Friday, November 21, 2008

Dalcroze, the body, movement and musicality: From Movement to Expression

Seitz, J.A. (2005). Dalcroze, the body, movement and musicality. Psychology of Music, 33, 419-435.

Andrea Botticelli

In the journal article entitled “Dalcroze, the body, movement, and musicality”, Seitz argues that bodily movement is the link between emotional involvement and cognitive appraisal of musical elements such as melody, dynamics, tempo and rhythm. The article begins with an introduction to the method of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze. In the early part of the 20th century, the Swiss composer, conductor, music educator and writer created his theory of musical education that centers on the importance of rhythm and body in musical expression. He believed that all musical elements can be learned using physical movements; for instance, consonant and dissonant chords can be expressed with consonant and dissonant gestures (420).

Seitz defends this view by citing current studies about musical expressivity. Recent research has shown that the emotions mostly expressed in a musical piece were ones that did not require a cognitive object, such as joyous, happy, cheerful, calm positive emotions and sad, depressed, sorrowful, and gloomy negative emotions (420-421). It seems that music activates subcortical emotions that are precognitive and intimately tied to the body and bodily processes. Seitz argues that musical expressivity is like physiognomic perception, the attribution of emotional states to inanimate objects seen or heard; physiognomic perception is closely tied to the body. In addition, Stephen Davies maintains that music doesn’t symbolize or represent; instead, “emotions are presented directly in the musical work through dynamic parallels to human movement, behavior, physiognomy, the human voice, gait, etc.” (422). In short, musical motion is inherent in the musical piece; tension and relaxation are experienced and felt as emotions in the listener (422).

The idea that musical elements, including rhythm and melody, should be embodied to create an expressive performance has considerable face validity. I think that any Dalcroze instructor would agree that they have witnessed how this method helps students to have a more intimate, intrinsic understanding of musical motion and its structural processes. It is fascinating that brain research from a century later can support the insight of a very accomplished musician. If music is a vehicle to communicate emotion, embodiment of musical structures may form a link between emotion and cognition. With the body as a link to emotion, the memory of these movements forms a cognitive storeroom of musical structures and expressivity.


Janet said...

I agree wholeheartedly on your comments Andrea. Perhaps more research will be completed in the future that will further link movement, emotion and the brain that will assist students in the music classroom to enhance their learning styles. Movement in the form of eurhythmics can be the vehicle for further understanding of chord structures, ear training, etc which for some students are more difficult concepts to master at an early age. It is also interesting that many private vocal, piano and other instrumental instructors use Dalcroze Eurhythmics in their private studios as a regular part of the music lesson.

Sharon Dutton said...

With the body as a link to emotion, the memory of these movements forms a cognitive storeroom of musical structures and expressivity. --- I totally agree, and this is why Dalcroze,I think, works. I reviewed an article "When the brain plays music:", by Zatorre, Chen, & Penhune, 2007, ("Nature Reviews Neuroscience", vol 8 no 7) which included an aside on emotion and motor response. I don't think it accounts for the phenomenon that you are describing above, but they (the neuroscientists), make a neuroscientific link between emotion and sensory-motor response. They hypothesize that the emotional response (sadness, for example), could result from the mirror-neuron system creating feelings that correspond to the moods suggested by slower tempo, low pitch, and smooth articulation. I don't agree, however, based on the existence of mirror-neurons, these authors speculate that "auditory-motor interactions may therefore in part mediate music-induced emotion, perhaps providing thelink between listening andmoving" (p 555).