“Theme and Variations” – Cynthia Lilley (2020)

With Cynthia Lilley, Dalcroze License

Recorded January 18, 2020

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Variation on a theme is a concept central to the Dalcroze approach. The “tempo and dynamics follow” is in essence a theme (the rhythmic pattern) and variations (which evolve from the teacher’s improvisations on the theme enabling students to physically experience these variations in movement). In Dalcroze Solfège, students vary themes in myriad ways, such as improvising interlocking tri-chord scales and singing themes in different modes and meters; the Do-to-do scale exercises are a kind of theme and variation on the C scale. Dalcroze Improvisation often involves variation of a theme or a children’s song. When class members present their individual harmonization of a children’s song, they are, in effect, creating variations on a theme.

It seems, then, a small—but wonderful—step to bring composed Theme and Variations into our classrooms. When we choose from the literature of great classical music, we are giving our students a chance to apply what they know to some of the most ingenious works from the Western Canon. Piano Theme and Variations are certainly a logical choice of pieces to use in teaching, but they also have limitations. Unless the piece is memorized, a teacher performing the piece needs to keep their eyes on the music rather on the students. Someone else could perform the composition, which is not usually easy to manage.

Recordings of classical music cannot replace the piano in a Eurhythmics classroom, but they certainly can enlarge the range of music that students can take in and experience viscerally.

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