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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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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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