More Ways of Knowing Music, with Jeremy Dittus

Have you ever heard of Dalcroze? It’s an approach to music learning that’s often discussed alongside Kodály or Orff, but until this interview we must confess that it’s one we didn’t know very much about.

We spoke with Dr. Jeremy Dittus, the founder and director of the Dalcroze School of the Rockies in Denver, one of the most prominent Dalcroze schools in the US, and asked him about his own experiences learning this approach and how (and why) he teaches it now.

Jeremy has been a lecturer in piano, theory, and solfège at the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory in Cleveland, he has taught undergraduate solfège, piano, and composition courses at the University of Colorado at Boulder, as well as eurhythmics and solfège at L’Institut Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva, Switzerland and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. At the Dalcroze School of the Rockies, he now leads a team providing Dalcroze Eurhythmics and Dalcroze Rhythmic-Solfège courses to ages 4 through 14, as well as popular adult classes.

In this conversation we talk about:

  • How “reading between the lines” of sheet music, Schenkerian analysis, and Dalcroze training all helped transform Jeremy into the musician and educator he is today
  • What exactly “Dalcroze” is and how each of its five components can benefit a musician
  • How and why Dalcroze uses both the fixed and movable do systems of solfege
  • How Dalcroze can enrich a musician who’s learning in the traditional way, and why walking past a Dalcroze classroom typically means seeing a room full of adults smiling, moving and having fun

We found this conversation really illuminating and it inspired us to learn more about Dalcroze training. We hope you find it just as enlightening!

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Christopher: Welcome to the show Jeremy. Thank you for joining us today.

Jeremy: Thank you so much for having me.

Christopher: I’d love to learn more about your musical background. I know a fair bit about what you’re up to now at the Dalcroze School of the Rockies but I don’t know that much about your early music education. Could you tell us how you got started?

Jeremy: Well it’s kind of funny because I actually studied with my mom when I was a kid. I studied piano and I studied with her for approximately eight months or so and then that sort of ended. My mom had a full studio and she was busy and, to be honest, studying with your parents can be really tricky and my mom was a great teacher but I maybe wasn’t the best student for her and so what ended up happening is that I would oftentimes just learn pieces here and there as I was growing up and it was just different because I didn’t have weekly lessons like most people would.

The other thing that’s interesting about my mom is that she’s deaf, almost 100%, and so here you have a deaf piano teacher that has this fantastic studio of students in very rural Ohio and yet there just wasn’t a lot of opportunity or time for me to be able to have lessons with her and, you know, all of the things that go with a parent-son relationship. They get complicated so, yeah.

But my mom was the person that introduced me to music and she really kind of instilled the love for music, I think with me. My dad played the guitar and I was raised on a steady diet of Patsy Cline and Kris Kristofferson so that was the background there. Lots of Waylon Jennings let me tell ya. It was good times.

And then after I stopped studying with Mom it was probably until I was a junior, I think, in high school before I started thinking about doing music in any way, shape or form. I had always wanted to go into medicine and that’s what I thought I was gonna do for sure and I went to a little school in Indiana, a little Quaker school called Earlham College and as a part of the process of checking out the campus I had the opportunity to think a lesson and meet a woman named Eleanor Vale who completely changed my life in many ways because she said that I should have a teacher and if I didn’t have a teacher and she would be my teacher.

So I drove as a, you know, 16, 17-year-old kid from Plain City, Ohio across state lines to go study with Eleanor Vale in Indiana and it was this wonderful experience to be like, free on society and, you know, studying music and she really inspired me to consider music in a more, I don’t know, forward way, I guess. So that’s kind of my background and then I went to undergraduate school and it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I actually declared myself to be a full performance major in piano and, kind of, the rest is history.

Christopher: So I see, and was your music learning up until that point kind of traditional, classical sheet music reading or was it more free-form creative? What did it involve?

Jeremy: It was definitely much more classical in design and I think what’s kind of interesting about my background is that I was actually never a very good sight reader and my reading skills were always really just generally quite poor and when I went to undergraduate school I really struggled as a result of this. It was something that was really tricky. Because my mom had this piano studio I heard a lot of music and the house all the time and oftentimes that was the music that I would play so it was almost quasi-Suzuki in that way, in the sense that I had this really strong aural stimulus in the house and of course these are piano students so it’s not like I’m hearing the world’s best renditions of these pieces but nevertheless that’s what — that’s how I learned a lot of pieces for myself was because I had heard them.

So I did a lot of playing by ear even though I would use sheet music to kind of figure things out. I didn’t necessarily use it to, like, study the forms, study the harmony. I did not use it in those ways. I was very, very poor at reading rhythm, which is funny, because now that’s what I do and, yeah. So it’s interesting.

Christopher: I see. And so you went in to major, as your undergrad, in music and obviously now your big focus is on the Dalcroze method, particularly. Where did that come from? When did you discover that? How did it come about?

