Conversation with Fabian Bautz
In March of 2017, Fabian Bautz was the featured presenter at the annual Tri-Chapter Workshop for the Dalcroze, Kodaly, and Orff societies of the New York City area. I first met Fabian at the Longy School of Music’s Dalcroze Summer Intensive in 2007. Based in Zurich, Fabian teaches both Dalcroze Eurhythmics and TaKeTiNa, a movement-based approach to experiencing rhythm. The day after the workshop, I invited Fabian to my home in Brooklyn for an interview. We spent an hour walking in the cold March sunshine, and as we talked I asked him— more than once—to stop and “save it for the interview.” I didn’t want to waste any interesting conversation threads! I needn’t have worried. Fabian brings the same qualities that he teaches with to conversation: a probing intellect, deep awareness and a focused presence. As we thawed out over tea, there was plenty more to talk about. Here is our conversation…
Michael: I been thinking a lot lately about the idea of discovery, the different levels of discovery that can happen inside a classroom, and the conditions that promote the chance that there will be discovery. You can’t guarantee that it will happen.
Fabian: No, you can’t.
M: And yet it is one of our core values. I’ve been thinking about the different kinds of discovery. There is the kind of discovery in which the teacher knows something that they want the students to discover. But there is another level of discovery in which both teacher and student are in the process of discovering something. Staying in that space is challenging and can feel risky. But I think it is valuable, and that is the space I am particularly interested in at the moment.
F: I am immediately reminded of a class that I am now teaching. And when you said ‘discovery’ I was just remembering that moment when they were moving in the space. And this is a very unmotivated class.
M: What age?
F: 23. They have chosen these studies, but one would like to be more in acting, another would like more to perform. They want to be there but they are unmotivated to enter the atmosphere of the eurhythmics class, to be serious about what is going on. Discovery is very much a part of that atmosphere. Their disengagement begins with not caring about what kind of footwear they have, either barefoot or something that prevents you from slipping.
M: How did you work with this?
F: They have a very good teacher for movement. I spoke with her and I realized how good she must be, and so I asked them to connect their work with her to our class in hopes of bringing in a little bit of the body presence that is necessary.
M: There can be a certain delicate self-consciousness in young adults.
F: My colleague encountered great resistance from them because she focused too much on the personal challenge of taking it seriously, to really think about the holistic aspect of self-experience, self-development, self-presence and self-consciousness that can be catalyzed by the combination of bodywork and eurhythmics, trying to integrate both music and movement and nourishing yourself. Musically, physically becoming more yourself through the music, through the movement, through what the two together can bring out of you.
M: You really have to work to inspire them to say ‘yes’ to that.
F: And back to this question of discovery: in this lesson, they must challenge themselves to use their body. They have chosen Music and Movement as a course of study, and I have to insist that they really experience the movement. In an earlier class I worked with the song “What a Wonderful World”. There are some very long notes in some of the phrases. I tried to force them—that’s not such a nice word—invite, seduce them to experience this long, long note. It’s moving and it is a movement. Music, sound and movement: one sound, one tone that starts here and is going there.
M: There is a whole list of verbs for that, right? Invite, cajole, tease, badger, insist. It’s a constant chipping away at resistance. Good cop, bad cop, all in one.
F: Yes! To make it possible for another person or for a group we determine precisely what the exercise could offer and how the students could come to a discovery. I think they can if we try again and again to get them to the point where something is happening: Wow, the music is carrying me!
M: Everybody knows when something is happening. And everybody knows when it isn’t.
M: And we can’t insist that something happen. It just has to… happen.
F: This aspect of whether something is happening or not is connected to discovery. For me the quality of a discovery actually is that “something” happened.
M: Yes. Something happened that we didn’t necessarily expect. Yet you can only discover something that was already there. You can invent something that wasn’t there as a result of a discovery, though. And many of the moments of eurhythmics classes that have stayed with me, while I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, I do remember the experience of everyone realizing that the thing we all thought we were doing is not actually what we were doing. Something totally different is happening. We all recognize that it is happening, though, even if we maybe can’t even exactly name it.
