Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Snapshots of Switzerland


While eating lunch in Chur, Switzerland, a sparrow perched on a nearby chair. I’m no bird expert, but it seemed pretty much the same as any sparrow I’ve seen in the United States and I could understand its song. But not so human beings, those complex creatures who at heart are the same everywhere, but so different according to language, culture, religion, history, all of which makes us both interesting and maddeningly at odds with each other.


Crossing the border from Italy, I could feel the difference in architecture, in language, the different bodies and faces of the Swiss-German, the different foods, the different landscapes. In Italy, restaurants open at 8, here they close at 8. No more Euros, but Swiss francs here. Brown bread and barlauch (a wild onion-like plant) soup, those fabulous comforters they also have in Germany and Austria and excellent English spoken everywhere in this land of German, French and Italian. More smoking (including indoors in one restaurant!) here than Italy, a similar culture of men hanging out together without having to form Men's Groups. In the midst of idyllic countryside, an advanced technology milking cows with computer-driven machines and mowing lawns with self-driven robots. 


Then the intriguing history of consciously chosen neutrality, having not fought in any war since 1815. The establishment of the Red Cross which inverted the flag’s colors for its emblem. The last Western republic to grant women the right to vote (in 1971!), but then a swift ascent into the political structure and the first woman president in 1999. The national hero the mythic figure of William Tell and the most known literary character a little girl named Heidi. The birthplace of some giants in their field— Albert Einstein and Carl Jung, for example. The site of the Montreux Jazz Festival, where Bill Evans recorded a memorable album and Miles, Ella, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and more also performed and were recorded. 


Most intriguing to me is Switzerland’s contribution to alternative education. Jean-Jacques Rosseau, a French-Swiss, whose book Emile: A Treatise on Education was published in 1762, was one of the first to consciously envision an education that reached beyond reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. The baton was carried further down the field by Swiss German Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827), who founded several experimental schools. (I gave an Orff workshop at a Pestalozzi School in Argentina some ten years ago). The German educator Freidrich Froebel was Pestalozzi’s student and continued his work. (He was the one who invented the term “kindergarten.”) 


In the field of music education, Emile Jacques Dalcroze was a composer and pedagogue who began exploring a new approach to music teaching he called Eurythmics, returning music to the body and ear in the midst of the rise of Conservatory training. His daring experiments as a teacher in the Geneva Conservatory (starting in 1892) led him to establish his own school in Hellerau, Germany, in 1910. Notable figures in the growing modern-dance world—Hanya Holm, Mary Wigman, Rudolph Laban, amongst others—spent some time at that school. I have heard that a young Carl Orff visited, as well as Maria Montessori (who was also influenced by Pestalozzi). Dalzcrose returned to Geneva in 1914 to open another school and today, Geneva remains the home of the Dalcroze Institute. 


Yesterday, I gave my third Orff workshop in Switzerland in the small town of Dagmersellen and felt the same excitement from the students I felt in the other two I had given in 2015. Great energy and musicianship, deep thought and a bubbling sense of humor breaking through the famous Swiss reserve. Today, I teach University students in Basel and expect the same. Stay tuned for that report. 

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