Jeremy: Total luck. It just so happened to be that at my undergraduate school, which was the Baldwin-Wallace University in Cleveland. When I went to undergrad there was somebody there, Mary Dobrea Grindahl and she was in charge of piano pedagogy and she was in charge of solfège there and she had worked into the entire solfège program a eurythmics component and so every day, or, sorry — every week we would have classes with her for an hour. We would have an hour of eurythmics and we’d have two other separate classes for solfège and that is really how I learned rhythm because everything was so strongly aural. The visual component was very different for me and so I never really understood rhythm well at all until I had this course and partially because I was a gymnast in high school I had a strong kinesthetic, I don’t know, sense I guess. I was drawn to kinesthetic things. I’d always loved to work with my hands, that kind of thing. So this just totally made sense to me that you would study rhythm through movement and it completely changed how I heard music, how I felt music, how I communicated music. It was really a godsend for me because I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing now had I not had that experience.

Christopher: So paint a picture for us then. You had been learning piano in quite a traditional way and then suddenly as part of your undergrad you had this one hour each day of eurythmics and solfège. What were you doing in that hour? How did it all come to life for you in that way?

Jeremy: Well that’s kind of complicated I suppose. I mean — and to be honest it was a long time ago but —

Christopher: Okay. Well let me ask you a different question then. If you were going to give a young undergrad an hour of Dalcroze training each day what might that look like and how might it give them that kinesthetic sense of rhythm in the way you just mentioned?

Jeremy: Sure. So for the classes that I teach when I am teaching undergraduates the most important thing is that I give them multiple ways of knowing the same concept so oftentimes it starts with me at the piano and them moving, just doing something totally pedestrian like just walking and adjusting the speed of their gait to the tempo that I produce from the piano while I’m improvising and from there, from that point of departure, we go into any number of subjects.

It could be meter, it could be beat, it could be division. It could be multiple, like in other words, by combining multiple beats together you create a large beat value. Anacrusic phrasing, measure shape, syncopation — you name it, but it starts from there and my thing as a teacher, especially if I’m working with college students and I think that Mary would agree with me that it’s not as much about the difficulty as it is about the sensation. The sensation is where it’s at. How we sense something, how we feel it in the body, that’s what gives us the impulse to want to create it and to communicate that and that element is inherent in every one of us. I don’t care if you are a six-month baby or if you’re a 90-year-old grandmother, that impulse is there and when you give permission for that to take place I think it’s something that’s really marvelous.

Christopher: I see. I think that definitely gives a sense of how those sessions would have been quite different from sitting at a piano and playing from sheet music. It sounds like there’s a lot of movement involved. There’s a lot of physicality involved that’s often, you know, just, not a part of music education except, you know, where do you put your fingers on the instrument.

Jeremy: Absolutely. I think that the essence behind what we do, whether or not I’m dealing with college students or if I’m dealing with four-year-olds is that I want to give them an experience and I want to give them many, many experiences of the same technical concept, like, let’s say, beat, but I want to give them those experiences in very, very different ways.

So I stimulate their kinesthetic sense and I stimulate their aural sense and then I stimulate their visual sense as well. So we’re combining all of these things together so no matter what the learning style, that students are experiencing things in many, many different ways and once they’ve had that experience then I can say “This is what it looks like. This is what we call it and this is the definition,” which is still to this day pretty novel, I guess, I mean, most of us were taught in a very different way.

Christopher: Yeah. Almost the exact opposite, you know, “Let’s study the symbols and then slowly learn to play them and then we might think about how to make them musical.”

Jeremy: Mm-hm.

Christopher: Okay. So you had this very different experience then. Was it love at first sight? Were you a Dalcroze devotee from day one, or how did the next few years go for you?

Jeremy: Well I mean, I loved Mary’s classes, I mean, I always looked forward to them and I’m still close friends with her to this day. She has actually taught at my Dalcroze Summer Academy and we bring her out to Denver for workshops all the time. She’s just fantastic.

But, you know, I did a little bit of tutoring and volunteering at the university when I was a student and I enjoyed that but for me it was tricky because I was also a chemistry student. I had always this strong penchant for medicine and that’s what I thought I wanted to do and it wasn’t until, like, the witching hour, the very, very end of my undergraduate that I was, like, “Mmm, I think I’m gonna try and see what happens. I’m gonna apply to music schools,” and I got in to CCM, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and I decided to do that just to see how it would feel because I thought, my thought process at the time was, “Well, I can always go back to medicine but music is something if you don’t keep it going then it kind of goes away.”

Christopher: It’s nice to have medicine as your fallback option. I like that.

Jeremy: Well, yeah, it’s kind of funny, isn’t it? It’s crazy. So anyway, I went to CCM and I had several different piano teachers while I was there for a couple of different reasons. One of the teachers that I was assigned at the time was Michael Chertok, and he was awesome. I loved him but he was only there for a short time because then he went on sabbatical. And then I had his teacher which was Frank Weinstock who was also amazing but I ended up having these, this, kind of, sort of choppy piano background and that was really challenging for me because I had this teacher in undergrad for piano who really was all about bringing the page to life and reading between the lines on the score and all of that kind of thing and that’s hard to develop that type of a relationship with a teacher if that’s not where you are and you don’t have that depth of a relationship when you’re changing a lot of the time and so I really fell in love with the theory program there.

