What is Eurythmy and how does it differ from Eurythmics?

To quote from a Wikipedia entry, Eurythmy is

an expressive movement art originated by Rudolf Steiner in conjunction with Marie von Sivers in the early 20th century. Primarily a performance art, it is also used in education, especially in Waldorf schools.

Eurythmy’s aim is to bring the artists’ expressive movement and both the performers’ and audience’s feeling experience into harmony with a piece’s content; Eurythmy is thus sometimes called “visible music” or “visible speech”, expressions that originate with its founder, Rudolf Steiner, who described eurythmy as an “art of the soul”.

Most eurythmy today is performed to classical (concert) music or texts such as poetry or stories.

When performing eurythmy with music (also called tone eurythmy), the three major elements of music, melody, harmony and rhythm, are all expressed. The melody is primarily conveyed through expressing its rise and fall; the specific pitches; and the intervallic qualities present. Harmony is expressed through movement between tension and release, as expressions of dissonance and consonance, and between the more inwardly directed minor mood and the outwardly directed major mood. Rhythm is chiefly conveyed through livelier and more contoured movements for quick notes, slower, dreamier movements for longer notes; in addition, longer tones move into the more passive (listening) back space, quicker tones into the more active front space.

Breaths or pauses are expressed through a larger or smaller movement in space, giving new impulse to what follows. Beat is conveyed through greater emphasis of downbeats, or those beats upon which stress is normally placed.

A piece’s choreography usually expresses elements such as the major or minor key, the shape of the melody line, the interplay between voices or instruments and the relative dominance of one or another voice or instrument. Thus, musicians can often follow even the finest details of their part in the movements of the eurythmists on stage.

Eurythmy is often performed with spoken texts such as poetry, stories or plays. Speech eurythmy includes such elements as the sounds of speech, rhythms, poetic meters, grammar and mood. In speech eurythmy, all the sounds of language have characteristic gestural qualities: the sound of an ‘A’ is open due to the position of the articulators during the vowel. A ‘k’ sounds sharper due to the manner of articulation of the consonant, that it is a plosive. Note that it is the audible sounds themselves, not the letters of the written language, that are expressed.

What does an event partnering with a eurythmist look like?

Two musicians played, and the eurythmist led the session.

Our event was for an audience of special needs adults living in group homes, and their caregivers. Some participants were in wheelchairs. The audience was sitting in chairs formed into a large semicircle, with the cellist and I (playing violin/viola) facing them and the eurythmist in the large space in the center.

Preparation for this event included one musician meeting for the first time with the eurythmist, identifying what type of music would work, going over possible music with the cellist, and arriving early at the venue to arrange the room and review a revised program. The cellist and I also had to figure out how to improvise together.

We improvised music as we waited for everyone to arrive.

The Group Living host introduced us.

The eurythmist led the session, starting with the musicians playing Skaters Waltz as she moved. Those who could stand held hands in a giant circle (so they could all see her) and moved, following her example. Those in wheelchairs gradually positioned themselves so they were included in the circle, even if they couldn’t do the movements.

Following that activity, she spoke and led  movements to poems, then handed out copper rods as we improvised more music. The participants slowly climbed their hands up the rods as the cellist and I went up the notes of a scale (syncing with their movements) and back down. The activity was based on Itsy Bitsy Spider words.

The eurythmist recited a poem that referred to birds (reaching up high with the rods), water (reaching down low), and heart song (touching the sternum), and we improvised sounds to match those ideas.

A Native American poem she recited next called for a rhythmic pattern, so we used chords from Rite of Spring.

We improvised again as she handed out weighted scarves that had a stone or shell knotted in the corner to facilitate an easy hold on the light cloth. Then we played part of a Chopin Waltz, stopping at each phrase ending as each person passed the scarves to their neighbor on the right and received a scarf from the left. The movements were intended to reflect the space or pause between the musical motifs. She gathered the scarves and participants went back to their seats as we improvised some more music.

Unaccompanied by music, she told a story about monks at a monastery (the story of Saint Valentine’s Day) as she moved around.

She took a seat and the cellist and I closed with Skye Boat Song. One of the participants came up and sang Amazing Grace with us, first with the cellist alone and then adding the viola making up a harmony. The cellist and I played Heigh, Ho! Nobody Home as a round and ended with the round Shalom Haverim (goodbye).




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