5 February 2023

Music to heal the body and mind

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UM’s Dr. Poon is using eurhythmics to improve well-being of the elderly

Music, a creative expression of one’s feelings and emotions through the use of sound, forming a universal connection between human beings. It is because of this connection that we feel tied to different rhythms, songs, and tunes that ‘speak’ our emotions and moods at different periods of time. It is this connection that forms the foundation of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics, an active music pedagogy (method and practice of teaching) combining rhythm with body movements.

Dalcroze’s Eurythmics (from the Greek word Eurhymia, meaning ‘good flow’) utilizes piano improvisation and Solfege (‘do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do’) toencourage students to move their bodies in tune with the music or sounds played by their teacher, uniting their body and mind in the process and portraying the music through the movement of his/her body. Simply put, the body is an instrument while music is the motivation. This is where Dalcroze moves beyond musical education itself – by developing attention and later transferring it to in-depth focus, whereby the individuals can respond to all shades of tune and its associated feelings.

Critically, eurhythmics has the ability to enhance human wellbeing in various aspects, providing a means to improve the physical, mental and emotional health of children, teens, adults and the elderly.

Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics also investigates using music as a humanizing force, acting as a form of therapy and rehabilitation. As diverse education, it can be catered to individuals from different backgrounds and professions; dancers, actors, athletes, painters and even businesspersons can all benefit from eurhythmics. Individuals with special needs can participate as well due to the education’s focus on basic human physical, mental and psychological skill acquisition, which includes active listening, communication, and coordination.

Participants of eurhythmics can boost their physical health via coordinating their movements with musical tunes. Through this method, participants can develop enhanced body and spatial awareness – gaining a better control of their bodies in the designated space area. For the elderly, eurhythmics can help them gain better body posture, control of their muscular movements, flexibility, and overall control of their bodily movements, all of which are crucial to their physical health. By tuning themselves to the rhythm and timing during the exercise, participants can master dissociation and project it in a controlled and coordinated manner. Though seemingly superficial, all of these elements contribute to one’s physical sustainability, especially of the elderly who experience difficulties in bodily movements, controls, and coordination.

Eurhythmics is also a group activity, incorporating individual, dual and group elements. Thus, participants will learn to take solo turns as well as work with a partner and even in a group setting. can also improve their social ability. With that, he/she will learn to adapt to various working environments, tolerate one another and simultaneously master their individual skills. Ultimately, eurhythmics will improve the social abilities of the elderly, teaching them to follow directions and coordinate themselves to it, while being comfortable in various environments.

Finally, eurhythmics can contribute to mental and emotional health and wellbeing, especially that of the elderly. By coordinating their minds to the music and connecting it to their bodily movements, participants can stimulate their brain cells and thus improve their short- and long-term memory. Given their limited socioeconomic opportunities and physical limitations, eurhythmics can act as a non-verbal communication platform for the elderly to express themselves in a positive and creative manner that enables them to feel productive and paving the way for self-discovery.

Even tutors can learn and benefit from eurhythmics. By actively connecting their minds to the music, tutors can better understand musical language, develop musicianship and an ease of performance, which eventually boost their personal confidence. To make the session engaging, the tutor will also explore their creative side and imagination. By mastering these elements, he/she will be better able to create delightful, yet functional music and movement exercises, appropriate for fellow participants.

Despite all of the advantages that Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics provides, it is relatively underdeveloped in Southeast Asia due to the limited access to Dalcroze teachers’ training. In light of this, Dr. Poon Chiew Hwa, an outstanding piano performer and senior lecturer at the Music Department from the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Malaya had begun an initiative to introduce eurhythmics activities to the aging population of Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur. Dr. Poon hopes that this initiative will simultaneously improve the quality of life for elderly individuals and pave the way for the development of Dalcroze’s Eurhythmics in Malaysia and, later, Southeast Asia. As of writing, this project is at the conceptualization level, waiting for partnership and collaboration from external parties.

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

Plato

This article was published in a past edition of UMR Bulletin (Ed.)