There was a guy named Frank Samarotto who was there who was amazing and he was a Schenkerian and I totally fell in love with Schenkerian analysis, like, just took to it like glue and it has stuck to me for — to this day. But I always had this real disconnect and I think that this is very real for many, many, many people when they leave either undergrad or graduate school that the theory community tended to stay off in one wing of the music conservatory and the performance community was in another and they did not necessarily interact very well or very much, I should say, and that was something that was really hard for me because I had, like, Frank was so intense about delving into the score and what’s inside the music and how do you bring that out and how’s that gonna affect your performance and my performance teachers, who were a little bit more focused on the technical aspects of making it happen and who knows — I’m sure it was a lot to do with me and my kinesthetic ability at the time and all of that, but I felt like I couldn’t make those connections and it was something that I really, really wanted for myself.

And so when I was thinking after I finished my master’s degree, where I had done all of this theory training and all this performance training, I wanted to find something that would fit those two things in dialogue and I remembered back in my undergrad this experience of having classes with Mary Dobrea and how it totally changed me and so I called her up and said, “Hey, what do you think? What do you think about this? What should I do?” and she recommended that I study at the Longy School and so I went to the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts during the summers while I was doing my doctorate in piano performance and I think that that experience of having this really intense corporeal understanding of music in the summers helped to feed my doctoral studies and it helped me become the teacher that I am today because I’ve combined what I know in Schenkerian theory, I’ve combined what I know in movement from being a gymnast. I’ve combined all of this pretty extensive performance background to put something together that is really meaningful to me and I hope, I think, for my students, too.

Christopher: Wonderful. I didn’t want to interrupt you there but there are a couple of things I wonder if you could just explain a bit more about. One is that you said your teacher was helping you to read between the lines as you played piano. What do you mean by that?

Jeremy: I think — oh gosh, it’s so hard. Dr. Cherry was kind of like a magician, you know? I mean, I remember I was playing the Liszt concerto and, you know, that piece is wicked hard. It just has so much in it that’s very complicated and especially for me as an undergrad, I did not have the experience to really rely on so he was trying to help feed me different ways of studying the score and I remember he would point things out like, “Listen for this line here. Can you hear it? Can you see it on the score? Can you see that? I want you to bring that out in your pinky, let’s say, in your left hand,” or “It’s an inner voice and I want you to listen to how that affects the shaping,” and it was sort of like magic.

Like, all of a sudden because I listened to this one inner voice it completely changed how I heard the music and because it changed how I heard it the physical technique sort of fell into place for me to be able to play it and there are countless other stories that were like that where he would, let’s say, draw attention to pedaling detail, pedaling that is, you know, very well may be on the page but he was so particular about pedaling.

There’s a guy named Joseph Banowitz who wrote a book on pedaling, and its, like, an inch and a half thick. It’s just this tome and he and my professor would have gotten along like two peas in a pod, you know, because Dr. Cherry’s perspective on this was, “If I can hear that you’re pedaling, you’re not doing it right,” and that’s not something that you could find in the score, necessarily. It’s something — overtly. I mean, you could find it written, P-E-D, with a dot, you know, or an asterisk, but what he was saying is, “What are you trying to say through the music? What do are you finding in the score? How can your foot help to bring that out and make that clearer to an audience and whatever your intentions are, what are you trying to say through the music?” And those are two very small examples but they were very powerful for me as a young student.

Christopher: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense and I think it explains how you were kind of rescued from the trap I think a lot of instrument learners fall into of starting to play a bit like a robot, you know, “If I play the right notes at the right times I’m doing my job,” but clearly your teacher there was helping you to draw out the music from the sheet music. He was helping you find the interpretation that you actually wanted to express.

Jeremy: Absolutely, and I think that because of that it really — and it coupled with the Dalcroze that I had as an undergrad and moving on to other periods of my life has really allowed me to have a sense of suppleness when I approach a piece of music. I am not prisoner to the page in the way I might have been in the past and I think that that can be very liberating.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that there is so much structure that’s in the music itself that we have to delve into but that’s where the idea of a physical experience of those concepts no matter what they are can make it easier for you, I think, as a performer, so.

Christopher: Very cool. So speaking of structure, the other thing I wanted to just pick up on before you move on was Schenkerian analysis — hard to even say — Schenkerian analysis, which is not something you find people, you know, falling in love with very often. Can you just explain to the audience in a nutshell what it is and why it was interesting to you?

Jeremy: Sure. So Henrik Schenker was a theorist and a philosopher and he essentially came up with a way of analysing music that highlighted all of the structural components, both melodic and harmonic and sometimes rhythmic, you know, so these pitch and harmony together but dividing up — sorry — pitch and rhythm together but dividing up pitch into two components, melody and harmony and putting them in a kind of contrapuntal sketch that had many, many layers.

So at the top, you know, you have pretty much the way the music sounds and maybe a Roman numeral analysis of what are the harmonies and where are they going, but then in each subsequent layer that you go through you find that some notes are maybe less important or some notes are more important than others. Some notes have more structural significance than others and they prove to be goals. Like, let’s say, the end of an antecedent consequent relationship in terms of a question-answer phrase. You’ve got that and so that’s a big moment or the end of a significant cadence or the end of a structural section.

These are all points that we want to bring out that sometimes get lost when we do a typical Roman numeral analysis, again because of the visual aspect of it. It’s all just under the page and you don’t really see a hierarchy but the Schenkerian analysis allows us to give a hierarchy to what we listen to and in that way the analysis is very personal and it allows us to really talk about what do we find meaning, or what do we find meaningful, in the score.

