specificity can at some point discover a skill that is a strength”. 

The path is what matters

Immediately said, immediately checked: we attend the public course for young dance students at the Vincennes and Rueil-Malmaison Conservatories. The course is supervised by Geneviève Attahir, professor of musical training at the Bayonne CRR, converted to the Dalcroze method after having taught for a few years in a “classical” manner. Students are learning a simple choreography on a pavane with text. During this session the sixteenth and twice-quarter rhythm, the notion of pavane, its place in orchestral suites and the historical musical context of the French Grand Siècle are all covered. Geneviève Attahir has planned a longer period of time for the learning of the choreography, but it turns out that the little dancers are very much at ease: this step is quickly done and dusted. And Genevieve adjusts to this situation. "This is a method that also requires time for the teacher, time to mature and become more confident. To ensure that he has a sufficiently wide range of exercises and approaches to fit any situation and any type of audience. To me, it is really transversality that allows anyone to learn many things through music - the pulsation sensation, but also elements of analysis or the history of music. The Dalcroze eurhythmics is the antithesis of classical academic learning, because it starts from the premise that a question can be answered in many different ways, using many different pathways, and the pathway prevails over the result."

 In Switzerland, Dalcroze rhythmic is integrated into school curriculum. Hélène Nicolet taught there for ten years. According to her, this method’s agility allows it to be developed in many contexts and with all generations: "First of all, this is an approach to and through improvisation, developing creativity in all arts. Initially, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze wanted to introduce this method in order to train the versatile musicians. Today, the Dalcroze method is widespread in music education at primary school between the ages of 4 and 8 in French-speaking Switzerland. This decision was made by the authorities when they realized that rhythmicians had skills to work on student’s psychomotor capacities and coordination from a very early age. The Dalcroze method developed in school will be used less to approach musical notions and more to develop other skills: listening, cooperation, expression, all the skills that have no room in other disciplins.”

Laetitia Disseix-Berger, professeur de formation musicale, avec ses élèves danseuses du Conservatoire de Rueil-Malmaison
Laetitia Disseix-Berger, professeur de formation musicale, avec ses élèves danseuses du Conservatoire de Rueil-Malmaison © Radio France  /  Suzana Kubik

For better recognition in France

If Switzerland recognises Dalcroze eurhythmics’s benefits by giving it a prominent place in teaching, and even in the medical field (the Dalcroze eurhythmics is reimbursed by the social security system for seniors), this pedagogy is only rarely represented in France. Only 12 professors hold the diploma awarded by the Jaques-Dalcroze International Institute of Music in Geneva and the Haute école de musique, the only one approved by the parent institution. The studies are long, demanding and expensive - three years for the Bachelor's degree, two extra years for the Master's degree. Many candidates are thus discouraged.

But not everyone feels comfortable with a teaching method where the teacher has to question all his learning. One more reason that explains the few conversions according to Geneviève: "It's a tsunami, it shakes all the teacher’s convictions, and it's not easy. Sometimes you don't want to be judged by putting yourself in the student's shoes. Some people are uncomfortable in their bodies, or they don't know how to improvise... it calls a lot of things into question. It is necessary to reconsider the objectives to be reached on the pathway, to calm down, to learn to take time to search and experiment. The teacher is no longer the holder of the knowledge he is going to provide the children: we are all involved at the same level in searching together, and the teacher only guides this trial."

 A personal approach, a considerable investment, and the problem of being able to put into practice the acquired knowledge once back in France. Given the interest of those present at Dalcroze Day at the Vincennes Conservatory, this is a method that arouses a great deal of enthusiasm among professionals, but which is barely gaining momentum in France: "Often when it works, there is a team, and an open director who supports the initiative. France has this academic but too fixed approach. It is very difficult to move the lines. Moreover, in a race for results, this method is not effective. It requires time for each student, an individualized approach. And this is the hardest thing to defend these days", concludes Anne-Gabrielle Chatoux.