Stefano Baroni – Body Music facilitator, certified Orff-Schulwerk Educator – has been dealing with with body music and other forms of circular music since 2011. He works throughout Europe with groups of teachers, choirs, and employees in frameworks ranging from schools to mental health institutions, from prisons to corporate training programmes.
Since March 2018 he’s a Drum Circle Facilitator Endorsed By Remo®
INTERVIEW FOR THEVOICELAND.NET – January 2018
Today it’s our very great pleasure to have with us Stefano Baroni, an expert in music teaching and body-music. Hello, Stefano, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, and thank you very much for giving over this space to me! I like to define myself as a learning facilitator, someone who uses music as a tool to develop various kinds of skills (even ones not of a specifically musical nature), to express ourselves and create positive relationships. At a certain point in my musical and human growth, I discovered that what I was best at and what made me happy was not so much ‘playing for people’ but ‘getting people to play’, actively involving them in experiences that might help them to better themselves, learning new things, expressing and developing their own musicality, working on their ability to listen to themselves and others, and on non-verbal communication.
To quote a famous Italian song, I might call myself a ‘ragazzo fortunato’, a lucky boy, because I actually managed to see my pipe dream come true: to live music or bring music to life. When I was little, I found the rigidity of academic music teaching suffocating, but I was profoundly attracted by the strong tie between the human and the musical spheres; the piano was most of all a means to communicate, to tell stories, to give a concrete form to emotions, and modulate them. As an adolescent, I fell in love with the guitar and then with jazz, studying improvisation with Ramberto Ciammarughi once I had completed university. I graduated in mechanical engineering, and even though for a long time I thought I had wasted a lot of precious time, I came to understand that this training is now also useful for me for various reasons:
- for the mind set it provides: the analytical skills applied in my approach to music teaching;
- for the experience itself in relation to my present work: it helps me to remember that in life just like in work, the straight line is not necessarily the best way to go from point A to point B. Every human being is different and learns differently, developing different solutions and strategies when faced with the problems that life puts before her/him when s/he steps out of the comfort zone. This metaphor is also a great incentive from a professional and pedagogical point of view insofar as it encourages me to create customised teaching contexts in which every child or adult I work with is free to find their own solutions to reach their goal: contexts in which errors are not given negative connotations but one in which they are simply seen as stepping stones in the learning process.
I worked as an engineer for almost ten years, as well as a teacher and a company trainer, and in the meantime I started to follow various courses in Italy and throughout Europe and to study anything that grabbed my curiosity revolving around music: I studied music therapy in Assisi, Orff-Schulwerk musical teaching in Rome, as well as attending seminars and workshops on Body Music, Circle Singing, Drum Circles and much more besides.
In 2012, I fell in love with Circle Singing thanks to a workshop held by Albert Hera in Biella: a human and professional watershed moment which after a few years led to a wonderful collaboration project with the first two editions of the CircleLandCamp. In 2015 I abandoned engineering for good, and decided to focus exclusively on what I really felt to be gratifying. My work has led me to work in schools most of all, to develop teaching projects based on body music, as well as in music/music therapy schools, private associations, music conservatories and other public bodies up and down the country, staging training workshops for teachers, educators, music therapists, etc. What’s more, I collaborate with various choirs and associations on concerts and musical events in theatres and town squares. Over the last few years, I have also begun to train as a Drum Circle facilitator with Arthur Hull, and I am now promoting my own drum circles in schools, mental health institutions, detention centres, companies (events and team-building projects) and in squares (events and community-building). I am lucky because I have met many incredible people who have encouraged me through their example and helped me to develop my own very particular path.
The first of these incredible people was Paolo Cerlati, a musician and music therapist but most of all an enlightened human being who one day, almost ten years ago, said something to me that was to change the course of my existence and which has become the paradigm of my life, leading me towards the circular and inclusive dimension of music:
“When playing the game of music, the winners are those who come together.”
In this sentence, there are two key concepts for me: the first is linked to the teaching aspect: music is a game, a very serious game but one that we have to enjoy and derive emotions from. The second concept is linked to relating: the winners are those who come together. Music is a medium that unites us, that drives us to listen to others rather than to compete against them. Play (and therefore enjoyment) and relating are fundamental elements, ones at the basis of the learning process, and I believe that a good educator should never forget this.
How did your career and your passion start for music teaching and then for body percussion?
