Rosemary Brandt : text

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Movement and Music

The nature of the relationship between Movement and Music in the classroom


My interest lies in examining the relationship between the structure of music and dance with a view to identifying relationships between sound and motion that might inform and enrich the explicit and implicit dialogue between dancers, accompanists and teachers in classroom practice.

Musicality, an essential quality for the dancer, is often considered to be the gift of the talented few, and not something which must and can be explicitly addressed and taught in terms of dance technique. The role of the musical accompanist in the classroom is all too often reduced to that of pulse keeper who gives tempo information. Steps or movements are demonstrated often to the accompaniment of counted metric beat. The common result is unitised movement, positions and stepping corresponding with musical beats, so that the movement is organised in the same way as the music. But human movement is not metrically structured and neither is dance.

Rhythm is an intrinsic principle of movement function. Speed, duration, acceleration and deceleration are the results of this function. In the functional form, we learn to control the relationship between our weight and the force of gravity through appropriate fluctuations in energy.

These interacting forces result in changes of speed, which punctuate our movement flow, making rhythm visible. This rhythm is related to our efficient function. In dance however, efficiency is not the primary objective. We follow different requirements, which may be described as technical or choreographic. As a result, the interaction between the two forces, gravity and our energy has to be deliberately controlled to create specific qualitative results. These can be identified, physically sensed, understood and perceived. Only when the rhythm of the movement is known and controlled can we attempt to relate the visible rhythm to the aural rhythm in a multitude of creative ways.

Musical accompaniment in the classroom has a very different function from music which functions as a component of a choreographed work. The musician needs to know what to accompany, how to support the required motion, and what that required motion is, so that dancer, musician and teacher all share the same objective. If sound is to support a particular motion, the nature and structure of the motion must be clearly articulated.

This interest has been stimulated by work with musicians who have been introduced to movement theory and analysis. The have commented on the value of this understanding of movement when it is articulated in the dance class.


Developing a vocabulary for collaborative creativity and learning


“I was left with a sense of not really having worked cross-arts collaboratively. Failures in communication were probably partly due to a general feeling of not knowing where to start, and also the fact that dancers and musicians tend to express themselves differently when describing music’

This quote – from a TCM student evaluation of a Professional Skills Project – is typical of feedback from music students about the experience of collaborative projects. It illustrates 4 key issues relating to the vocabulary of collaborative practice.

1. Young artists have a hunger for ‘collaboration’ but can be disappointed with differences between their concept of it, and reality.

2. Enthusiasm to collaborate is generally not matched by skills or vocabulary with which to plan collaborative processes

3. Within creative processes, artists from different disciplines encounter communication difficulties due to lack of shared vocabulary, or the use of similar vocabulary which has different meaning or connotations within each discipline.

4. Artists bring inherited expectations of hierarchical relationships between disciplines to collaborative relationships (in this instance that music is created for the dancers to dance to, and as such dancers need language with which to articulate what they want of the musicians). Appropriate language is needed with which to discuss the nature of collaborative creative relationships and processes, in order to identify pre-conceptions and devise new/appropriate approaches to interdisciplinary projects.

The issues identified in student feedback my experience of collaborative arts projects in professional life, and the early separation of artistic disciplines in the way the arts are taught in schools.


Context


In a cultural landscape in which traditional boundaries between art forms are being questioned and rejected, the term collaboration is in liberal use. The connotations of this term are widely understood to be that innovation, equality and interaction are inherent in collaborative creative processes.

In reality however, ‘collaboration’ is used in reference to a wide range of interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary or multi-artist projects, both traditional and innovative. Creative processes termed as ‘collaborative’ vary enormously in the level of interactivity between artists and art forms, from those that involve intensely shared experiences by artists in the same time and space, to others in which collaborators create their contributions separately, sometimes across years and/or continents.

The wide range of potential interpretations of the term ‘collaboration’ can lead to differences of expectation of – and sometimes disappointment or disenchantment in – collaborative artistic processes amongst arts practitioners and audiences. The arts face difficulties in articulating the nature of collaborative work, and in establishing working methods

Individual artistic disciplines have highly evolved vocabularies with which to communicate about, interpret and understand their art form and to plan and manage creative processes. If artists from differing disciplines are to create work together with equal levels of sophistication, then either a shared vocabulary – or some understanding of each others’ vocabulary - is needed. While many terms or concepts are shared across art forms (e.g. rhythm, dynamic, texture, harmony), similar terms may have evolved to have different applications or connotations. As such, these terms provide fertile ground on which to explore the fundamentals of human expression that ‘collaborators’ from differing disciplines have in common, while deepening understanding of each others’ art forms through examining differences in interpretation and application.


Relevance to Trinity Laban


Exploring vocabulary feels important at this early stage in the institution’s merger. Specialist language and terminology can be mystifying and divisive, while a focus on shared concepts, and how we relate to them, provides a means of identifying potential approaches to collaborative teaching or creative work.

