Apr 172013

Tonight, I’ll interview Eric Barnhill about Cognition, Movement, and Music. The topic is a bit obscure, but I’ve always been fascinated to hear Eric talk about his work. For me, this interview an excellent opportunity to have yet another interesting conversation… and you get to listen in!

Eric began his career as a Julliard-trained concert pianist, but now he’s a graduate student in medical physics in Scotland. Yes, that’s a bit of a strange path. Oddly, it’s been a path with a mostly steady trajectory, as you can see from his recent write-up for his alma matter. Here’s a bit:

During my time at Juilliard, I was introduced to an obscure field called Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which was developed by the Swiss composer and music theorist Emile Jaques-Dalcroze at the turn of the 20th century. In Dalcroze, movement is combined with vocal work and improvisation to create an alternative approach to teaching music. However, musical subjects are intermediate goals, used to develop attention, focus, coordination and physical performance via movement.

In Dalcroze I saw a methodology of unexplored potential that brought all my varied interests together. However, Dalcroze as a profession, to the extent that it exists at all, mostly consists of young children’s music and movement classes. To many colleagues, I had abandoned interpreting Schubert sonatas for sitting on a floor with 3-year-olds rolling balls around.

Early in my Dalcroze career I was reverse-commuting to a children’s music school in the suburbs (a rite of passage for many a Juilliard grad, in one form or another), where I frequently taught Dalcroze and piano to special-needs and learning-disabled children. I took them on as students because I had a blast teaching them.

However, I began to notice something interesting: The struggles they had executing musical patterns in movement seemed deeply connected to their core special-needs deficits. Similarly, to the extent that these students’ ability to execute rhythmic tasks improved, their core deficits seemed to temporarily recede. If I found a way to help a low-functioning girl keep a beat, she would then become just as present as anyone else. If I could tune up a boy’s ability to track measure, suddenly he would sit up and listen to an entire sentence. Stepping and skipping the rhythms of a nursery rhyme with these children would result in an afterglow of clear and expressive speech from them where none previously existed. This observation was the most exciting one I ever made. It has been the cornerstone on which I have built everything I have done professionally since.

You can read the rest here. Also, Eric gave a talk at TEDxBermuda — Empowering Through Rhythm — that’s an excellent teaser for tonight’s interview:

Fascinating, no? I hope that you join us for the interview!

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