Monday, May 13, 2013

Yoga and Calisthenics

Practicing yoga and performing calisthenics are two different ways of approaching physical exercise, and thinking about their differences can offer some insights into the therapeutic and educational ways of teaching music.

The first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on yoga reads:

Yoga is a commonly known generic term for the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace.

The Wikipedia entry for calisthenics begins with:

Calisthenics are a form of exercise consisting of a variety of simple, often rhythmical, movements, generally without using equipment or apparatus. They are intended to increase body strength and flexibility with movements such as bending, jumping, swinging, twisting or kicking, using only one's body weight for resistance. . . . Calisthenics when performed vigorously and with variety can benefit both muscular and cardiovascular fitness, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility and coordination.

Groups such as sports teams and military units often perform leader-directed group calisthenics as a form of synchronized physical training (often including a customized "call and response" routine) to increase group cohesion and discipline.

While yoga is seen and taught as a combination of the physical, the mental and the spiritual, calisthenics is mostly physical, with the addition of group cohesion as a goal. 

In the yoga classes I took back in the 70's, the idea was that the teacher was training us to be more aware of our bodies and to move through the poses in ways that suited us individually, and to always be mindful, centered and grounded.

In calisthenics, moving just like others with the same timing and motions is much more important.

In teaching music as a music therapist, what works and doesn't work for any particular client is always of paramount importance. In yoga different people doing different poses can look very different, especially for beginners, and that's OK. In music therapy what's important is that the clients feel the joys of music making, become engaged in the activity, and over time are better able to express themselves musically.

It seems to me music educators take more of the calisthenics approach to teaching, for some very good reasons. For one, only students with a skill set that might allow them to succeed are allowed into band, and because of those skills, will probably find on their own what does and doesn't work for them as individuals. For another, group cohesion is of paramount importance in bands (and symphonies), so the subordination of the individual to the group, as personified by the conductor, is the only way to go.

I think this is at least part of the explanation as to why, for the most part, none if the community band conductors we've had over the years has ever talked about tone, other than that tired old joke when someone plays when they shouldn't that, "At least it had good tone quality!"

For me as a music therapist, from the get go with any client I'm always including the importance of tone in the conversation. I'll often ask if they've ever come across someone who has wonderfully interesting things to say, but that the sound of their voice is so off-putting it's hard to pay attention, which usually triggers a look of recognition.

Understanding your musical sound as your voice is fundamental to successful musical self-expression. 

I think that music educators don't talk much about it because the skill set their students present with mean they'll probably develop their tone and appreciation of it's importance on their own.

No comments:

Post a Comment