Eventually, you bring down almost every single piece of tonal music to either a 3-2-1 progression like (sings) “Three blind mice, 3-2-1,” or “5-4-3-2-1,” in the soprano and basically a “1-5-1” or “1-2-5-1” and these kinds of reductions in the harmony. For me that’s less important when I go down to that level. I’m not saying that it isn’t important. It’s just less important for me. That’s not how I find it to be useful. How I find it to be useful for me is that when I’m looking at an analysis like this, when I’m doing it, when I am improvising I find myself creating these structures in my own improvisation, in my own playing and when I’m performing I’m moving toward those structures so my, I hope that when people hear my music that they can hear that I am being very directed in my playing. There’s a sense of tension and release that comes from arrival points at these structural, I don’t know, goals or milestones in the piece, so. Is that helpful?

Christopher: It is. I think that’s the most interesting and compelling description of it I’ve ever heard. You managed to make it sound practical and useful in a way that’s often missing. Very cool.

So it sounds like that was, interestingly, another way that you discovered to transform what can be a very, kind of, opaque sheet of music into something that has structure, has meaning and has a way for you to bring it to life.

Jeremy: It’s been very powerful for me. It’s been very powerful.

Christopher: So you did your PhD. Where did you go from there?

Jeremy: So after I finished — it’s funny, I did a couple of rounds of auditions for academic jobs because, you know, if you’re gonna do a doctorate, that’s, like, the next thing, right? I mean, you go get a job in a university and I had taken a sabbatical replacement job when I was finishing up my DMA and did these different things and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t always happy. I just, I don’t, something about it just didn’t seem right and I’m sure it’s just who I was at the time and maybe even who I am now, but it just didn’t feel right and I can remember sitting in my office at school and I had just finished my Dalcroze training at Longy and I’d studied with some of the best teachers in the world, Lisa Parker and Ann Farber and Ruth Alperson and Jenny Latz and just really class-act musicians and human beings and I just sat down and said, “I don’t think I’m gonna do this. I think I’m going to just try my hand at teaching Dalcroze for a little while and just see what happens,” which, you don’t know my personality but that is not the way anything in my life had ever got. I was out of high school, right into undergrad, right into graduate school, right into my doctoral programs. I went to school year-round. I mean, it was just, I’d been a professional student for a long time and to say that that’s not what I was gonna do was a really big deal for me. I know for some people it’s, like, no big deal, but for me it was.

And it was so bizarre because it was, like, the next day I got a phone call from somebody that said, “Hey, I’m offering this event and I would really love to have a Dalcroze specialist. Would you be willing to come?” and Tamara Goldstein, who is a fantastic pianist here in Denver was running a piano celebration and she invited me to come and I taught a class and Bill Westney, who wrote an amazing book called, “The Perfect Wrong Note,” — if you don’t know that book, you should definitely check it out. It’s amazing. He actually was a Dalcroze student himself when he was a child and he has gone on to win international competitions as a pianist and he teaches in Texas, but he showed up to my class.

So, like, this guy that I read about who was this, you know, just, monument of a person shows up to my first class and I’ll never forget it, because he came up to me afterwards and he shook my hand and he said, “You were born to do this,” and that was really touching to me, do you know what I mean? It was, like, one of those moments that just — people don’t usually say things like that, certainly not to me and it was powerful, a powerful thing to say. That was a big shaping moment, because I felt like that moment in the office this particular gig or two gigs and then all of the sudden this whole door just opened and now this is where I am.

I taught for two years here in Denver. I had probably about 75 students or so in my programs and lots of people were asking me about teacher training and I had a certificate and I had a Dalcroze license. Those are kind of like our bachelor’s and our master’s degrees in our field but in order to be able to teacher train you have to get something called the Diplome Superior which just means it’s the highest diploma. It doesn’t mean that you’re superior (laughs), just that you — but it’s the highest level and so I auditioned and was promptly rejected from the Institut Jaques Dalcroze in Switzerland because that’s where you have to go to get this credential and then I said, “Phooey, I’m going there,” and I went and studied there for a year and re-auditioned and then finished my diplome in six months and came back and started my school. So that’s where I’ve been.

Christopher: Wow. And we’ve got a bit of a sense of what’s involved in Dalcroze and how it differs from traditional music education but can you unpack it a little more? What are the key components to it? What is it that defines Dalcroze as a methodology?

Jeremy: Sure. So Dalcroze can be very difficult to talk about because it’s so comprehensive and I think it deserves mentioning that Dalcroze himself — it’s a man who’s around in Switzerland the first part of the 20th century — he was a composer, he was a philosopher, he was a musician himself and he was a pedagogue, so his perspective about all of this at the beginning was decidedly about music training. That’s what he wanted, that’s what he was doing, that’s what this all stemmed from. So for him it was about solfège and it was about improvisation and it was about this thing called La Technique.

So we have translated that first in Britain and now in the United States as eurythmics, so “eu-” meaning good and “-rhythmos” meaning rhythmic or rhythm. So good rhythm is what it comes from or stems from and those classes, those eurythmics classes were essentially — the goal of them was to embody all elements of music from all — the whole gamut of pitch and rhythm, form and structure, all of that would come together in a eurythmics class.