Over the last 10 years, my life has been a series of experiences in which music has always constituted the common thread. In 2008 I enrolled at the Music Therapy School of Assisi, where I met Paolo Cerlati and Enrico Strobino, who were the first two people that changed my life, showing me another way to conceive music. Enrico, who is one of the greatest teachers in the music field in Italy, was the first to introduce me to body percussion. In 2009, after having followed a residential workshop led by Paolo Cerlati under the prophetic title ‘Landscapes of Music and Relations’ in an ancient Trappist monastery in the mountains above Biella, I discovered the existence of Orff-Schulwerk: a teaching approach in which learning starts out from practical experience and the musical game is taken very seriously. That’s how I started following the music-teaching courses of the Italian Orff-Schulwerk school, coming into contact, among others, with Giovanni Piazza, the master of masters who was the first to bring this methodology to Italy, and Ciro Paduano who has worked with Body Percussion for many years in the world of Orff teaching. I became very close friends with Ciro, and it was with him that I undertook my first major collaboration project, which led to a series of shared seminars and a publication (Questioni di… Stile – Ascolto Attivo con la Body Percussion, OSI-LILIUM 2014). Over the years, I followed (and continue to do so) seminars with leading experts in body percussion like Keith Terry, Charles Raszl (Barbatuques), Pedro Consorte (Stomp), to name but a few. Since 2015 I have taught Body Music to more than 1,600 people, as well as workshops for thousands of children and kids in schools, as well as bringing music and singing to squares and theatres. All this is a major incentive to go ever further beyond myself. I firmly believe that a teacher must never stop evolving, searching, working on the edges of her/his own comfort zone in order to become a multiplier of positive energy and transmit passion as well as bringing contents and helping others to develop their skills.
What is your own way of teaching body-percussion, and what is the role of the voice in this process?
In the history of humankind, the Voice and the Body have always been two privileged instruments (although perhaps it would be more correct to speak of a single instrument) of personal expression and communication. Body music is an incredibly useful tool to develop skills, working on coordination, language concentration, memory, personal expression and on relations, drawing on all the multiple forms of intelligence: musical, verbal-linguistic, bodily-kinaesthetic, visual-spatial, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal and interpersonal.
I prefer to speak of body music rather than body percussion because the voice in fact has a fundamental role both as a privileged instrument of communication, coupled with the expressive potential of the body, allowing us to create melody, harmony, rhythm and movement, and also in the learning processes of the bodily rhythmic part.
When I put together a teaching plan, I always try to bear in mind the guidelines of the Orff-Schulwerk methodology: always start out from experience and then move towards its conceptualisation; start from imitation and then move towards personal creation; shift from the simple to the complex, from exploration to improvisation, always reasoning in terms of process and never in terms of product.
One of the fundamental Orff-Schulwerk guidelines is the voice -> body -> instrument succession: a fundamental succession that starts out from within, from the idea of music, from the musical thought that becomes a sound form first of all through the voice, through syllables associated to sound-gestures. This rhythmic/melodic idea is sung and then acquires certainty, movement, a tangible and visible form through the movement of our bodies. Playing the body is not just one of the most ancient rhythmic forms, but it is also an incredible means by which to gain confidence with musical notions, to strengthen the sense of rhythm and to set it into motion. In the very moment we strike ourselves rhythmically, the proprioceptive system sends feedback to the brain, ensuring that the rhythmic notion we have in mind is reinforced, giving us pleasure if what we play corresponds perfectly to the idea in question or, if we are not playing as we wish, allowing us to make the necessary adjustments. The instruments in this process are merely the last step: they represent the passage to sound mediators external to us.
Starting from the voice is very important in the music education process, also because using the verbal-linguistic intelligence in the learning of rhythms (as is the case in many cultures around the world, think for example of the Indian Konnakol) is often much more effective than using the logical-mathematical one (the classical approach linked to musical scores and note values). In other words, singing is often more effective than counting.
Would you like to share with us some video examples in which we can find body percussion coupled with the voice that you could then comment on?
Among all the groups that deal with body music, the one I believe to be most meaningful on an international level insofar as, in my opinion, it has best managed to bring together the voice and body percussion, offering an excellent re-elaboration of the musical tradition of their own country, is that of the Barbatuques: a Brazilian group founded by Fernando Barba.
This video features the live performance of their latest work, ‘Ayù’, and the piece is entitled ‘Totem’.