As well as improving our ability to work together, in a conservatoire setting where highly specialist approaches and technical prowess predominate, I believe there is value in students and staff stepping outside of the technicalities of their discipline to reflect upon the nature of what we do, how we do it and why.

In addition, I feel there are particular communication issues facing music and dance practitioners, as opposed to collaborators from other art forms. This appears to stem from significant differences between our expectations and inherited experiences of relationships between music and dance.

Dance artists are experience in rehearsing with musical accompanists and creating works that incorporate music. Thus many have established individual methodologies or expectations that they bring to working with musicians. Their work is largely initiated and funded by dancers/dance companies, and thus musicians are often in their employ, or act as service providers to them, with dancers take the lead in dictating the nature of collaborative processes.

Most musicians, however, are trained with the expectation that their music is created and performed in the abstract – rather than having another discipline incorporated in its presentation. At the same time, musicians are quite used to people ‘dancing to’ (rather than as part of) their performance.

As such dancers and musicians appear to often have quite different expectations of what it is to ‘collaborate’. Dance artists might be rather surprised (and perhaps patronised) by the sense of pioneering excitement amongst musicians faced with the opportunity to create ‘with’ dancers, when it is an everyday occurrence for them. It would be easy for the focus of Trinity Laban’s collaborative activity to be on musicians playing ‘catch up’ by learning to meet the needs of the dance world.

To some extent, this may be highly appropriate, but also misses an opportunity to explore more innovative territory. Additionally, musicians can be disappointed to find themselves not feeling like an artistic equal in the creation of collaborative work, falling into a ‘service provider’ role, required to create material that conforms to the rhythmic, structural or stylistic constructs of the choreography.

What comes first – the music or the dance? Can collaborative relationships ever be truly equal? As artists address these questions a detailed vocabulary for the negotiation and development of collaborative approaches seems vital. Perhaps it exists and could form the basis of collaborative teaching at Trinity Laban? Perhaps it is lacking and is something we could seek to develop.


Applications beyond the Conservatoire


The division of music and dance in the education and learning of young people is a Western phenomonen, based on historical educative approaches to the acquisition of ‘knowledge’ rather than attitudes or skills. Increasingly, modern arts education emphasises cross-curricular working, recognising arts and culture as an expression of the human condition and entitling young people to cultural experience. In light of this, and with time and resources for arts education limited, there is an argument for removing divisions between art forms in education. For example, this might involve focusing learning on transferable aspects of self expression and creativity like rhythm, dynamics, tempo rather than discipline specific curriculum.

While cross-disciplinary approaches are common in workshop practice, it appears yet to be extended to the wider curriculum. The potential of this approach has been initially explored to some extent in the TCM 6-week skills-building project ‘The Visceral Arts’, led by John Sharp. Students are challenged to express themselves through a range of physical and artistic mediums and then channel this into their playing as musicians. The project is widely acknowledged by students as a transformative experience.

Since 2004 Trinity Laban has run a music and dance project in Marvels Lane Primary School funded by Creative Partnerships as a Cultural Entitlement research initiative. This involves a 10 week music and dance curriculum leading to the creation of music and dance performances by pupils. At present, the two disciplines remain relatively separate in both process and outcome – although the relationship between the two is explored. There is much potential here for the application of an innovative approach with far less distinction between disciplines, focusing on shared concepts or vocabulary.

My interest lies in examining the relationship between the structure of music and dance with a view to identifying relationships between sound and motion that might inform and enrich the explicit and implicit dialogue between dancers, accompanists and teachers in classroom practice.

Musicality, an essential quality for the dancer, is often considered to be the gift of the talented few, and not something which must and can be explicitly addressed and taught in terms of dance technique. The role of the musical accompanist in the classroom is all too often reduced to that of pulse keeper who gives tempo information. Steps or movements are demonstrated often to the accompaniment of counted metric beat. The common result is unitised movement, positions and stepping corresponding with musical beats, so that the movement is organised in the same way as the music. But human movement is not metrically structured and neither is dance.

Rhythm is an intrinsic principle of movement function. Speed, duration, acceleration and deceleration are the results of this function. In the functional form, we learn to control the relationship between our weight and the force of gravity through appropriate fluctuations in energy.

These interacting forces result in changes of speed, which punctuate our movement flow, making rhythm visible. This rhythm is related to our efficient function. In dance however, efficiency is not the primary objective. We follow different requirements, which may be described as technical or choreographic. As a result, the interaction between the two forces, gravity and our energy has to be deliberately controlled to create specific qualitative results. These can be identified, physically sensed, understood and perceived. Only when the rhythm of the movement is known and controlled can we attempt to relate the visible rhythm to the aural rhythm in a multitude of creative ways.

Musical accompaniment in the classroom has a very different function from music which functions as a component of a choreographed work. The musician needs to know what to accompany, how to support the required motion, and what that required motion is, so that dancer, musician and teacher all share the same objective. If sound is to support a particular motion, the nature and structure of the motion must be clearly articulated.

This interest has been stimulated by work with musicians who have been introduced to movement theory and analysis. The have commented on the value of this understanding of movement when it is articulated in the dance class.