That’s not to say the solfège classes and the improvisation classes weren’t physical, either and you kind of see this in a slightly different way depending on where you study. At the Dalcroze School of the Rockies it’s very important to me that we physicalize everything. So all solfège is to be done with movement. So my thing that I say to my students is, “If you’re not moving while you’re singing, something’s wrong, so you’ve got to fix it,” and, but that’s unique to my school. That’s a part of my style. It’s something that I do, but I think that’s important to say all of this happened back in the first part of the 20th century.

In addition, there has now evolved some applied branches of what we do in Dalcroze study, which is called plastique anime. Plastique anime is kind of our performance outlet for what we do. It’s a type of visual analysis using the body as the vehicle and we tend to do it using a written score, so a composed score. Other places around the world will do it slightly different. Sometimes they will do them improvised, for instance, either with improvised piano music or the movement is improvised so there’s different applications. It’s not quite as rigid. But in the U.S. we tend to think of it in that way. It can be with soloists, it can be with an entire group.

You can really have the gamut, but it’s wonderful because I actually think of it very similarly. It’s how I think of Schenkerian theory because it’s all about demonstrating what I find valuable in the piece but instead of being limited to just Roman numerals I’ve got the whole expressive capacity of the body and that, I think, is really, really wonderful and communicative and meaningful in a way that I think, you know, Roman numeral analysis great but it can be a little sterile, you know, if it’s not done well and so this is a great alternative.

And then the fifth branch is pedagogy, methodology. What are we doing and how do we do it? So all of those five branches, eurythmics, solfège, improvisation, plastique anime and pedagogy comprise the method of Jaques Dalcroze and that is primarily as a vehicle for teaching music, however, as Dalcroze aged and his disciples went off into the world there have been many, many applications to many different fields. Kids with special needs, students with learning disabilities, different ways of looking at, just, let’s say, classroom teaching. How can we use movement and the body to teach math? How can we use music to teach any number of subjects? Like, that all has a root in Dalcroze.

You might remember something called Schoolhouse Rock when you were a kid or maybe you might — I think you’re too young for that but back in the 80’s this was a big thing and, like, you know, my husband, for instance, I mean, he can recite to this day all of the presidents and all of the little jingles that go with the coordinating junctions and all this sort of thing because of Schoolhouse Rock. So it really has had an impact and people don’t realize that that all comes from what Dalcroze did and also has been a huge force in work with senior citizens mostly in Europe but we’re starting to see it in the United States how we’ve got these seniors that are falling and they’re losing balance and all of that but when they go to Dalcroze classes there is scientific evidence that’s showing that that’s not necessarily reversing but it’s keeping it from getting worse, which is really huge.

We can see applications to dancers. We see lots of applications more in Europe than in the United States but for stage actors and people that are doing theater, musical theater for certain. So there are so many different ways that you can go with this method now, which I think is really powerful.

Christopher: Yeah. Fascinating. I think there’s clearly a lot packed in there and I think we’ll definitely have to include some videos in the show notes of plastique anime and other aspects of Dalcroze so the people can see it in action. I wonder, could you paint a picture for us of not before and after but with and without Dalcroze? If we take, say, an 18-year-old pianist who’s been studying piano and his identical twin has done the same but with Dalcroze training alongside, what would those two different musicians look like? How would they be different?

Jeremy: Well, okay. So if I’m going to be completely honest, and I will be, I need to say this first and foremost, that Dalcroze isn’t for everyone. Do you know what I mean? I think that we would be remiss to think that there is such a thing as a method that works for everyone. You can imagine that if we’re moving and we’re using the body that for some people this is going to make them feel uncomfortable for any number of different reasons and so I think that I just have to say that this is kind of personal and that’s the blessing and the curse of this method, is that it can be so individual but what I can tell you is this, is that I teach a course in Dalcroze at Hope College in Holland, Michigan and every semester I get students that say, “I so wish I would have had this when I was a freshman,” because I’m usually teaching juniors and seniors at this point, sometimes some sophomores but almost all of them will say that at some point and especially when we start talking about meter and we start talking about things like polyrhythms and polymetric relationships like three against four or things like that, or syncopation, things that when you experience it in your body it’s such a different feeling than when it’s just in your hands or just at your instrument and so I think that what I would say is that a student that has had this experience is going to have more information to draw upon when looking at a piece of music. They might look at a short-short-long pattern and they might feel it in a different way because they remember that when you step short-short-long that the steps are shorter on the short and they take up more space on the longs and so there is this energy transfer of short-short-long, short-short-long and as you go into the long that energy has to transfer and shift.

Well, let’s take the piano for an example. If you play that on the piano, once you press the key down it’s over. You press the key down, there’s nothing more you can do to the sound, really. It’s done. And so how you approach it is 100% key to whether or not you make a musical sound. Now we can go into all sorts of detail about the angle of the thumb and the angle of the hand and the velocity of the finger and which knuckle is going to produce this tension and, you know, the descent into the key, etcetera, but at the end of the day it’s about feeling. What does it feel like? What does that rhythm feel like? What does it sound like in your inner ear and how can I create that? I feel like that college freshman is going to understand that component in a way that might be indescribable to the other. In other words, he’s gonna have more ways of knowing and I think that more ways of knowing is very powerful especially in today’s day and age.