F: My teacher had a name for that. Her name was Amélie Hoellering and she had studied with Elfriede Feudel , who was one of the early pupils of Dalcroze. She founded the eurhythmics institute called “Rhythmikon,” where I did my studies. I chose to study eurhythmics because of five days of ‘discovery’ in my initial encounter with it. I had read about it, but I had never experienced it. I discovered a lot of things during these five days: things that had been in me, things that fulfilled some wishes and hopes. I was longing for a lot of things at that time. I was 23 or 22. I was curious about theater, music, and movement. I had done some music studies but I didn’t want to become an instrumentalist. So I go to this place and it must have happened on the first day. There was a discovery in the work that she offered us. She called this “the third place”. She talked about creating a eurhythmics lesson. The teacher creates the conditions in which a person has to choose from the available physical or intellectual possibilities to realize something.
But there is also the social aspect. You are not alone. There’s your partner, there’s a group. There’s a horizontal line of interaction, and a vertical line between your brain and your physical ability. And there is a third point where we meet. You are in your process of discovering, developing, trying, and so am I, as a teacher. Then something can happen! She called it der dritte Ort, the third place, and it’s unpredictable. You cannot force it. But it can happen if we create optimal conditions. If I give my best. If you give your best. And someone may not, but suddenly he is, and then we have a gestalt of beauty, of beautiful proportions between the polarities of strong and tender, small and big, soft and loud. Something suddenly has been created.
M: A lot of our work as teachers and as alert students is to watch for that and not let it slip away. It’s very easy to let it slip through your fingers, especially when you stop following a plan.
F: Yes. You have to be very alert and you have to want it. And you have to see what is possible and to what degree. Sometimes we have to be content with something less than we might have hoped for. It won’t be the big event or the big discovery, but rather something small and more individual.
M: Yes. If we are lucky enough to have the space at least sometimes in which there are no expectations about what should happen. Not that expectations are antithetical to Dalcroze practice. It’s just that sometimes we need to let them go. But often we are teaching in places that maybe aren’t fully Dalcroze environments, where we have a list of things we are supposed to teach. A laundry list, you know? And there might be less room for that type of exploration. It can still happen, but it may be more difficult to achieve. The longer I do this work, I am discovering that it is less about music, and more about me. I am still discovering my body, my attitudes towards my physical self, how my mind and body talk to each other. All these things that are important for music but are not necessarily about quarter-notes and eighth-notes, unequal beats, and so on. All these musical elements are interesting, but I often find that I am using music as a means to discover my own body, my own self. It’s almost as if I am attempting to acquire these musical abilities so that I can encounter these parts of myself. It’s a little backwards! At this point, I’m not learning music through movement as much as I’m learning movement through music. I’m not naturally a mover. At 50 years-old I’m still learning how to inhabit my body. That’s probably what draws me into music. You have to inhabit your body to really be present in music. So for me the discoveries continue, but at least right now they are mostly intra-personal.
F: Right. Maybe a 23-year-old student is not likely to be so curious about themselves in that way.
M: No way I would have been! Although I do think the right teacher could have opened the door to that.
F: As for me at 23, I realized in this initial week of Dalcroze that there were things that neither my parents, nor my kindergarten or primary school teachers, not my high school, not my first experiences with psychological studies, nothing had ever touched certain things about my self and my expressivity.
M: You knew that at 23?
F: Yes, I felt that. And that happened in the eurhythmics lessons. I realized that this lady had opened the space for me to act in a new way which had to do with making clear decisions about yes or no, about whether ‘yes’ meant forward or backward, slow or quick, with her or against her, twice or once, double-time—and here we are in notation! Not that we need notation, it’s just happening! What is she playing? What is the atmosphere in the room? It’s transmitted in the music so that I move in a certain way. The music pulled out of me a certain kind of expressivity that I wouldn’t use in my daily life because I was a very socialized person. Don’t do anything brave or extraordinary! Eurhythmics showed me that it was ok in this frame, this secure, protected space of learning and teaching, I can develop new tools and skills, new possibilities of self, just as you said. I am like you – thirteen years older, but it is still an ongoing process to inhabit my body more.
M: Still it is remarkable that you were able to recognize that in your twenties.
F: Yes. I felt that something was missing.
