Expanding Our Definition of Dalcroze Eurhythmics
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Photo by Lee/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0
Kathy Thomsen, president of the Dalcroze Society of America, took issue with the way we described the function of Dalcroze eurhythmics in both our script for “Meredith Monk’s Voice” and in Krista’s journal entry about the interview. Rather than slapping us on the hand, she provided this helpful clarification, which we will most certainly incorporate into the script if we rebroadcast this show again:
“I enjoyed listening to your recent interview with Meredith Monk but was dismayed to hear your description of a musical experience Ms. Monk had as a child. You said, “She learned a musical method called Dalcroze eurhythmics, a music method to correct early problems with bodily coordination.” In the online interview you write, “Dalcroze eurhythmics uses music to create physical alignment.”
Whatever benefits Ms. Monk reaped from Dalcroze eurhythmics, those descriptions are not apt. Dalcroze, a Swiss music educator (1865-1950) believed the body was the principal instrument of musical expression and response. Dalcroze eurhythmics engages the whole person — body, mind, and sensibility — in the captivating and often joyous pursuit of moving to music. This whole-body movement is purposeful, and is connected intimately to the music, which is usually improvised on-the-spot by the teacher in response to the students’ movements.
While improved bodily coordination may be a result of Dalcroze eurhythmics, its purpose is to promote discovery — discovery of music and of one’s deep connection to it. And Dalcroze is not just for young children. We have classes in colleges and music conservatories, in public and private schools, and in community music programs for people of all ages. I’m delighted to learn that Dalcroze eurhythmics was part of Ms. Monk’s early music education and that it left a lasting impression.”
Many thanks for the correction, Kathy, and we promise to get it right next time.
Q:Do you have a separate section, and or web link, for show music; songs and or music featured during shows? Thank you.
Good morning, Anonymous—
We sure do. Take this week’s show with Meredith Monk, for example. If you want a simple catalogue rundown of the song titles we used in the final radio/podcast production, check out our “books + music” lists page, which features the album and a link to Amazon (we get a small kickback from each purchase that covers expenses).
Even better, we offering a “show playlist” in which you can listen to each full track simply by streaming it. I guess you could call it a streaming jukebox. Here’s an example of a variation on our streaming player featuring a hand-picked list of Ms. Monk’s music she said is most meaningful to her.
Hope this helps,
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Meredith Monk’s Voice: A Sensory Experience That Reaches Beyond Anything in Print
by Krista Tippett, host
The singer and composer Meredith Monk is a kind of archeologist of the human voice. She’s also an archeologist of the human soul, with a long-time Buddhist practice. Through music and meditation, she reaches to places in human experience where words get in the way — and she shared with me what she has learned about mercy and meaning, about spirit and play.
For years we here at On Being have meant to, planned to, interview more musicians. Then in the last months, for varying reasons, conversations with Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, and now Meredith Monk fell into place. What joy.
After this experience with Meredith Monk, I’m shying away from describing her with the label “performance artist.” Her music is avant-garde, but it also feels primal, ancient. She’s called herself an archeologist of the human voice. The woman we meet in this conversation is also an archeologist of the human spirit. She has a long-time Buddhist practice. Playfully, and reflectively, she mines life and art for meaning.
As listeners to On Being know, I begin every conversation, however accomplished or erudite my guest, by learning something about his or her childhood. We can all trace interesting and substantive lines between our origins and our essence, wherever we are in life. These can be joyful. They can painful. But they are raw materials that have formed us. In Meredith Monk’s case, a life in music was almost inevitable; three generations of musicians preceded her. She struggled with eyesight problems and issues with bodily coordination. Her mother — a singer in the golden age of radio — found a program called Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which uses music to create physical alignment. Later on, as a young artist, Meredith Monk describes a moment of “revelation” that the voice could be flexible like the body — fluid like the spine — something that could dance and not merely sing.
She sang before she could speak in any case, as she tells it, and after experimenting with classical musical education in college, she gave herself over to her own distinctive voice, her own art, which is rich with songs that use words sparingly or not at all. As our show with her opens, you hear her singing a hauntingly beautiful piece, “Gotham Lullaby.” It is a demonstration of one of the things she talks about, eloquently, in this conversation — the power of music to reach where words can get in the way. This can be unfamiliar, even uncomfortable for the listener, as for the performer. But it is a deeply human experience, essentially contemplative and yet infused with the emotion that music can convey like no other form of human expression.