Christopher: I love that and I think — I am sure it resonates with a lot of our listeners because I think we all have that feeling that music should be kind of natural and intuitive and something you feel but if it doesn’t happen for you automatically from birth then it can be a bit intimidating or frustrating or disappointing and I love how you’ve described it there that this is something that you can learn and you can develop the sense and if you study it in the right way you can gain that kind of physical instinct for how to express yourself in music.

Jeremy: I totally agree. For me talent is a four letter word. I think it’s — it really is, it’s tricky. And that’s not to say that there aren’t people that have a disposition towards a natural inclination towards X, Y, or Z but I think that we use that word in such a damaging way often. You know, terrible self-talk and the fact of the matter is there are lots of really, really quote, talented people out there that are not working that are not able-bodied musicians in the world because they don’t work hard and I think that hard work and dedication and all of those kinds of things give us way more, or pay us more dividends than any, you know, four-letter talent word ever will but what I think is very cool about this, Dalcroze, I think it does it in a joyful way which I think is really, really marvelous, you know, whether or not it’s the type of games that we play, the ways that we are responding to music that are very, very different and using the aural stimulus as a means to create change in the classroom, it’s just fun. You will inevitably pass a good Dalcroze class and see, you know, 12 to 15 adults smiling and skipping around the room and that, to me, is just marvelous, you know, and then if they can take that and make it a musical application that makes their life richer, oh, that’s where it’s at.

Christopher: Amazing. I want to ask you something that may be too big or too complicated a question to tackle in a short podcast interview so you can tell me if it is but I’m sure a lot of our listeners have heard of Dalcroze and the kinds of activities we’ve been talking about, things like rhythm activities, solfège exercises and so on and they’ve probably also heard of Kodály and Orff and these may all be a bit of a jumble to them. So I was wondering if you can explain what sets those three apart or what sets Dalcroze apart from Kodály and Orff in terms of what they have in common or what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Jeremy: Sure, I’ll do my best. I think that before I say anything I need to preface this with the fact that all of these learning modalities are really dependent on the teacher and the region of the world in which they are taught so what I’m about to say I think will hold true in many cases but maybe not all so I don’t want to try to speak for a community that is really, really diverse and rich in a way that would be limiting but when introduce Dalcroze to people that don’t know anything about it I explain it as, “Dalcroze education is an experiential way of knowing music through the body,” and so in that short statement we are saying that the body is gonna be the focus and that music is gonna be our driving force and that the goal is going to be to learn more and to know music in a different way but through a physical means.

If you go and study in a Kodály classroom, they may well do movement but the goal is different and in a sense that their job may or may not be really to physicalize the sound, not to embody it. That’s not necessarily their M.O. I think that in a Kodály classroom, the focus is on the human voice and the voice is the primary instrument. On the contrary, I would say in Dalcroze the body is the musical instrument. The body is the primary instrument. That’s what we’re dealing with and in Kodály the voice is.

In Orff, it’s tricky because Orff is kind of a combination of some elements of Kodály and some elements of Dalcroze. Dalcroze was essentially the founding father of all music education so it really is the root of these two other methods in many ways. They stem from him. They didn’t study directly with them or anything like that but Dalcroze’s reach in Europe was pretty pronounced so Dalcroze had this corporeal understanding, this bodily understanding. There was also a lot of focus on improvisation and solfège and ear training but it was kind of different.

Kodály is all about the voice and that element and Orff kind of combined those two together but focused it using instruments, so let’s say, using marimbas or xylophones or glockenspiels and that sort of thing so even that, just to say that is a little bit limiting but I think that many Orf people would agree with me in that sense but he also used recorders and all kinds of other instruments besides just pitched percussion. But that’s their focus and they are very, very heavy on improvisation in what they do. But it’s different than our improvisation, which I think is interesting.

But what unites us is that — especially in the United States — is that we’re all really focused on teaching music and we want our students to be musical and we want all children to have access to this and we want all adults to have access to this type of joyful way of understanding music.

The other thing that separates us, though, that I will just talk about, two things. Number one is that Dalcroze remains to this day the only modern method of music education that was designed for professional students, for adults, so it did not start with children.

It started with students at the Conservatoire de Geneve and so, and this is in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s is when Dalcroze was there, and, you know, Liszt died in 1886. Liszt was on faculty at the Conservatoire de Geneve at that, you know, right before that time and this was like, Dalcroze studied with Foret and Piaget and all these huge figures to create his method but it was not designed for children and it wasn’t until much later that he thought, “Well, I need to start earlier because this isn’t working the way I want it to.” So there’s that.

And then I think the other thing that makes us a little bit different than the other two is that we really championed fixed do solfège. That’s something that we really uphold, especially because we are in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, that’s just what we’re gonna use. If you go to Italy, Spain, France, they all are going to use fixed do.