M: For me just going into music itself felt risky. I didn’t stumble into a Dalcroze class until fifteen years after my schooling.
F: Maybe I was such an adaptive child, eager to fulfill the rules and meet expectations in my movements. But actually living is moving, after all. Eurhythmics was a door opener, or at least the first of many keys.
M: Well, sometimes in a eurhythmics class we are sort of like trained animals, responding to this and that. It can be great fun, but it’s not wild liberated free movement for the most part.
F: My teacher was not one of those. She was in a big discussion with Geneva and with Marie-Laurie Bachmann. But she got a lot of respect and an Honorary Degree from the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva, although they knew that she was coming from deep psychology, and that she was using this inter-personal aspect a lot in her lessons. It was about life, expressivity, and yes, coordination, too, but not exclusively. Our goal was to express ourselves, to find ourselves, to become more ourselves.
M: This leads us to the idea of complexity, how it can be used to bypass some controls we might have. It’s a kind of paradox. By entering that complexity, you have to let go of control.
F: Yes! That was the second door for me—TaKeTiNa. That was complete complexity.
M: When did you encounter that in relation to Dalcroze?
F: That’s an important question. I had not yet finished my studies, and there was a big conflict.
M: What was the conflict?
F: I met Reinhard Flatischler in a loft workshop with maybe 8 people. One of my student colleagues invited me. And in that first evening with TaKeTiNa I did polyrhythms for the first time in a way that I had never done before with Amélie Hoellering or during my studies at the conservatory.
M: What’s the difference?
F: The biggest difference is that it is a repetitive process.
F: Completely groove-based, and very joyful. A lot of fun.
M: You’re not contrasting that with eurhythmics, in terms of joy, are you?
F: No, no. Eurhythmics was very often joyful and fun, too. In eurhythmics, there is much more variety of movement and you have contact with others. You change partners. How will I do this exercise with this person?
M: It’s very inter-personal.
F: Yes, and TaKeTiNa is not. Or I should say was not. Reinhard Flatischler has also learned something over the last 40 years and he has adapted some exercises, but basically it was not inter-personal. It was individuals working on themselves in a group. And while we were doing TaKeTiNa I realized, “Wow! I’m doing polyrhythms with my whole body.” I had already studied for 3 years at the Conservatory and nobody gave me the key to experience that. How is that possible? There was a wonderful drum teacher who used the Orff instruments. We performed many pieces, but to do two and three with my body and to sing at the same time, to lose contact with the drum or the singing and to find my way back to it, that was incredible! There was another path. Completely effective and connected to African and Asian culture, the old drum and dance cultures such as India, which uses polyrhythms and teaches through language and syllables rather than through notation.
M: Some believe that Jaques-Dalcroze picked that up when he went to Algeria as a young man.
F: Could be.
M: But the idea was expressed in a different way through him. It isn’t groove-based. The music is constantly moving forward. It’s going somewhere.
F: Yes. And you have to constantly make decisions. Where do I do my next step, my next clap?
M: The reflective mind is highly involved.
F: Yes, it is awake. It is included, involved and always present, whereas in TaKeTiNa you can have your own trip for as long as you want. Today, I have my own critical take on that. It depends on how you guide the process. Reinhard used something very effective: the principle of call and response. Responding to a difficult call might push you out of the groove, and that’s the moment where you are awake again. So you must reconnect with your mind because you might have drifted away. Suddenly there is a call and the whole ship is sinking! You have to return to the center, to the rhythm and the beat.
M: It’s as if you need the reflective mind to get back on the bicycle, and once you are moving again the director can recede to the background and put his feet up again. In Dalcroze we don’t usually want that to happen too much.
F: Even as a TaKaTina teacher you have to stay completely alert. You must see whether too many people are out of rhythm, or maybe it needs a provocation, something to intensify the process. Or maybe the challenge level needs to be reduced.
M: Like a Dalcroze teacher, really.
F: True. But the focus is on something else. The tools that you use are different because you are groove-based. You can’t push the button and say, “Ok, we’ll stop it here.” It’s a very sensitive process, a performance really. You can’t just say, “Oh, sorry, I want to do this measure again.”
