Dalcroze Roots

Workshop at Westminster

Tom Parente

Dalcroze Benefits

Corrections or additions?

This story by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on June 17, 1998. All rights reserved.

Dalcroze System Song & Motion

Westminster Choir College’s Thomas Parente has a


of credentials — including bachelor’s degrees in music education

and music theory and a master’s degree in theory and composition from

Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts — but he can’t seem to

shake the habit of continuing to earn them. He is currently pursuing

doctoral studies at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Drawn

to Dalcroze Eurythmics, a movement-based approach to music, he has

earned an elementary Dalcroze certificate at Pittsburgh’s


and a Dalcroze "license" from the Longy School of Music in

Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet one credential still eludes him.

Missing from the list is a Dalcroze Diploma, the most advanced


credential, which requires arduous testing in a legion of fields,

as well as a year’s residence in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Very few people have the Dalcroze `Diplome,’" says Parente

in an interview from his home in Bloomfield, "because of the


difficulty of passing the exam. You have to be an extremely skilled

improviser at the piano, you have to teach so people understand, you

have to be a master of Dalcroze solfege and of movement, you have

to understand the workings of the human body, and you have to be able

to teach in French." To earn the diploma, Dalcroze hopefuls must

follow the year-long academic program in Geneva. Fluency in French

is a prerequisite. Parente, no slouch at earning degrees, calls


the "Diplome" in Geneva "an aspiration."

Parente teaches Dalcroze Eurythmics at Westminster Choir College of

Rider University, which hosts the Dalcroze Society’s national


Tuesday to Sunday, June 23 to 28. All events are open to the public.

The Dalcroze system of music education, developed in the 19th century,

continues to be valued today for the way it involves the whole body

and emphasizes ear training.

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Dalcroze Roots

Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, born in 1865, developed the system named after

him during the 1890s, when he was professor of harmony and composition

at the Geneva Conservatory. His students, he observed, performed in

fundamentally unmusical ways; they tended to follow rules and use

mechanical principles, rather than to listen. As he experimented with

ways to make his students hear the music, he noticed that their


seemed to set in motion instinctive body movements. They would tap

their feet, nod their heads, sway from side to side, or gesture with

a hand to mark the beat. He began to think that the natural gait of

the body and the regularity of breathing held an inborn rhythmic


that could be a source for understanding music with both mind and

body. The system was named Eurythmics, from Greek roots meaning


and "movement."

The Dalcroze approach eventually came to include three main aspects:

movement, in bare feet — a shocking idea in a period when the

prudish covered the limbs, even the legs of their furniture; a unique

system of solfege, or singing by syllables denoting pitches, through

which students would refine their understanding of scales, and develop

perfect pitch; and both musical and dance improvisation.

Dalcroze’s radical approach to music instruction evoked enthusiasm

beyond Geneva, and Dalcroze schools were established in many


including the United States, in 1915. Teachers of special education

employed his ideas in therapy for the physically, mentally, and


handicapped. Dalcroze’s strong interest in theater, opera, and dance,

and his gift for teaching led to the use of his approach on the stage.

In Paris in 1913, for instance, he sent his protege, Marie Rambert,

to help train Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for the difficult rhythms

of Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring."

Dalcroze continued to question and refine his ideas until his death

in 1950. A number of people who studied with Dalcroze are still active

in the movement he started, but for the most part, those now active

are a generation or two removed from the founder.

Tom Parente’s Dalcroze lineage goes back to Jacques-Dalcroze himself

via his mentor Robert Abramson, who studied with Hilda Schuster, who

studied with Dalcroze. Abramson, along with Ruth Alperson and Ruth

Farber, is co-president of New York’s Dalcroze School.

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Workshop at Westminster

All of them, and others whose names are household words

in Dalcroze circles, will participate in the conference. Morning


Wednesday through Saturday from 9:40 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. include


Dalcroze solfege, and piano or percussion improvisation at beginning,

intermediate, and advanced levels. "No experience is


says Parente. "There will be sessions for people who never touched

the piano before. They’ll be using palms, open hands, elbows, their

entire anatomy, to play on all black keys or make clusters of sounds.

Everyone becomes a musician through improvisation."

Among the 90-minute workshops are William Westney’s Unmaster Class

in which performers will use creative movements to explore various

facets of the pieces they’re performing; Peter Hawes’ International

Rhythmic Patterns, where participants will forsake the square western

rhythms of two, three, and four beats, to investigate exotic patterns

where 11 and 13 are standard; there are also sessions on song writing,

choral conducting, Baroque music and dance, and a computer lab. Two

demonstration classes with children new to Dalcroze are included in

the afternoon events.

Princeton’s Ken Guilmartin leads these events with Sean Hartley and

David Braham. Guilmartin, who is Dalcroze-trained, is founder of the

Princeton Music and Movement Center, which offers the Music Together

program for parents and children on Witherspoon Street and at music

schools around the nation. He describes his successful school as a

"Dalcroze-inspired" institute. Evening events include folk

dancing, a concert potpourri, and a lecture and concert by Phyllis

Lehrer. Detailed information about all events is available from


Continuing Education department at 609-921-7100.

