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Why Dalcroze for Wales? By Bethan Habron-James

Bethan working in Neuadd Dwyfor
Bethan working in Neuadd Dwyfor

I had the privilege of going to Geneva to study Dalcroze Eurhythmics at the end of the 90s, after some years of studying part time in Manchester. At the end of my dissertation for my final Licentiate exams I wrote that my dream one day, would be to share this pioneering education method with my Welsh compatriots. I explained that I had had an excellent music education in my childhood, full of singing and instrumental playing but there had been no connection between my music education and my physical education (apart from folk dancing, where the two crafts co-existed but the movement was not related to musical education).

Dalcroze Eurhythmics is unique in that one learns about music through music, and through the instinctive response of the body. The teacher improvises music, or plays recorded music, and draws the class to respond to the sound by using the body’s natural movement. Every element of music can be taught as a physical experience primarily in the gross muscles, before moving on to train the fine muscles for playing an instrument. This is how the body has learnt since childhood and it makes sense to prepare the whole body before learning to play a musical instrument; to prepare it to listen, to respond with agility and flexibility, to develop coordination, to be aware of others and the surrounding space, to fire the imagination, and so forth.

Over the fifteen years of teaching Dalcroze to children and adults of all ages and abilities across the world I have experienced how simple it is to teach whole classes the rudiments of music through full-body knowledge; the learning is quick, effective and profound, since it is based on muscle memory.

There is an artistic richness in Wales’s history and in the country’s music education; the raw ingredients already exist – singing, cân actol, cerdd dant, folk dancing, cyd-adrodd (co-reciting). Dalcroze can make connections between the arts and combine them in various inspirational ways, to confirm the innate and important bonds between them.

Two other facts motivated me to share this information with children in Wales. The first was when I came across a photograph of Jaques-Dalcroze on the stairs of Bangor University in 1923 last year; he was examining students of his method on a British summer course. It was a surprise and a thrill to see that ‘the master’ himself had been here! Second, Caryl Roese mentions in her report on primary music education in Wales (2003, Bangor University) that the Education Advisory Committee (Wales) recommended lessons in the Dalcroze method for primary schools in 1953. So these ideas are not new.

The most important thing to say about Dalcroze is that children and adults testify to the joy that there is to be had in learning and its effect on their well-being and social cohesion. The purpose of Dalcroze lessons is to integrate head and body knowledge, to give an opportunity to experience and discover fully. In the words of Jaques-Dalcroze himself, “The aim of eurhythmics is to enable pupils, at the end of their course, to say, not ‘I know,’ but, ‘I have experienced,’ and so to create in them the desire to express themselves.” Jaques-Dalcroze, Rhythm, Music and Education (1914)

Find out more about Bethan Habron-James, read her biography here.

We are particularly grateful for the support of the Ernest Cook Trust:
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