M: It’s like waking someone out of hypnosis.
F: You can’t interrupt the process, whereas in eurhythmics you can. And I like both. They are both very effective and good. Amélie Hoellering noticed a change when I came back to her institute after I had taken the TaKeTiNa course. One of my student colleagues had encouraged me to return there, at Rhythmikon, to become a eurhythmics teacher. And because I was full of TaKeTiNa, I could not resist introducing it, too. Or—which was worse—to mix it in a little bit. So in the beginning, when I had the opportunity to give a class on my own and I did TaKeTiNa for a while. I thought, “Wow, I have a super new skill which is complementary to eurhythmics.” Amélie Hoellering would look at the students coming out of the lesson and ask, “What did you do with them?” [laughter] They looked like they were in a trance, which is what happens if you take them through the process and you don’t get them back with a round of reflection: what did you do? how was the experience? how was it falling in and out?
M: Yes, you’ve done that every time I’ve been in a session with you.
F: When I was just starting out I did not do that yet so clearly. So she saw students coming out differently from the way they came out from a eurhythmics lesson. After a eurhythmics lesson you are aware and awake.
M: You may be tired.
F: Yes, but you are completely present because you have talked about what you have done. In TaKeTiNa people don’t know if they have done 3 with 5, 6 with 9.
M: I wonder since trance and electronic music has become so popular with young people involved in these long all-night sessions where they are basically bypassing their conscious minds through movement and stimulation through sound and light and often drugs, too, I wonder if TaKeTiNa would seem not so unusual, maybe even tame?
F: I don’t know about that kind of music. TaKeTiNa is a challenge and you must be interested in something about yourself. It asks you how your body is functioning with your conscious mind. How come if I want to clap in this particular place or time, I miss completely? That was my own question after my first experience with TaKeTiNa set in the workshop. Reinhard, the teacher, was doing different steps in front of me and I was losing my own steps or claps!
M: That happens in eurhythmics classes, too!
F: Yes! Both require curiosity about ourselves and how we function. You might have had the opportunity to discover that things can happen without conscious control. Here I am doing two against three, to take the simplest example, I can sing and move at the same time but I’ve never done it before.
M: And I can’t tell you how I am doing it.
M: There are so many things we do like that. Simply standing up is a complex process. There are so many things that must happen so that we don’t fall over, constant micro-adjustments. No one can say exactly what they are doing to make that happen. That’s something I love about both TaKeTiNa and eurhythmics. They give us an experience of complexity that we can really feel. We say, “I don’t know how I can do that, I just give myself the instruction to do it—and I can do it.” Everything else we take for granted. I can pick up this cup. No problem! But how? It turns out that is a difficult thing for even scientists to explain. In this day and age they are still arguing about how that is possible.
F: So you are back to your first question about how this can become a discovery. If we do it with our students, or with children, how can everything become a discovery again and again, the same thing?
M: Especially when you see students encountering the same material, how can it be discovery for those who teach it?
F: In a class last week, I came into the room and there was one student standing on one of our big wooden boxes. He had a great spot to observe everything. And so the lesson starts like that. Whoever steps on the box stops the music, or whoever steps on the box makes a gesture and we do the same, and so on. The movie starts! To use it rather than saying, “Ok, put the box away and then we can start.” To me that is also discovery.
M: Yes, in that case you all are really discovering the lesson. Though I’m often uncomfortable with the word ‘lesson.’ It often implies that I always know what I will teach, and that I always know what you will learn. Here is what the outcome should be. Now, get off that box so we can begin. The entry-point as portal to discovery is important for artists of any type. When you sit down to the blank page—it’s blank. We have to start, and we have to learn how to start. We must learn to discover what’s there, maybe in the process discovering ourselves through what’s there—or not there. The lessons don’t come pre-packaged. The teacher is not reading a step-by-step manual. The teacher is the authority, but I am always happiest when the authority is shared. The teacher is a guide, an observer, a facilitator, and all the other things a teacher must be. And when he needs to be, yes – an authority. But there are more possibilities.
F: I remember that very well from your class the summer before, this atmosphere of competence and experience, but that you are helping us to create something together.
