A quick primer on the Eurhythmics classes at CMU School of Music
The Carnegie Tech Department of Music adopted the required four semesters of Dalcroze Eurhythmics coursework in 1921. Since then, nearly 100 years of music undergraduates have spent roughly 150 hours of their Freshmen and Sophomore semesters studying musicianship through the somewhat irregular methods of the Eurhythmics classes. The course places a high value on the inner game of music performance, and utilizes improvisation, gesture, clapping, stepping, singing, small and large group projects. The classes are traditionally led from a large piano in an open space with shoes-off, in close proximity to other studying colleagues.
The Eurhythmics classes challenge the students to not only think and see music notation, and to not only hear and perform music, but above all to feel music. We build attention to the viscerality of musical experience through four semesters of participatory exercises that make the study of music personal and intimate. One way that this intimacy is encouraged is that the course is normally taught in a studio where the 9’ Steinway concert grand piano is so close that the students can literally feel the vibrations of even the most pianissimo of melodies. Another part of the winning recipe is that the Eurhythmics classes are always taught in participatory group settings. Everyone in the class is part of the ensemble; we learn from each other, singing, moving, sharing, and adjusting together, in real time, based on the musical choices of the participants.
New times require new plans
When the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, all of the faculty and administration of the School of Music scrambled and brainstormed for solutions for continuing the richness of our study in a new, spatially distanced environment. This posed specific challenges for the Eurhythmics classes.
We are normally very close together, in a room with a big piano, creating quite a stir. The move to full-time Zoom would require nearly all of the collaborative, in-the-moment, creative work to stop, leaving us with a shell of a course. After doing some soul searching and some investigations to non-traditional interaction possibilities (THANKS VDM!) I ran across two interesting projects, both outside of academia. The 1st is from a NYC based group called Improv Everywhere. They are a large-scale theatrical improvisation community who have mastered the art of the no-rehearsal flash mob (among other things). They have a recurring event called the MP3 project where they invite their mailing list to a certain hill in a park on a named day and time. The participants are instructed to download a playlist and an app and to bring their headphones. Then at the assigned time, they push play in the app and the technology synchronizes their playlist to every other of the 500+ participants on the hillside and everyone can then magically hear the exact same playlist at the same time. A narrator named Steve offers instructions and provocations and hilarity ensues while everyone in the club learns what to do next. Of added interest is the experience of everyone else at the park who are forced to guess at a how 500 people can move together and all seem to all know what to do next.
A second interesting event I found is called Silent Disco. Silent disco is an alternative dance club format, where participants show up to a dance club, pay the cover charge, and are immediately handed a set of headphones and a receiver belt pack. The club is silent until one puts on the headphones and turns on the receiver. Once on, the club is as loud as the attendee chooses to turn up the volume. Everyone in the club can hear the music, and everyone has the option of returning to silence at any point by just taking off the headphones. Everyone can dance fully, feeling immersed in the music without the aggressive sensation of amplified sound that one can not get away from.
My summer 2020 teaching was all through zoom and some of my adult students who had good cell reception started taking the classes outside in their yard or even at the park. The zoom version of Eurhythmics actually works better outside than inside as the audio is the same but the room to move is so much better. It was a revelation to me because we have always joked about taking Eurhythmics outside but have never found a good way to overcome the many obstacles. Thinking about the success of zooming in the park + the MP3 Experiment and Silent Disco I started obsessing about ways to combine these projects: the great outdoors + sound receivers + headphones + broadcast instructions. All that was left was to find a technology that permitted live instruction instead of pre-recorded playlists and the answer was a time-tested technology, FM radio (Thanks Jesse Stiles!).
A successful new routine
Since the beginning of the fall semester 2020, the Carnegie Mellon School of Music Eurhythmics classes have met outside on The Cut, the large lawn in front of the College of Fine Arts building. The school purchased FM receivers for each of the 100+ students enrolled in the Eurhythmics classes. The students arrive to the Cut donning headphones and their small FM receiver and I have a full rig set-up to both broadcast video and audio over Zoom for the students working remotely and a second audio feed for the students on the field. The FM broadcast allows the students outside on the field to receive a close, intimate, high-fidelity audio support directly into their ears. This allows us to bypass the rock-concert aesthetic and permits me to perform with a full range of dynamics and articulation. The passers-by are somewhat mystified as to the goings-on as none of the sound is amplified outside of the FM radio feed. They can see the students moving around but are often at a loss as to how they know to synchronize and collaborate on what appears to be a silent field. The students are close enough to feel the community and the shared experience of chamber music, yet distant enough to reduce fears of infection in the fresh air. The plan is to continue as many outside FM radio classes as possible until the weather makes the experience too cold to be productive.
The next plan is to host LATE NIGHT EURHYTHMICS. I am looking at a date this week where we will all meet on the lawn in the dark, glow sticks, sparklers, and light-up tennis balls in tow....stay tuned for some pictures!!
Here we are working on a simple right-hand/left-hand 'follow'. The students are attempting to step the rhythm of my left hand and clap the rhythm of my right hand. I repeat patterns independently in each hand and then evolve the patterns without any cue. The students have to listen, entrain, and adjust as the rhythms in my hands evolve.
Here we are working through a classic echo game. I sing and play a one bar pattern, the students conduct the meter, sing the echo, and step the rhythm that they are singing.
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