There is so much I carry with me out of this interview. It simply enlivens the world, and deepens its hues a bit. “The human voice is the original instrument,” she says, “so you’re going back to the very beginnings of utterance. In a way it’s like the memory of being a human being.”My teenagers stretch me to appreciate that this is the redemptive effect even of music that is strange and unfamiliar to my ears and my body. Meredith Monk brings this home to me as well, but differently.
I’m also challenged by her insistence that in our media-saturated world, we must, for the sake of our souls, continue to seek out direct experiences like live artistic performance. The very point of art, she says, like the very goal of spiritual life as the Buddha saw it, is to wake us up. The sense of transcendence we sometimes feel in these settings is not a separate experience but an effect of being awake, of being fully alive.
But this is too many words. Meredith Monk’s voice, and the radio we’ve crafted from it, is a sensory experience that reaches beyond anything I could print on this page. Listen. And enjoy.
And, if you have some time, I highly recommend listening to our playlist of Meredith Monk’s most meaningful songs from across the years, which she personally selected for us while doing research for my interview. Stream all eleven tracks and listen at your leisure.
A Lullaby To Lead This Week’s Show with Meredith Monk
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The music that kicks off this week’s show with Meredith Monk was selected with a great deal of deliberation. The avant-garde singer and composer has decades worth of music to choose from — some of it quite edgy for certain ears. We opted for this track to draw in as many public radio listeners as possible.
In many ways, this track from her 2000 album, Dolmen Music, is a bit more docile; “Gotham Lullaby” is also one of her signature songs, as Bjork can testify. The Icelandic musician recently reinterpreted it for the Monk Mix compilation, a double-CD set being released this Sunday.
Heads-up: if you’re in New York on Sunday, you really ought to attend the release party at Joe’s Pub. The line-up includes DJ Spooky (executive producer of the project) DJ Rekha, Don Byron, John Hollenbeck + Theo Bleckmann, Rubin Kodheli + the North Sky Cello Ensemble, Shodekeh, and Pamela Z. Fifteen bucks includes entry and a copy of the CD!
Ascending Staircases of Sonoma Light
by Susan Leem, associate producer
“I think about that ‘empty’ space a lot. That emptiness is what allows for something to actually evolve in a natural way.”
—Meredith Monk, from Mountain Record
In the video above, the singer and composer Meredith Monk fills up a magical performance space that reaches 78 feet up from the ground to a ceiling that opens to the blue sky. The musicians, dancers, and singers all harmonize on different stories of the tower, almost calling to each other from level to level.
Designed by artist Ann Hamilton, the concrete tower is 24 feet in diameter with a pool of water at the base. The interior reflects some of the natural light that fills the double helix staircase and passes through rhythmically-placed metal handrails. Unlike a more traditional performance space where an audience might sit full-on facing a filled stage, there are pockets and openings in the tower to allow performers or even the audience to inhabit the walls. Light, song, and beauty naturally evolve into that empty space.
After a while, okay, you’ve worked twenty years or twenty-five years. Okay, so you’ve got this many grants, you’ve got this long a resume, you have these people that hate you, you have these people that love you, you’ve done this piece, that piece, this piece, that piece…and then you go to your grave. And what do you think you have—a piece of paper that tells you all the pieces you’ve done? So what? The only reason for doing it is that you might have the joy of discovery on a day-to-day level. The only reason for doing it is really that you love doing it. What it gets down to is: how do you want to spend your time on Earth?
—Meredith Monk, from Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art & Politics, no. 17, 1984
~Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Meredith Monk: A Twitterscript
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Last Wednesday, the artist Meredith Monk joined our host Krista Tippett for a 90-minute conversation via ISDN. We live-tweeted highlights of this interview and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with her in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.
For those not familiar with Ms. Monk, she is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer who has been creating multi-disciplinary works since the 1960s. She is best known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques.
Also a practicing Buddhist, she is a member of the Shambala sangha. Her most recent album, Songs of Ascension, is inspired by a Zen abbot who described Songs of Ascents — songs which Jews were believed to have sung in biblical times on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to the top of Mount Zion.