M: I might be obsessed with that because of what I see as the failure of our public—and often private—education to provide that for children. There is a mandate to “know” and deliver an outcome. It is no surprise that we fail.
F: And it is difficult to have a concept of other free forms of learning and teaching. Even if you have this idea and you work within a system that is programmed in a different way, it is very difficult to open that free space for the children.
M: Yes, it is very difficult. I have enormous respect for teachers who find a way to solve that problem while from inside the system. Somebody has to do it. I couldn’t!
F: No! I couldn’t do it 5 days a week. I do it one morning a week.
M: I’ve chosen not to accept work in which I have to compromise like that. That’s a weakness of mine, in a way.
F: I do work within it on a smaller scale. It feeds me for the teaching with my professional students, and for my work as a mentor in Zurich. But I had some desperate moments not long ago: a new room, a much bigger hall for music. The acoustics are different, the pathway to this or that instrument has been changed, or getting the children to the blackboard… Everything is different. And then there was Carnival and the ski holidays—the children were crazy! What do I do? And even if the kids are settled down, it’s not always evident and easy to create this collective learning process. They are used to having a teacher in front. Here there is freedom, and they know it. They smell it. They know I am not the kind of teacher who is there with a rigid solution.
M: And they are desperate for that kind of freedom.
F: So they have to find out how far they can go. Where are his limits? Very difficult sometimes.
M: So how do you manage that?
F: I had to learn to become more precise with limits in certain cases. I had to develop more clarity about that. I can say though that in a way I also succeed because my sympathy and love for them is always there, and they know it. They know that if I am at the point of saying, “No,” it is a ‘no,’ but they know it is not against them. We will meet two minutes later and they will have the freedom to play, and I will give them a contributing role. I had to learn that I can be the friendly supportive person even if I am straight and strong in my denial of something.
M: They need limits.
F: I had to discover that I had the freedom to have a definite and final “no” to a child, and that “no” means “no” for now in this moment. The “no” is clear and sharp, and it works. I didn’t dare that for decades. I was afraid to. It didn’t fit with my image of myself of always being a friendly person.
M: I have a similar temperament, though I yelled in the beginning. Now I just say “no” whenever it’s necessary.
F: Right. If it is clear for you it is enough. You don’t have to yell. It is the eyes and the voice.
M: And the feeling. I think that you earn that “no” by giving as much “yes” as you can constantly, so that the second that “no” comes, they can feel it. They are desperate for “yes.” They just want to know that they are free. They want to be able to trust you, so that if there is a “no,” it is for a good reason. It’s for my safety, or something. He says “yes” to so many other things, so, Ok.
F: To have developed that for so many years, I can say that I now have that forever. There might be situations where I see a conflict with a particular child. The next step is to contact the teacher or parent to get more information about the child, and to fine tune what consequences there are if a child is permanently destroying the flow of the teaching. Maybe I can give her something to do in another room. There’s a door, and you can knock and come back. Or I’ll bring you back when I think it is enough. Very often it is a question about the parents.
M: There are so many things that come into play. We don’t have them in desks. We have an open space. The same open space that makes the 23-year-olds close up does something very different to a six year-old, or an eight year-old. It is a catalyst and a mirror.
F: I’m so grateful when someone reminds me, “They are only six or seven.” They just left kindergarten! I meet them in the school, so I am already part of the system. But for them everything is possible.
M: You don’t want to wreck that. They are more open and alive then I am. This must say something about myself, but I am often uncomfortable with the idea that I am teaching children anything. I sometimes think all I can do is to merely put them in a room and set up the conditions under which they might teach themselves. I can give them a piece of information, but it’s just a sliver. “This is a quarter-note.” That’s after 44 minutes of activities, and I can show them that in a minute. And they’ll recognize the symbol next week. Did I teach them that? I showed it to them. They taught themselves. The longer I teach, the less I even want to ever show it to them. It ends then. “Oh, that’s what all that movement was? Oh, I know what that is. I already learned that from somebody else.” And then they want to show me what they know, and then we’re done. They already ‘know’ that. But maybe that’s just my own problem. Others don’t seem to get hung up on that as much.
F: It’s great that you go so far to question it. It’s not a comfortable thing to do.
