Musicality is not originally a dancer's term, although dancers sometimes use it as if it were. Musicality, as I learned it formally, is the ability to express music in a way that goes beyond the correct notes or literally what is written in the musical notation. The expression of musicality creates a response that accentuates a mood or feeling. If you have seen musicians or dancers who perform and you are deeply moved, it was more than the music or graceful movement to the music: Musicality was on center stage.
Musicality is a subset of every course on music a musician takes and is the goal of every musical performance. In academic settings, musicality is addressed especially under musicianship courses.
The best musicality course for a musician, however, is dance. That is my experience, at least. I am not alone. Many musicians who become dancers have a common experience: We learn more about musicality as musicians through dance than in any course! We can feel the dynamics of the music, how the notes can fill the body with a dance response. We musician/dancers then return to our instruments as better musicians, better at musical expression--without out any changes to our technical abilities. Can dancers, then, do the reverse? Yes.
Dancing exactly on the pulse, is the first level of musicality. This level of musicality is like snapping one's fingers to the music in time. Done correctly and simply can be a very wonderful musical expression. The next level is "hitting the notes," which includes hearing and responding to the actually rhythms. A much higher level is to hear and react to the the dynamics -- the myriad changes in the music, such as expressing the sweeping or staccato parts of the music, and then poetically knitting these dynamic changes all together. However, I am reluctant to suggest a hierarchy to musicality. Simplicity may win out for musicality in the end.
Musicians do not always dance musically. Have you noticed? I have. Musicians must become dancers and embody music. This is not easy, but once it happens, you may see a huge change in that beginner dancer who happens to be a musician. One the other had dancers have work to do as well. I believe a dancer must become what I would call an "aural musicians" fully aware of the music. I want my non-musician dance partner to have sat down next to Pugliese on his piano bench even though she cannot play piano.
Regarding "hitting all the notes"Imagine a piano competition in which all musicians must play the same piece. Then imagine that they all play every note perfectly. The judges do not have a hard task. They look for one thing to acknowledge the truly impressive musician: Musicality.
|The "Player Piano" plays all the notes|
perfectly,but wins no musicality contests!
The winner of such a competition did something SO MUCH MORE than pounding out the notes. It is all about the dynamics (changes) within the music. The transitions within the music were poetically expressed. The player piano which plays all on its own from a scroll of programmed paper has no mother that will be outraged that her child did not win even though "he hit every note perfectly."
The Musicality Moment
Nearly everyone experiences a "musicality moment." Isn't it wonderful when you and your partner listen and dance some special nuance in the music? Isn't it magical when when you intuit what is going to happen next--when the music takes over even though you have never heard a particular piece. Musicians experience this all the time, and it is truly wonderful. Sometimes, it is even mystical. My improvisational jazz experience may be wonderful, even mystical. Yet, nothing is as powerful as my tango experience with this intuition.
Okay, if you know my blog, you know it is now time for a video clip. Maybe you are waiting for an example of some great musicality by an awesome tanguero couple, right? No, sorry.
I have something better--removed from tango--so that you will pay attention to the subject at hand. The dancer below demonstrates musicality very well, in spite of the fact that the dancer has very stiff legs. This artist is not known for dance. But you will be amazed at his musicality. Watch how his body moves, and you see why it was more than just the steps that makes even a dancer with stiff legs so much fun to watch.
Note on musicality for teachers only (Really everyone else, this is boring -- so do not read it):
Teaching "musicality" through the "you-know-what-I-mean" method, as it often is taught, is misguided. Behind "you know what I mean" is often that musicality is knowing the music. But it is not. Or that musicality is led/followed or just done on one's own with adornos. But it is not. In reality, the musicality starts when the leader/follower disappear. It is true that men and women have specific roles to embody and interpret the music's lead, but leader/follower terms are very misguided. That is what I would say to a musician about the conductor or band leader: Musicality is not expressed by simply following the conductor or directing another person to have it! What is true about musicality for musicians is just as true for dancers.
I am not suggesting a curriculum for your musicality classes, but I hope I have influenced you to do the reverse of what we dancer/musicians have done: Go back to dancing after you have joined a tango orchestra as a "aural musician." Become the auditory-musician, and when you return to being a dancer, you are all the better dancer for it. Please then, help your students learn to embody and interpret the phrasing, rhythms, timbre, melody and ensemblic expression of the music.
Photo Credit for the harp (and a very good resource for hearing/listening):
Photo Credit for the player piano: http://www.williamsmithandsonspianomovers.com/wspm_quote.asp
A great resource: Here's a blog on aural skills, which is very enlightening. (http://tobyrush.blogspot.com/2008/09/aural-skills-is-funny-thing.html)