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)