M: The older I get, the farther that quarter-note gets pushed to the end of class for the young ones. At some point, will I pass the point where it doesn’t feel like a music class? We were moving. That’s music to me. We were playing with instruments. How do I describe what they learned?
F: Sometimes I ask questions. Can we start and stop together? Did you hear the others? Did you hear that you started to early? No problem. We can try again. It’s about observation, perception—Wahrnehmung—to see what’s true, to be present with all your senses. To feel, to hear, to see. And there we are in the center of eurhythmics. How to use our senses collectively. It’s a challenge because it can be uncomfortable. They have their conflicts and disturbances because everything is interesting. How to direct the process? Focus is the key. I would like us to start the song, or these five notes together. And to stop together. These two will play together and stop together, and then that one will play the gong. Is that possible? We have to manage so many things before we come to the point where it goes well. But then to see the faces of happy children who experienced and discovered something. The discovery comes from silence. I must insist nothing. And if just that happens I am happy. Not much more. No quarter-notes!
M: In what you have just described there is a list of things that you could say they learned, skills they are building, and most importantly experiences they have had. That for me is all you need.
F: Do you mean a list for ourselves as teachers? Or a list of expectations from the school?
M: We might have more of a problem with that in the U.S. Curriculums often contain a list of things that students should know by the end of the course, but we aren’t always clear what we mean by “know.”
F: In Germany, they talk a lot about competence in relation to curriculum development. You have experiences with a certain material to discover how to use it. And there is a space for individual solutions. This is an interesting process.
M: We do not always favor the individualistic response in the U.S., even though we like to think of ourselves as individualists.
F: Switzerland is moving in this direction. A curriculum is defined more by these terms: more competency-based rather than efficiency-based. It’s about information, material, and what the learner does with those things. It’s just the beginning. I don’t know if I will be there to see how it develops. I often think about the children I have for two years. When they move on, their next teacher wants to know, “What did you learn with Mr. Bautz? What, you don’t know what a quarter-note is? You don’t know such-and-such a song? What did he do with you?”
M: We all walk into each other’s classes and say that. Do they know how to do this thing that is so central to my teaching, and counts as knowing for me? But those certain things are not necessarily the same for everybody.
F: I am lucky to have a good director in the school, and I think he is thankful for the way I am teaching. The children like coming, and I have enough to talk about what they have learned. I think we have to be pro-active, also. To defend our way of teaching.
M: Me too. This year I chose one class and I wrote on a blog each week about our activities. I tried to include as much as I could: what I observed, what worked, what didn’t, what this might turn into next week. It was hard to stay committed to doing that, and in fact I dropped the ball a bit at the end. But that was helpful for me in bringing clarity for myself to what exactly happened in the classroom. The children aren’t able to say what they’ve learned because it isn’t the right question. The question should be: what did you do? But even then, the intention won’t be necessarily be clear to them, and so they may describe it very differently from how I would. At each moment you could stop the lesson and ask me why we are doing such and such and I would always be able to tell you. And yet the parents are pouring out money for this and rightfully want to know what is going on in the classroom. When you finish a class, it’s often like a dream: it evaporates in a way. It’s like when you finish improvising. What just happened there? I can’t tell you. It was magical but I can’t exactly say what it was. I think that is a good thing, but I recognize everyone might not see it like that. I find by writing about my experiences I feel clearer about what has happened.
F: It is so good to question our own teaching. Thank you so much for your questions and thoughts! It is very inspiring and enriching to share our experiences.
M: I couldn’t agree more! Thank you, Fabian.
Fabian Bautz holds Diplomas in Eurythmics, Music Education and TaKeTiNa Rhythm Teaching. He been a guest teacher and lecturer at various universities, congresses and institutions Europe and the United States since 1989. Since 2001 Fabian has taught graduate level eurhythmics at the Lucerne University of Music, as well as eurhythmics for children. He has taught improvisation classes at the Formation Continue of Institut Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva and graduate eurhythmics classes at the University of Theater and Music in Zürich. Fabian has been a member of the board of FIER since 2007, and is currently serving as its vice president.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Dalcroze Connections, Vol. 3 No. 1.