Fifty Major Thinkers on Education: From Confucius to Dewey

By Joy A. Palmer; Liora Bresler et al. | Go to book overview
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ÉMILE JAQUES-DALCROZE 1865-1950

I am beginning to think of a musical education in which the body would play the role of intermediary between sound and thought, so becoming an expressive instrument. Bodily movement is an experience felt by a sixth sense, the muscular sense. This consists of the relationship between the dynamics of movement and the position of the body in space, between the duration of movement and its extent, between the preparation of a movement and its performance. This muscular sense must be capable of being grasped by the intellect, and since it demands the collaboration of all the muscles, voluntary and involuntary, its rhythmic education needs movement of the whole body. 1

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze was born to Swiss parents in Vienna in 1865. 2 The family later moved to Geneva, which became the base for Dalcroze's life's work. His parents recognized his unusual musical abilities and started his piano lessons at a young age. His education was characterized by richness and diversity, including gymnastics, conducting, composition (with prominent composers such as Bruckner, Delibes and Fauré), and drama at the Comédie Française. 3 In Algiers, where he conducted an orchestra, he discovered the relationship of music and gesture and became intrigued with the intricate, irregular rhythms of Arab music. First as a student, and later as a teacher at the University of Geneva, he came into contact with Europeans who were well known in the fields of music, theatre, pedagogy and psychology, and he maintained these influential links throughout his long life. His close friends included innovative stage designer Adolph Appia, composer Gabriel Fauré and psychologist Adolphe Claparède. These close personal relationships gave him insights into the workings of a range of educational fields and artistic disciplines.

When in 1894 he made his début in pedagogy as professor of harmony at the Conservatoire of Geneva, he became concerned with the technically accurate but lifeless performances of his piano students. 4 He was appalled at their poor sense of rhythm, their lack of feeling for the flow of the music, and their inability to hear what they were writing. He attributed these weaknesses to their conventional training, which taught them to manipulate their fingers, and to complete various theoretical tasks without reference to feeling or to sound. Their musical progress, he claimed was 'retarded by an incapacity to estimate with any exactitude variations of time and rhythmic grouping'. (Rhythm, Music and Education (RME), pp. vii-viii). He argued that 'The music teacher should make it his first business to create a feeling for beauty in the souls of his pupils' (RME, p. 22). Individuals, he asserted, should learn to feel the music before embarking on the study of an instrument.

From his observations of the natural rhythms in human movements he concluded that the brain and the body develop along parallel lines, the one communicating its impressions and sensations to the other, and that therefore physiological training would develop his students' abilities to understand and respond to music. He argued that rhythm, not sound, was the primary form of movement. To support this theory he proposed eight principles. 5

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