- For the next 90 minutes we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s interview with composer/vocalist/performer/ Meredith Monk —@meredith_monk 1:02 PM 11 Jan
- “Singing was a natural kind of language for me. I read music before I read words.” —@meredith_monk 1:10 PM 11 Jan
- “I think of the voice as a very kinetic instrument. I think of the body and the voice as one.” —@meredith_monk 1:12 PM 11 Jan
- “Auditions are hard on the human level…I was looking for people who could sing well, and had a radiant generosity to them.” —@meredith_monk 1:14 PM 11 Jan
- “Auditions are hard at the human level. I like to give back to people.” —@meredith_monk 1:15 PM 11 Jan
- “I’m really trying to do something that makes the voice universal and transcendent.” —@meredith_monk 1:16 PM 11 Jan
- “I had the revelation that the voice could be like the body. Like the spine, it could turn, it could fall…” —@meredith_monk 1:20 PM 11 Jan
- “I had the sensation of something ancient, primal, visceral, preverbal expression.” —@meredith_monk 1:21 PM 11 Jan
- “As an artist so interested in uncovering the invisible, mysterious, inexplicable, things we can’t label.” —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
- “I was thinking of the voice as the messenger of my soul.” —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
- “Performing is such an amazing template of human behavior: of generosity, sensitive to the environment and to other people.” —@meredith_monk 1:28 PM 11 Jan
- “We’re taught to be distracted and diverted from feeling the good pain as in open-heartedness of the moment.” —@meredith_monk 1:30 PM 11 Jan
- “I wanted to spend the rest of my life making pieces about things you can’t make pieces about.” —@meredith_monk 1:34 PM 11 Jan
- “The act of making artwork was the act of contemplating something.” —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
- “How do we spend time on this planet? How do you do work that’s of benefit?” —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
- “Why does worship always go up? There’s this idea of heaven going up.” —@meredith_monk 1:38 PM 11 Jan
- “In the Buddhist tradition there’s circumambulation, that’s a different form, going around.” —@meredith_monk 1:39 PM 11 Jan
- “I love the idea of working with strings, the bowing arm is so much like the breath.” —@meredith_monk 1:40 PM 11 Jan
- “Maybe I should’ve called it ‘Songs of Going Up and Down’” —@meredith_monk on her new work “Songs of Ascension” 1:43 PM 11 Jan
- “Play is something to really think about. That sense of playfulness is another aspect of being alive, awake.” —@meredith_monk 1:45 PM 11 Jan
- “When it comes down to it, you leave love behind…the Beatles had it right.” —@meredith_monk 1: 48 PM 11 Jan
- “If I do use words, they’re used more abstractly…The word dissolves into pure sound.” —@meredith_monk on song writing 1:55 PM 11 Jan
- “The older I get, the simpler the work gets…the most essential is what reaches people the most.” —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
- “Curiosity is a great antidote to fear.” —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
- “All of us as human beings are part of the world vocal family.” —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
- “The human voice is the original instrument. You’re going back to the beginnings of utterance…The memory of being a human being.” —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
- “Most of my songs deal with emotion…between the cracks of emotion.” —@meredith_monk 2:10 PM 11 Jan
- “It was like two young children just loving each other so much” —@meredith_monk on singing for the Dalai Lama 2:16 PM 11 Jan
- @rosannecash - Meredith Monk (@meredith_monk) loved your interview with Krista and would love to meet you! 2:19 PM 11 Jan
Photo of Meredith Monk by Jesse Frohman.
I remember once I had a long period when I thought; ‘I’ll never have another idea again! I’ve explored everything.’ You’ve got this backpack of your history that you’re carrying around — how do you throw that off and really start from beginner’s mind? That gets trickier and trickier as you go along, to not fall into your habitual patterns in the way that you create, in the work itself, or anything.
Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton Ascend at the Walker
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
It is possible that Meredith Monk is not entirely of this world, but I am very glad that she is visiting us on earth. She and the visual artist Ann Hamilton have collaborated to create a riveting and beautiful performance at the Walker Art Center entitled “Songs of Ascension,” which opens tonight and runs through Saturday.
I was able to attend the dress rehearsal last night, curious to know whether this might be a show for us, and indeed the haunting vocal acrobatics and evocative use of film create a compelling sensation of the soul in movment — I would say, “spiritual propulsion,” if it made any sense.