Youth Makes Music A Competition as Flagship

A guitar trio in the sixties.
A guitar trio in the sixties. | Photo (detail): German Music Council

“Jugend musiziert” is celebrating an anniversary: in its fifty years of existence, the music competition has developed from a brainchild in a time of need to a national flagship project.

“Jugend musiziert” (i.e., Youth Makes Music) is a success story that has grown over five decades: in 1964 the idea for the competition was born with the goal of identifying and fostering urgently needed and qualified young orchestra musicians. In its early years the focus was accordingly especially on strings and winds. In the year of its founding, the competition had 2,500 applicants at the regional level, of which just under 200 went on to the final round in Berlin. By comparison, in 2011 and 2012 there were more than 20,000 applications for the first regional round and more than 20,000 children and young people made it to the subsequent state competitions and finally to the national one.

“This development, especially in view of the demographic development, which points in exactly the opposite direction, is amazing”, says Reinhart von Gutzeit, chairman of the “Youth Makes Music” project advisory board. “And we have steadily expanded and branched out the range of instruments, musical genres and stylistic diversity to include, for instance, the accordion and saxophone. Percussion and singing have also been added and a particular emphasis has been set on areas of Early and New Music.”

“Youth Makes Music” is organized by the German Music Council, its sponsor is the Federal President, and the Ministry of Family Affairs guarantees its basic funding, while the municipalities are responsible for the financing of the regional competitions. At two-year intervals, more than thirty categories are announced. In the anniversary year of 2013, the spectrum ranged form string instruments to the accordion, from the keyboard to vocals and Early Music ensembles.

The regional competitions take place at nearly 150 places across the Federal Republic. Additional participants include German schools abroad in selected cities from Oslo to Cairo and from Porto to Moscow. After these comes the second round at state level, in which the musicians can qualify for the national competition. The minimum age of eligibility is six and seven, though only in the regional competitions. Participants who want to go through all the stages up to the national competition must be at least thirteen years of age. This makes sense if only because the tension of competitive concerts can overstrain children when they are very young.

Fun and excellence

Today there is hardly an internationally recognized German musician who has not at some time successfully taken part in “Youth Makes Music”, and some, like the violist Tabea Zimmermann, continue to put themselves at the service of the project’s idea: to afford young musicians the opportunity to gain stage experience in front of other people, either solo or in ensemble, and prove themselves before a jury of professionals. The competition thus has several goals. It serves the broadening of musical activities. Above all at the regional level, two main concepts are therefore those of the festival and the encounter. The awards, especially for the young participants, are also generous, so as to foster confirmation and motivation.

At the state and national levels, performance expectations have gained more and more importance. After all, “Youth Makes Music” has remained faithful to its original idea of supporting young artists on their way to a degree in music and perhaps even a professional career as a musician. “In the national competition we take it for granted that a young person has mastered his instrument”, emphasizes Rüdiger Schwarz, jury chairman in the category of piano with brass instruments. “Yet for us this isn’t about technical perfection, but rather the greatest possible expressive power and artistic presentation of individual works.”
Even exotic concert instruments like percussion and mallets were part of the competition already in the early years of 'Jugend musiziert'. Even exotic concert instruments like percussion and mallets were part of the competition already in the early years of 'Jugend musiziert'. | Photo: German Music Council Every participant must therefore prepare pieces from various musical epochs. In this way he can demonstrate his mastery of stylistic diversity. Those who prevail at the state level receive additional support – in the form of workshops with renowned instructors, depending on the state in question. There is also, for example, the “German chamber music course”, a support programme especially for prize winners of the national competition. Gaining an award at “Youth Makes Music” means not only taking home a prize, but also being given prospects leading further along the way.

Restrictions and outlook

In the fifty years of its existence “Youth Makes Music” has provided a podium for more than half a million children and young people. Even if the competition has long since become a cultural institution, there are still restrictions coming from outside that could create problems. For example, von Gutzeit looks upon the shortening of school up to graduation from nine to eight years and the spread of all-day schools with a melancholy eye: “There are many young people for whom music is an ambitious free-time activity up to graduation. This becomes problematic when schools no longer affords the freedom to develop personal interests and strengths because preparation for leaving exams demands more than a forty-hour week”.

In its anniversary year, at any event, “Youth Makes Music” is firmly linked with the daily life of young musicians, thanks not least to the growing common effort of institutions, staff and sponsors. In August 2013, for example, the Berlin Konzerthaus on the Gendarmenmarkt will present four concerts with prize winners from past and present with the National Youth Orchestra. But Reinhart von Gutzeit has directed his vision beyond the anniversary celebrations: “In future we want to take up more diligently ensemble performance in comparison with the soloist activities of young musicians. We also want to encourage them to try their hand as composers – a field that only very few have in view”.