However, Dalcroze actually was very, very focused on the relative pitch relationships in solfège training so he used numbers and he had students sitting on numbers and if you look at his books you can discover this. The thing that makes it tricky is in his books he writes them in Roman numerals which makes people think it’s talking about harmony but it’s not. It’s talking about pitches and so that’s something that I think is really powerful. So now at the Dalcroze School of the Rockies, because I live totally in Orff and Kodály country out here in Colorado, I have all my students singing on numbers and I also have them sing in letter names. So they do both pitch and function. They do fixed system and they do a numeral system.

And not to complicate any of this but if you study at the Kodály Institute in Hungary, if you study there, what’s really fascinating to me is that, yes, they are movable solfège, yes, they’re allowed bass minor, but all of their students sing on letter names and that’s something people don’t know and I think that’s — oftentimes they don’t know and I kind of think that’s really fascinating and I think that the idea that — you have to have both. If you have just function that does not necessarily have the same weight as when you are talking about the pitches that you’re singing and that’s what fixed do solfège is all about. If you call it do or you call it C, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. Whatever makes the most sense to you, as long as you’re naming it is what matters.

Christopher: Thank you. That was a phenomenal explanation of the three camps and I appreciate that you made clear there that, you know, it’s not set in stone. Each of these methods have different interpretations and different practitioners but I think the way you explained it there will really help people to understand the strength of each or the focus of each and I love how you just explained fixed or mutable do or, you know, the different approaches to solfège because it trips so many people up and as you say, you know, there is a value in a fixed system and for some people that’s letter names, we’ll call them C, D, and E, and in parts of Europe that’s fixed do, it’s do-re-mi. And there’s a value to the relative system, and whether you call that do-re-mi or 1, 2, and 3, they give you a different perspective on the same thing and I don’t know, I get tired sometimes of the religious arguments you sometimes stumble into, particularly online, where people are fighting for fixed do versus mutable do and the reality is they’re completely different systems, you know? It’s like comparing apples and oranges and trying to convince someone one is better than the other.

Jeremy: Well, and they both serve different purposes, I think, and I, too, am exhausted by these debates that happen. I always bring it up when I’m teaching in my summer programs or when I’m teaching in my year-round program to first year and even second-year solfège students in my adult program because I want them to be well-versed to understand why is there a debate and why is it in my opinion kind of a waste of energy because the fact of the matter is you need both. You just do. I think any musician that really wants to delve into music in all of its expressive and structural capacities needs to have an understanding of where they are in the scale if they’re looking at total music but if they don’t know what that pitch is, it doesn’t matter, they can’t play it, you know? So I don’t know. It’s funny.

Christopher: So there’s something you mentioned to me when we were talking before we started recording was daily solfège devotionals. I’d love for you to explain a bit about that and what this looks like in practice if your students are thinking both in mutable and fixed do.

Jeremy: So it doesn’t matter if you’re six years old at my school or if you’re seventy-six at my school. You always will sing on numbers and you’ll sing on letter names so long as you’re dealing with music that’s not modulating. So for me it is about planting little ear worms for students and daily solfège devotionals for me is, like, let’s say, little songs or something like that that I might write, that I might compose for my students that teaches them something that is unique or that’s powerful and what ends up happening is that that ear worm, that little tune sort of digs in and then when they’re waiting at the bus stop or if they are waiting at the doctor’s office or, you know, they just have a little bit of downtime during their shower this tune’s gonna come into their ear and that way they can be practicing their solfège on numbers, on letters , however they need to in that moment but they don’t actually have to say, “I’m practicing it.” I’m not actually sitting down doing Dalcroze or solfège practice but they are practicing when that don’t think that they are. They are making it a part of their daily life which to me, is, that’s the whole point of devotional is to make some point of tranquility and I don’t know, calm in your life when you something that’s richer and to me this is the same thing, you know, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a chord samba to teach all the different inversions or the Neopolitan Boat Song that teaches all front of the scale degrees or the Neopolitan or, like, a tango that teaches the different augmented sixth chords. All of that kind of stuff it plants in their ear and then they can use it whenever they want.

Christopher: I love that. It reminds me of a fun discussion we’ve had inside Musical U recently where some of our members who were working on solfa were challenging each other to come up with a solfa for Christmas carols because when that song gets stuck in your head, you may as well use it for music practice.

Jeremy: This is exactly my point. To a lot of my students who are teachers, I will say to them, “Whenever you’re working with your students, sing. Sing the melodies. Sing the bass lines. Sing it on numbers. Sing it on letters. Encourage your kids to do it, because the more you do it the more they’re gonna do it,” and so then solfège becomes a part of your daily life, in that way. So yes.

Christopher: Would you mind, could you give us an example of one of these devotionals that one of your students might be humming or singing to themselves in their head?

Jeremy: Sure. So, yeah. I’ll just sing it. Is it okay if I just sing it?

Christopher: For sure.

Jeremy: Is that good? So I might do, “Sing with me one of my tricks. Here we go four flat to flat six. Now we’re done, the Neopolitan.” So this is talking about the Neopolitan six chord and how it works in the course of musical function, you know, it happens as we lead towards the cadence and what are the notes involved? You gotta get the flat two and you and you also have to do the flat six and it starts with four even though I arpeggiated down and up, but that’s the goal, is to get the four because it’s in first inversion and I think that it’s kind of fun because as soon as that gets in the student’s ear (snaps fingers) they’re set. Do you know what I mean?

