Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - Eurythmics



This brief text is different from the others given in this Part as it  is not centred around some great sportsman or performer. But it  offers a glimpse of a different sort of excellence that is achieved  by a thoughtful teacher in a small Japanese school, who wanted  very much his pupils to experience harmony between their minds  and bodies and, with this aim, developed a creative and joyful  educational experiment.

After summer vacation was over, the second semester began, for  in Japan the school year starts in April. In addition to the children in her own class, Totto-chan had made friends with all the  older boys and girls, thanks to the various gatherings during summer  vacation. And she grew to like Tomoe Gakuen even more.

Besides the fact that classes at Tomoe were different from those at  ordinary schools, a great deal more time was devoted to music. There  were all sorts of music lessons, which included a daily period of  Eurhythmics — a special kind of rhythmic education devised by a Swiss  music teacher and composer, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. His studies first  became known about 1904. His system was rapidly adopted all over  Europe and America and training and research institutes sprang up  everywhere. Here is the story of how Dalcroze's Eurhythmics came to  be adopted at Tomoe.

Before starting Tomoe Gakuen, the headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi,  went to Europe to see how children were being educated abroad. He  visited a great many elementary schools and talked to educators. In  Paris, he met Dalcroze, a fine composer as well as an educator.

Dalcroze had spent a long time wondering how children could be  taught to hear and feel music in their minds rather than just with their  ears; how to make them feel music as a thing of movement rather than  a dull, lifeless subject; how to awaken a child's sensitivity.

Eventually, after watching the way children jumped and skipped



and romped about, he hit on the idea of creating rhythmic exercises,  which he called Eurhythmics.

Kobayashi attended the Dalcroze school in Paris for over a year and  learned this system thoroughly. Many Japanese have been influenced  by Dalcroze — the composer Koscak Yamada; the originator of modern dance in Japan, Baku Ishii; the Kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji II; the modern drama pioneer Kaoru Osannai; the dancer Michio Ito. All  of these people felt that Dalcroze's teachings were fundamental to  many of the arts. But Sosaku Kobayashi was the first to apply it to elementary education in Japan.

If you asked him what Eurhythmics was, he would reply, "It's a sport  that refines the body's mechanism; a sport that teaches the mind how to  use and control the body; a sport that enables the body and mind to  understand rhythm. Practicing Eurhythmics makes the personality rhythmical. And a rhythmical personality is beautiful and strong, conforming to and obeying the laws of nature."

Totto-chan's classes began with training the body to understand  rhythm. The headmaster would play the piano on the small stage in the  Assembly Hall and the children, wherever they stood, would start walking in time to the music. They could walk in whatever manner they  liked, except that it wasn't good to bump into others, so they tended to  go in the same circular direction. If they thought the music was in two beat time, they would wave their arms up and down, like a conductor, as  they walked. As for their feet, they were not supposed to tramp heavily,  but that didn't mean they were to walk with toes pointed either, as in  ballet. They were told to walk completely relaxed, as if they were dragging their toes. The most important thing was naturalness, so they could  walk in any way they felt was right. If the rhythm changed to three-beat  time, they waved their arms accordingly and adjusted their pace to the  tempo, walking faster or slower as required. They had to learn to raise  and lower their arms to fit rhythms up to six-beat time. Four-beat time  was simple enough: "Down, around you, out to the sides, and up." But  when it came to five beats it was: "Down, around you, out in front, out  to the sides, and up." While for six beats, the arms went: "Down, around  you, out in front, around you again, out to the sides, and up."

So when the beat kept changing it was pretty difficult. What was  even harder was when the headmaster would call out: "Even if I  change my tempo on the piano don't you change until I tell you to!"



Eurhythmic dances in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1960

Suppose they were walking in two-beat time and the music changed  to three beats, the children had to keep-on walking duple time while  hearing the triple rhythm. It was very hard, but the headmaster said it  was to cultivate the children's powers of concentration.

Finally he would shout, "You can change now!"

With relief, the children would immediately change to the triple  rhythm. But that was when they had to be especially alert. In the time it  took to mentally abandon the two beats and get the message to their  muscles to adapt to three beats, the music might suddenly change to  five-beat time! At first, their arms and legs were all over the place and  there would be groans of "Teacher, wait! wait!" But with practice, the  movements became pleasant to do, and the children even thought up  variations and enjoyed themselves. :

Usually each child moved individually, but sometimes a pair would   decide to act in unison, holding hands when the rhythm was in two beat time; or they would try walking with their eyes closed. The only  thing that was taboo was conversation.

Sometimes, when there was a Parent-Teacher Association meeting  the mothers would peek in through the window. It was lovely to watch  — each child moving arms and legs with ease, leaping about joyfully,  in perfect time to the music.

Thus, the purpose of Eurhythmics was first to train both mind and  body to be conscious of rhythm, thereby achieving harmony between  the spirit and the flesh, and finally awakening the imagination and promoting creativity.



The day she arrived at the school for the very first time, Totto-chan  had looked at the name on the gate and asked Mother, "What does  Tomoe mean?"

The tomoe is an ancient comma-shaped symbol, and for his school  the headmaster had adopted the traditional emblem consisting of two  tomoe — one black and one white — united to form a perfect circle.

This symbolized his aim for the children: body and mind equally  developed and in perfect harmony.

The headmaster had included Eurhythmics in his school curriculum  because he felt it was bound to have good results and help the children's personalities to grow naturally, without being affected by too  much adult interference.

The headmaster deplored contemporary education, with its emphasis on the written word, which tended to atrophy a child's sensual perception of nature and intuitive receptiveness to the still small voice of  God, which is inspiration.

It was the poet Basho who wrote:

Listen! a frog 

Jumping into the silence 

Of an ancient pond!

Yet the phenomenon of a frog jumping into a pond must have been  seen by many others. Down through the ages and in the whole world,  Watt and Newton cannot have been the only ones to notice the steam  from a boiling kettle or observe an apple fall.

Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing  music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are  never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to  fear, said the headmaster.

As for Totto-chan, as she leaped and ran about in her bare feet, like  Isadora Duncan; she was tremendously happy and could hardly believe  that this was part of going to school!

From Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, Totto-chan, 

(translated from the Japanese, by Dorothy Britton)


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