The group comes onto the stage playing a body-percussion part and, after the entrance of a rhythmic-vocal pattern with a single syllable imitating a percussion instrument, the parts split into two, firstly only played and then only sung (each part of the body is allotted a syllable) and then played and sung together. It is only then that also the melodic/harmonic part of the piece starts. The bass part, sung by a single person, serves as a base for single notes or groups of a few notes sung by single musicians in the group who, together, provide the rhythmic/harmonic texture of the piece. All this is joined by the body percussion, and then the melody comes in before also adding movement. At a certain point, the voices start to imitate a horn section that serve as a counterpoint to a voice imitating a solo trumpet. In the last break in this part, the voices go back to singing the rhythmic part played by the body. In the end they revert to the sung part alone.
In this extract, as well as body percussion, the voices sing melodies, creating harmonies and counterpoints; they sing rhythmic patterns played on the body, offering the perfect synthesis of what I mean by body music.
You are now also dealing with drum circles: could you explain to us what that’s about and how it can be useful for singers?
The drum circle is a highly involving activity in which a group of people come together to play drums and other percussion instruments. It’s accessible to people of all ages and cultures, and it is becoming ever more widely known and practised in company, social, therapeutic, clinical, recreational, training and teaching settings. While everyone has the freedom to express themselves by creating music in the moment, the level of musicality and collective empathy gradually grows through the support of the facilitator, promoting the formation of a level of awareness in which it is possible to experience both individual potential and the cohesion of the group.
The drum circle is an age-old activity; playing and singing in a circle is something ancestral to be found in cultures from right across the world, each in their own way. Communities of people have always come together in circles to sing and play. What we see now, people who ‘simply’ play in a circle, is but the tip of the iceberg, in the sense that the circular dimension and repetition are elements that help us to remain in contact with ourselves first and foremost, to express and modulate emotions and create non-verbal relationships with other members of the circle.
I would say in that sense, the drum circle is useful not only for singers but for anyone. To make a comparison with Circle-Singing, the most obvious thing is that people are arranged in a circle, and what really changes is the sound mediator: the drum instead of the voice.
The drum is an immediate instrument to play, and what’s more it’s a sound mediator external to us. These two characteristics ensure that expressing ourselves through it often feels easier than singing, insofar as the instrument in a certain sense ‘protects’ us: it’s not us who produce the sound directly, but we do so through it. The voice is the most intimate tool of expression and communication, and it’s not always easy or automatic for us to manage to express ourselves using the voice, especially in certain contexts.
In the drum circle, the parts are not allocated by the facilitator, but each of us explores sounds and rhythms on the drum with growing attention to relating with what the others are playing, creating genuine polyrhythmic melodies (melodies?!? Yes: each drum has its own tuning, and so if you listen carefully, when the cohesion level increases within the circle, you can actually pick out a great number of melodies ‘sung’ by the drums). And so another advantage of the drum circle (for singers and non-singers) is that you can work on your own perception, on self-listening and listening to others, and increase your rhythmic awareness. Often in drum circles, there is also use made of the voice; the facilitator can teach the circle a melody in real time (improvised on the spot or culturally specific), assign simple melodic parts to various sections of it, create canons and so on. The whole thing may also be accompanied by input from drums and other percussion.
Could you suggest any texts that were especially useful for you in your research into music teaching?
Among the various texts that really made a difference in my training and that I might recommend, there are:
- L’Orff-Schulwerk in Italia – storia, esperienze e riflessioni – Giovanni Piazza – EDT
- Play, Sing, Dance – an Introduction to Orff Schulwerk – Doug Goodkin – Schott
- Movimento e Misura – esperienza e didattica del ritmo – Anna Maria Freschi – EDT
- Il sistema cervello e l’apprendimento musicale del bambino – Silvia Cucchi – EKT Edikit
- Formae Mentis – Saggio sulla pluralità dell’intelligenza – Howard Gardner – Feltrinelli
- Cervello – Alberto Oliveiro – Bollati Boringhieri
What are your future projects and how can we follow your activities?
What I would like is to continue to investigate my fields of interest (music, teaching, facilitating, music therapy), working in Italy, in Europe and throughout the rest of the world, collaborating and sharing my passion, know-how and experiences with lots of fantastic people, just like I have been doing so far.
YouTube Channel: Stefano Baroni
Thanks again for giving me this precious space, and remember:
WHEN PLAYING THE GAME OF MUSIC, THE WINNERS ARE THOSE WHO COME TOGETHER!!!
Our heartfelt thanks to Stefano Baroni for having shared his fascinating experience with us!