Why I Walked Away
“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”Mahatma Gandhi
I know people who walk on treadmills at the gym, count daily steps with a wrist device, yet habitually look for parking spaces near buildings to minimize walking. Maybe we only give conscious thought to walking when we can’t do it or when watching a child first master it, but it’s a marvel. It took humans awhile to become bipedal and our bodies continue to evolve and adjust to the challenge.
As a common human experience shared throughout time and across culture, walking is a basic example of universal truth. It engages us with the laws of physics, requiring transfers of weight in durations of time and quantities of space. It’s so natural, it usually doesn’t demand a lot of thought. As a feature in Dalcroze Eurhythmics classes, however, walking has its own purpose and therefore requires its own focus. Or so I’d thought.
Then again, since walking takes us from one place to another, it’s also a metaphor for the universal truth that all things change.
Walking as Music.
Rhythmic movement existed before anyone started teaching it. Naturally, we sync with beats by tapping a toe, nodding a head, taking a step. Each is a mark in time that identifies a precise moment when one duration ends and new one begins.
It’s another truth (on earth, anyway) that what goes up must come down. In dance forms and conducting patterns, beat “one” begins in a place we call “down,” but then must move upward. If we think of the first beat’s strength as pounding downward, body and sound will reflect it.
(For example, a waltz step that stays down on beat ‘one’ will need to jerk abruptly up to beat ‘two.’ Or, if we continue to exert pressure downward into piano keys, kneading them or applying special wrist movements after they’ve been depressed, is that “elasticity” or is it wasted effort? I’ve shared my view.)
I have taught many classes and written many words about the principle of the crusic lift against gravity. Examples on this blog include a piano piece by Tchiakovsky, a lovely little art song, a dance phrase with metric changes, and a teaching etude by Dalcroze himself.. However, this is among many concepts no longer embraced by the central institute of the Jaques-Dalcroze method in Geneva.
My first initiation in a eurhythmics class began with, “Walk with my music.” I asked for clarification. Walk how? Turned out or parallel, plié or straight, heels first or toes? Answer: Just walk naturally. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure what that meant.
I came to learn that there are (or were) movement techniques for optimal music experience in eurhythmics classes. How weight transfers, lifts, suspends, or releases embodies musical meaning. External appearance is not the point. Internal experience is.
For example, to provide tactile experience of duration, the ball of the foot maintains contact with the floor as it passes through. As a result, the transfer of weight begins on the ball of the foot rather than the heel. Subtle vertical contours embody meter. Changes of direction delineate phrasing. Shaped pathways, shifts of impetus, variations of velocity can reflect harmonic density, changing dynamics, tonal shifts, etc. By exploring the physicality of music in various contexts, the natural, instinctive reality of our moving bodies leads us to perceive, perform and understand music in a deep dimension.
That reflects my personal experience and understanding. I believe I learned this as a third generation student in the Jaques-Dalcroze lineage. But I could be wrong. Maybe I was bringing my own perspectives as a dancer-musician to eurhythmics all along, or maybe my teacher or my teacher’s teachers developed these concepts of musical movement. Somewhere along the way, things changed.
Walking in Different Directions.
Even the essential foundations of the Jaques-Dalcroze method have changed over time and cultures through diverse practices. After all, it has reached across countries, with various applications, for over a century. This can make it difficult to define and can present challenges to the international committee appointed to uphold the method’s standards in accordance with Jaques-Dalcroze’s will.
Several years ago, a schism cracked through the U.S. Dalcroze community. It exposed divisions that hadn’t been addressed, and raised questions about advancing the Dalcroze work in America while remaining compliant with international rules.
Although they are unenforced, the rules concern the use of the Dalcroze name, for example. The method’s highest credential, the Diplôme Supérieur, upholds standards, and can be earned only at l’institut Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva. Somewhat like sanctified bishops, holders of that degree may create their own programs to confer lower credentials (certificates, licenses) with the international authorization.
My first reaction to questions of fidelity or separation (Amexit? Eurexit?) was to support the allegiance to the Swiss institute and its oversight. Based on assumptions, I was concerned about losing traditions, lowering standards, and further confusing the already-nebulous definitions of the method.
Good things grew out of the split. It drew several American camps out from separate corners to share philosophies and practices collegially. It seems our Dalcroze centers had competed, and not really spoken with each other, for decades. Although all schools had equal authorization, their Diplôme holders had studied with different teachers, passed through the institut in Geneva at different times, and had uneven areas of overlap and divergence.
Some esoteric aspects of the method that I’d thought no one practiced in the U.S. are alive and well here, after all. Yet overarching principles of pedagogy, movement and philosophy I considered standard are not. Terminology other people use is unfamiliar to me, as mine is to them. And yes, we even have different ideas about walking!
Walking in Circles.
I wanted to work toward the Diplôme Jaques-Dalcroze. I believed I could help forge unity here, teach more teachers, and support the international authorities’ oversight. However, to make this long story shorter, by the time I’d gone through the admissions process, I’d lost confidence in myself, trust in close friends and colleagues, and faith in the institut Jaques-Dalcroze.
As a candidate for the Diplôme Supérieur, I was exempted from coursework. My program was essentially presenting a series of projects and exams. The universal truth that All Things Change is a gross understatement in this case. For years, the rules and requirements had shifted like moving targets. Each time I planned a year of work according to the rules I had, I learned that my plans were no longer acceptable for one new reason or another.
