Thursday, May 30, 2019

Introduction to Soma Literacy

I wanted to post a little introduction here as a way to introduce my music colleagues to a dissertation that was conducted in and written for a School of Design. 

A short introduction to the dissertation:

My main gig for the last 30 years has been as a student and teacher of the Dalcroze Eurhythmics course work. Spending well more than 10,000 hours in the Eurhythmics studio I started to notice patterns and applications of the work to environments outside of music, that is, I started to notice how I was using my Eurhythmics knowing in the extra-musical moments of my life. As a result, I began to critique mundane moments of life relative to their musicality. 

Take conversations for instance. Some conversations possess the phrasing–pacing–tension/relaxation–build-up/decay–consonances and dissonances of a rewarding piece of music, while others are so awkward that they fall flat, not even accomplishing basic cohesion, let alone providing the payoff of a serendipitous piece of art.

Or road trips...Some road trips zoom along with an easy and rewarding flow while others feel like drudgery. We can experience the flow or the drudgery in both long trips and short errands around the block (not unlike some performances of music)...

Or even in discreet gestures like taking a single step forward, inhaling a breath, or riding a single swoop on a playground swing...these all possess the potential for beauty and we (often subconsciously) strive for the most beautiful performance of each of them, immediately recognizing when any of them fall short.

All "happenings" (or Design would say, all "interactions") can be analyzed for their flow. The Eurhythmics class does just this: it aids the musician in recognizing and then fostering "good flow" (eu-rhythmics) in music: music making, music performing, musical participation. 

Here in my PhD course of study, I doubled-down on the extra-musical happenings and interactions of mundane life and used the same kind of Eurhythmic knowing to assess, critique, and then offer a path to improve everyday, mundane, extra-musical experience. 

Performing musicians spend a lifetime trying to eliminate the awkward and enhance the good flow in their music making. Designers spend careers trying to eliminate the awkward and enhance the good flow in everyday interactions. Eurhythmicians spend a lifetime aiding the student is recognizing that the proving ground for beauty and good flow is in their feeling, pulsing, dynamic body. Soma Literacy is merely the codifying, categorizing, and skilling in this attention to the visceral/felt/aesthetic of the living body.

In the following dissertation I do my best to share Eurhythmic knowing with a community who knows nothing of Jaques-Dalcroze and who has no need to care about music or music making. The Interaction Designers, Experience Designers, Service Designers, and those working in Design for Social Change, Transition Design, and Architecture are looking at awkwardnesses in everyday life (well off of the performance stage) and trying to offer value to these "happenings" or "interactions" by designing and redesigning the experiences. By taking a few pages out of the Jaques-Dalcroze playbooks, combining this with philosophy of Dewey, Shusterman, Merleau-Ponty among others, and pushing it through the forge of Design discourse, I present Soma Literacy and Corporeal Design as new fields and topics for debate within the design (and hopefully within the music) communities. 

While working to add value to the design fields, the study has transformed and clarified so much of what I believe as a practicing musician and Dalcrozian that my teaching will forever be changed. In truth, it is not only my teaching that has changed, but also the ways I go about assessing my everyday life.

A Bartok selection for the young pianist is not merely a succession of notes for the pianist to hit in the correct order and tempo. It is an aspiration for a complete and fulfilling experience, an interaction that we in the music community would deem "musical" or "artful". Having completed 30 years of Dalcroze studies + these five years of study in Design theory, I now look to all of my interactions (with my peers, my spouse, my environment, with the things and artifacts around me, and even the ways that I interact within myself) and see these as aspiring to a musicality. The PhD began using music as an example of beauty and finished with music being a model for artfulness in living. 

This is what I attempt to describe and demonstrate for the Design fields in the dissertation and what I continue to describe and demonstrate for my Eurhythmics students every day, the potential for an artful life, both on and off of the concert stage.

1 comment:

  1. I included two pages in the introduction of the dissertation to again frame this work for the non-designer.

    Pages 9-10: Section 1.4 – A Note for Dalcroze Eurhythmics and Other Music Professionals

    The following dissertation could not have come together in the manner that it did without my prior thirty years as a student and instructor 9 in the methods and attentions of Jaques-Dalcroze. The Eurhythmics professional should read the following pages not as a description of what happens in a Dalcroze classroom, but rather, as what might happen as one result of a Dalcrozian mindset combined with a curiosity for applications outside of the field of music. The longer I have taught from his methods and within the music community, I have been ever more interested in what the method reveals, rather than what old lessons it continues to teach. The traditional lessons and well-trodden insights are extremely valuable, and I am sure that I will continue to teach those lessons and insights to my students (music, design, and other) as long as I am in the classroom. But here, of special significance to this point in time and to this current project, I am interested in the tradition of Jaques-Dalcroze’s “experiments.” In 1903, Jaques-Dalcroze began with a bit of insight, a notion, a hunch. He did not have any established plans or traditions—there was not a pedagogy. He set off on a series of experiments that led him not only in and through music (Bachmann, Parlett, Dobbs, & Stewart, 1993), but also in and through drama, stage design, lighting design, dance, psychology, philosophy, childhood education, and work with the non-musician folk of his day. He was not only interested in music as the one most sacred modality. He collaborated with practitioners and theorists of a wide variety of fields and cultures, and continued to search for a through-line, a common thread that rendered all of the varied modalities and attentions artful. His great insight was that the body—the ever-moving, dynamic, pulsing, shifting, personal, feeling body—held knowledge that was yet to be explored. In the current set of “experiments” I have done my best to continue the attentions and biases of Jaques-Dalcroze into a new field of practice, a field where we can question the nowness and ubiquity of potential artful interactions and attempt more thoughtful designs yielding more meaningful connections on all of the varied stages.

    Any time I use wording such as “the design fields” or “designed experience” or “interactions,” the music professional is welcome to replace those titles with “the composers, conductors, choreographers, performers” and “compositions of all genres.” The primary difference between the musicians and the designers of the world are only the venues in which we play. Whereas the traditions of musicians, dancers, and dramats enjoy performances on the precious stage at assigned hours with special costumes, lighting, and curated audiences, designers are working in every other venue throughout our day. Designers work with the masses in every generic space, without the advantage of choosing the audience within whom they aspire to occasion an experience.

    As a practicing/performing/teaching musician I have benefited greatly from this venture into extra-musical territory. It has shed light on both sides of the curtain, providing both a greatly enhanced conversation and deeper understanding of the potential of music to transform the participant, as well as a whole new audience with whom to make music.