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Tom Parente

Parente, 45, first learned of Dalcroze when he was a student at


School of Music through Abramson, then chairman of Manhattan’s theory

department: "I came to the first class reluctantly, and Abramson

asked us to take off our shoes and socks. That gave me the idea that

this was very different from anything I have done before. From that

day forward, I knew that I had found a true love."

"I always had incredibly inspiring teachers," Parente says.

"At Carnegie-Mellon there was Annabelle Joseph, who will lead

the folk dance evening in Princeton, and Martha Sanchez, who’s 80

years old, going on 30. Dalcroze keeps one young. It allows one to

tap into a creative source that results in permanent youth. At Longy

I had Lisa Parker and Anne Farber, who are internationally known."

Parker is a former president of the Dalcroze Society of America;


is the current co-president.

"In class with Martha Sanchez," Parente says, "she asked

us to do a movement, where we would take three steps and make five

gestures simultaneously. Her improvisation at the piano was so


subtle, and the sequencing of steps was so masterful, at the end we

said `Why was this ever a problem?’ Your body knew exactly what to

do. When she said switch, you made a smooth switch without knowing

how or why."

The barefootedness that surprised Parente when he began his studies

is a fixture in Dalcroze circles. "That includes the person who

improvises at the piano," says Parente. "You need to be


he says, "to elicit a natural response. In Dalcroze you use your

body in a natural manner, and shoes inhibit that creativity. In


there’s much talk about weight transfer, and shoes impede your


of that. The uninitiated onlooker feels that they’re in the midst

of a dance class. The essential difference between Dalcroze and other

instruction is that in Dalcroze, movement is being used as the means

to an end, rather than being the end in itself."

Parente’s first job after his Dalcroze training at the Longy School

was to write a curriculum for the preparatory division of Montclair

University’s Music Department for children ages 3 to 10. He has been

at Westminster since 1993, teaching class piano for piano minors and

Dalcroze Eurythmics. Parente is also completing a book on materials

for class piano. Three decades ago, Parente says, the renowned teacher

John Coleman, who studied with Jacques-Dalcroze, was a member of the

Westminster faculty. "Now, perhaps," says Parente, two years

after Coleman’s death, "we are renewing this tradition." New

this year at Westminster is a required weekly Dalcroze seminar for

music education majors. "Westminster is undergoing curricular

change, and there is the possibility of Eurythmics becoming a formal

part of the curriculum," Parente says. "The interest is


there from all departments."

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Dalcroze Benefits

A great benefit for musicians is the ability to remember pitch. This

skill is sometimes called perfect pitch. Dalcroze solfege exercise

helps develop it, according to Parente, by starting all scales on

the piano’s middle C. Conventionally, major scales start on different

notes and use a fixed pattern of whole and half steps. The repeated

use of middle C as a starting point allows students to memorize that

sound, Parente explains, as well as provoking in students a particular

sensitivity to different keys.

Parente stresses the naturalness of the Dalcroze


Children capable of bouncing a tennis ball bounce it to the beat of

the music without thinking, he says. In a beginning class, students

solve a timing problem without instruction. Sitting in a circle,


says, students pass a tennis ball to music improvised at the piano.

As the music gets faster, they have to accelerate the speed of passing

the ball without dropping it. "There is laughter and giddiness

as the speed increases," he says. "Students make no


in the movement, and it becomes frantic. After a while, they find

an easy solution. They make the circle smaller and get their hands

closer together. They inevitably solve the problem themselves,


Dalcroze relies very much on the intelligence of the body. You find

resources in your musical DNA."

Although the ideal Dalcroze class takes place in a spacious room with

a wooden floor, Parente calls the physical requirements highly


"The average piano studio would be adequate if you move the


around a little bit. If there are lots of kids and little space, you

would concentrate on upper body movement," he says.

Are there no difficulties to Dalcroze? Parente comes up with one:

"You have to put your inhibitions aside," he says. That


on the part of Dalcroze learners, may be easier to solve than the

problem of developing enough skilled instructors to teach the program.

Learning how to induce the abandonment of deep-seated inhibitions

can be an arduous matter.

Instructing with the Dalcroze system also requires meticulous


precise sequencing of activities, and refined artistic sensibilities.

The number of people trained in Dalcroze is relatively small, with

the roster of the Dalcroze Society of America at fewer than 300


They center in the areas surrounding New York City, Boston, Seattle,

and Pittsburgh. Parente remembers consulting for the Jacksonville

Symphony, led by Roger Nierenberg. Nierenberg persuaded the Symphony

Board, the Jacksonville Board of Education, and the private sector

to unite in sponsoring a Dalcroze program. "They were very


Parente says. "I flew back and forth to do a needs assessment

and create a program. I looked within a circle 200 miles out from

Jacksonville, and there was not a single Dalcroze teacher. I drove

all over the state. They had to do a national search to find a


— Elaine Strauss

Dalcroze Society of America, Westminster Choir College,

Rider University, 609-924-7416, extension 227. Opening reception for

the national conference that continues through Sunday, June 28.


$280. Tuesday, June 23, 5 p.m.

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