The unending series of “one more thing”s became downright laughable. Maybe they just wanted me to spend more time in residence in Geneva, or maybe they just didn’t like me and wanted me to give up. (I did, for awhile.)
I agreed to make one more two-week visit in November, 2017. It was required to observe classes (again), to schedule my exams, and probably to prove to them that I was committed to completing this. I needed to know that as well. I promised myself I would return home with a firm decision either to go forward or to walk away.
Walking in Line.
Things were fine until the day before I was to return home. It started with walking.
The lift and fall for meter in movement is puzzling there. “Why are you going up and down?” That’s okay. I can walk like I’m balancing a book on my head, too. But it was more difficult than that.
Walking in eurhythmics, I was admonished, should be “like walking down the street.” Yes, I had heard this idea from one of my American colleagues, too. Walking naturally meant heels first. Correction: also, no turnout (even if that is how some of us naturally walk down the street), for which I was mimicked. Not a problem, though. I can walk parallel.
This pedestrian approach seems to value ease and pronounced relaxation. There is a slight undulation of the spine, a bit of lateral sway and loose, even vibratory, arms. Cultural differences may influence aesthetic tendencies, contrasting American dance students’ “all-out” energy with Swiss preference for aloof ease, for instance.
In a short lesson, I presented non-legato articulation in ¾. I used a precise, bound movement pattern to emphasize its straight quality as a simple meter. This simply isn’t done in Geneva, I was later informed, because such a controlled and specific movement, rigid rather than free (which was my point), feels uncomfortable.
By contrast, when I encouraged students to experiment with the swinging character of 6/8, dropping and suspending in any ways they wished before minimizing the quality into a conducting pattern, this was too free and unspecific. I didn’t dictate precisely how high to lift their arms. Apparently, such uncertainty causes students to feel uncomfortable.
When in Rome, we can do as the Romans do provided we know what that is. I was prepared for one difference of technique, at least. In my Jaques-Dalcroze studies, I’d learned to perform quick patterns with an upward spring, not an outward leap or jeté. However, I’d recently learned from a well-informed source that the jeté is currently the preferred form in Geneva. I was ready. Jeté I did, but – surprise! Everything right is wrong again. Now one should not jeté, but must spring (although I suspect if I’d sprung it would have been correct to jeté).
(After my grand jeté blunder, I further learned that I have a pervasive bad habit in movement: when I walk, my legs extend forward of my hips, first one and then the other. See if you keep your feet under your hips while walking. Really. Try it.)
I could go on at length (and am tempted to), but I think I’ve made the point without belaboring it. There was literally no telling how long this could go on. Indeed, the final word was that I would require an indefinite period of time.
Beyond differences of opinion on these little things that don’t much matter to the world anyway, there are big principles that do matter. There are real distinctions between true and false. Right and wrong. Just and unjust.
Honest and dishonest.
Plato said honesty tends to be less profitable than dishonesty. That much seems evident. It’s difficult to find honesty within ourselves, and often even more difficult to state it. This hurts. Surely it would be easier to continue the path, pretending people and circumstances are uniform, following directions for walking naturally, writing lists of exercises, memorizing formulaic phrases of speech and music, graciously accepting callous insults, all under the guise of holistic joy.
It is true that I disagree with practices of many Jaques-Dalcroze Diplômes, here and elsewhere, and that’s okay. What few will admit is that many Diplômes disagree with each other and with the current authorities in Geneva. Hence their students are at a loss to know what is “correct” at any moment, to any individual on any jury.
Contrary to the spirit of the Dalcroze philosophy, an authoritarian, often arbitrary approach holds forth in a one-way dialogue, focuses its attention inward, and demands strict conformity. How many of its most esteemed and senior representatives could past a test of conformity to unspecific standards?
Moreover, we’d probably all fail each other’s exams, veteran Licentiates and Diplômes alike. After all, how we measure up all depends on the yardstick used. We each develop our own, and grow to determine the relative value of others’.
Some have suggested that I continue the process toward the terminal degree in Geneva, because I could then ignore that tutelage and go on with the work I believe in. Why do it, then? The answer is that I would have authorization from Geneva’s collège to teach and credential others into the hierarchy that leads back to the Geneva school, so yet more people can earn Diplômes. But that would be doubly dishonest. If I did my best work, it wouldn’t lead organically to the Geneva school; and the last thing I’d want to do is lead anyone else into the same costly, time-consuming, soul-crushing conundrum I’ve been through.
Moving forward starts with being grounded in the present, knowing who and where we are. For me, that meant coming home to the gritty reality of 21st-century America. I decided to teach part-time in an underserved inner-city Baltimore school, where there is real need. (I also teach in two universities, movement to music majors and music to dance majors.)
I still believe my approach to teaching is rooted in the traditions of authentic Jaques-Dalcroze methodology. I still hold the License Jaques-Dalcroze and will continue to use the Dalcroze name. And I still know that doing my best work means accepting the things I cannot change and changing the things I can.
It means working with my own name, MusiKinesis®, to breathe living music back into dance, where Jaques-Dalcroze once had such tremendous influence, and to bring physicality to musicians with purpose. Even if I work alone and get nowhere, “the truth is the truth,” as Gandhi said. It must be in every step of the journey.
Perhaps Francis of Assisi said it best: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”