Christopher: I love that. That’s fantastic because they’re gonna both be better able to spot that when they hear it in real music and they’re reminding themselves constantly of the theory behind it.

Jeremy: Well, right, and I think that in the course of a tune when you get there, when you get to this flat two, it’s sort of like the sun comes out, you know, it’s this really blossoming moment and in order to be able to sing it you really have to have internalized that. You have to really get it into your body. You have to sense that and oftentimes when a Neapolitan comes out in classical repertoire that’s how it happens. It happens in this way that’s sort of magical and, like, I think of the opening of — oh, Opus — Beethoven’s Sonata, the Appassionata — Opus 57 — no, no — yeah, 57, I think — because in that piece, you know, he starts in this F minor chord and then all of a sudden, you know, the Neopolitan comes out and it’s so shocking and yet so wonderful. It’s lovely.

Christopher: So something you said there that is really fascinating to me and which I must admit I was not really aware before is that Dalcroze really wasn’t designed for children to begin with. I think because I’m a bit more familiar with Kodály I think of Dalcroze in the same camp as being, you know, children first and then the adults can tag along. I’d love to hear, what does Dalcroze look like, if you have, say, a middle-aged person come to you who’s been learning an instrument for a bunch of years and is curious about Dalcroze, what kinds of things do you have them doing and how is that rewarding for them as a musician?

Jeremy: Well, the way that it’s structured at my school is that we have classes for students who are interested in adult enrichment. So these are students, they could be adult amateurs but they could be professionals but they just want to find new ways of learning music or knowing music through their body. They want to explore that movement component and so oftentimes the classes that I would teach for professionals would be the same that it would look like for a non-professional because even if a professional knows what they’re doing, they know, they don’t know it with their body, you know? They may know it in terms of, from the neck up. They don’t know it from the neck down and so a lot of those activities that I described to you before that would be something that we might do but I’m also a huge fan of using material in class so, like, for instance I might do a changing meter activity where we find ways to demonstrate, let’s say, meters of four and three and compare them to one another using a ball.

So you might do a, like, a bounce-catch-catch, bounce-catch-catch or bounce-catch-toss-catch, bounce-catch-toss-catch, etcetera. If we do things that are like that then it gives them this sense of what does the meter feel like, what is the shape of the measure, which is something that I never really had talked about until I was in a Dalcroze environment because measure shape is really huge. It’s what gives us the sense of forward motion in a phrase in many ways and so I think that students can take that.

We might work on particular patterns, let’s say, like a short-short-long or a long-short-short or syncopated patterns like short-long, short-short-long-short or offbeat patterns like bum-bum-bum-bah,bah-deet-dah-dah-dah, and put those in our body, give ourselves ways of physicalizing that and the goal is so that we, at the end of the class, we arrive at a piece of music and it could be, like, for piano, it could be vocal, it could be for the violin, it could be anything but then we move through that piece of music and we explore the details of that piece of music and by doing that we give these students a different perspective. They kind of really go deeply into a subject.

Oftentimes when I’m teaching these kinds of classes I focus to one particular subject in a class. Like, I don’t do a hodgepodge of different things and since the classes are usually about 90 minutes. I mean, 90 minutes on syncopation, you can get a lot done, you know, you really can. You can really go into a very deep place and then the goal would be that they, after they’ve seen it in this piece of music that we’ve explored in class that when they’re looking at another piece of music that they’re playing, that they’re like, “Oh, oh, I did that. I did that. I put that in my body. That’s what that is. That’s that anthabrak rhythm,” or whatever, and it’s — do you know what I mean? So I think that’s, kind of, is very useful for them.

Christopher: Fantastic, and I love the way — I love the word you used to describe that enrichment, because I think that that characterizes it so nicely. It’s not something just for beginners, it’s not something just for the more advanced. It’s something that adds a whole new dimension, I think, to everything you’ve been studying in music. Very cool. So I’m sure a lot of our listeners at this point are super curious and intrigued and wanting to know more about Dalcroze. Can you tell us the best way to get involved, maybe for the adult musician and for the adult who has a child who is learning music? What are the best avenues for them to get involved in Dalcroze?

Jeremy: Well, it all depends on where you live, but the first stop would be at . So that’s our national website for the Dalcroze Society of America and you can find all sorts of information there and resources and you can find out about programs that might be offered in your area. You can always visit my website which is So that’s a place where you could go and on that website you would find, like, youth programs and adult programs and links and there is a whole link that’s all about us and there you can find videos and all kinds of examples of things and literature that kind of goes into detail, like, what does a rhythmic solfège class look like for six-year-olds and what does it look like once they’re twelve, you know, just so you could see what that material would be. And once you go to those two websites, if you go there, that would give you a lot of information and more places to contact to find out about Dalcroze in your area.

Christopher: Terrific. Well, we’ll definitely have links to those as well as the videos we mentioned earlier in the show notes for this episode. Thank you so much, Jeremy. It’s been such a pleasure to hear more about your own journey and the Dalcroze School of the Rockies and Dalcroze in general. Thank you for joining us today.

Jeremy: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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The post More Ways of Knowing Music, with Jeremy Dittus appeared first on Musical U.