Every summer for the last few years I've had a chance to go "abroad" and learn some amazing things about music, life and myself. Two years ago, Alan Fraser's Piano Workshop. Last year, Andover Body Mapping. This year I spent a week in Cambridge, MA at the Longy School where I took a week's introductory course in the Dalcroze Method of Music Education.
Emile Jaques-Dalcroze was a revolutionary educator teaching in the early 20th century. He was dissatisfied with the inability of the music students he taught to actually understand or be able to make music in the truest sense of the word. The methods he created contributed to a revolution in the world of music education, and have implications for all educational pursuits.
This week I had the pleasure to be taught by a number of fabulous instructors in the subjects of human movement, Eurythmics, Solfege, Methodology and Piano Improvisation. Wheras at the Fraser Institute and the Andover Institute I was able to journal every day, this time I found myself inspired to simply experience and take a break from journaling. I did, however, come away with several profound discoveries that I wanted to share.
Personal Discoveries - "Falling is failing."
I found, to my fascination, that I have always equated the idea of falling with that of failing. To fall physically suggests a failure in my mind. Therefore any time I have found myself off balance, or even at risk of losing my equilibrium, I have reacted physically, mentally and emotionally as though I were failing, with the requisite contractions of certain muscle groups designed to prevent the fall at any cost.
More interesting, when I feel at risk of failure, I activate the same muscle groups! Therefore, failure is seen as a danger equivalent to falling and I contract in the same way that I would were I losing my balance. Recognizing this tendency, I am able to watch it happen in action, and therefore I can make different choices.
When I lose my balance, I can dismiss the idea that I am failing, relieving the need to contract unsympathetic muscle groups. Furthermore, when I am failing, I no longer have to respond physically to the event, which makes the experience a lot less traumatic. Now I can fall or fail, without having to equate the two.
Educational Discoveries - Give them something to discover
As an experienced classroom teacher, it was sometimes difficult to sift through the instruction in order to find the things that were being taught that, for me, were new. What did I really need to learn that I hadn't mastered yet, or what did I need to re-learn?
I was given an opportunity to teach a mock lesson to my fellow participants, and during the course of that lesson I saw myself attempting to provide failsafe instructions to them. This is a casualty of my life as a teacher - I can't risk the students not learning, so I have developed a style of teaching whereby as long as the students follow my instructions, they are guaranteed to learn something, even if they are not engaged.
An interesting double-edged sword - less engagement for a measure of educational safety. Instead my instructor suggested that I don't need to do everything for them, that I shouldn't make it too easy. She suggested that there must be a moment in the lesson where the children struggle, so that they have to discover something to succeed.
Ah, this is exactly what we learn as Feldenkrais teachers! It's only my insecurity and lack of recognition that has prevented me from making the leap in my music teaching. And so I have to learn to design lessons where there are moments that are slightly unsafe for the kids, just enough that they will engage...tricky, but worth it.
Feldenkrais - When is a function not a function?
Those of you that have followed me over the years know that my lasic-corrected vision began fluctuating a couple of years ago, so that I wondered if I should give in and go back to glasses. Over the course of the last few months, my clear vision has been coming back, and part of that came out of my experiences in movement class and what it taught me about human functionality.
A function has two components - two sides. If it doesn't, it's not a function, but merely a movement. Lifting your arm is a movement. Reaching for something is a function - there's the reach, and the thing you want to get.
Functions are therefore much more powerful than movements because there's an infinite variety of play between the two components. One aspect of the function changes when the other aspect does, and there's no more cause and effect, only reciprocal interaction. It is vastly more powerful, therefore, for a Feldenkrais practitioner to work with a function than a movement, because it registers so much more powerfully in the person.
In my case I discovered that I have historically stopped using my eyes even though I still saw things. Over the course of the week, having gained more freedom in my C-7 vertebra (just beneath the back of the skull) and my lower back, I was really able to look at things, get curious about them, visually enjoy the details. When I reverted sometimes to my previous way of seeing, I felt a powerful change in my body and my sense of self.
The point? Seeing is a function and it requires that you desire to see something. Without an active desire to look, either which direction you want to go, or what you want to read, or what details interest you, you are not fulfilling the function of seeing but are merely taking in information through the eyes. I may have been processing some of that information, but I wasn't processing it as a visual thing...I was translating it.
When I truly thought about the thing I wanted to see, when I looked where I wanted my body to go as I moved, and when I stayed cognizant during the entire path, my whole body responded differently. I was activated as a whole person.
This manifested itself profoundly as I moved through my Dalcroze lessons. I have never been comfortable dancing and, in fact, could never even understand why people enjoyed it. Yet as I moved with another person, as I engaged them actively with my eyes, communicated to them, knew where I was going and showed them with my whole self, I suddenly became the dancer I have always wanted to be.
Some final thoughts
As I leave Boston with regret, I am enormously grateful to the fantastic staff at the Longy School of Music. Surely there isn't a better place to learn about the powerful things Dalcroze can bring to light. I encourage you to take a trip up there yourself, even for just a week.
I intend to return and learn more, and what I learn I will share with you, and to anyone you care to send my way.