Learning in the Land of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

Musical education in Germany is divided into three parts: Schools are responsible for general music education; private and public schools music schools teach instruments and singing; and professional musicians and music teachers are trained at state and ecclesiastical universities of music.

HochschulSinfonieOrchester (HSO) der Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart HochschulSinfonieOrchester (HSO) der Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart | Copyright: HMDK Stuttgart With the emergence of public concert life in the nineteenth century came a desire to provide a broader basis for musical education and clearly to improve both amateur music making and the training of professional musicians. In part with the active support of sovereign princes (e.g. in Munich in 1846), in part on the initiative of individual artists (e.g. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in Leipzig in 1843) and sometimes also solely on the initiative of the citizenry (e.g. in Stuttgart in 1857), the first conservatories were founded in the middle of the nineteenth century in Germany, later to be renamed universities of music.

Initially, these universities of music were also places to train amateur musicians, as an alterative to the numerous private teachers, until the founding of the first music schools for young people around 1920 created a second pillar of musical education. In the 1930s, the responsibility for training of music teachers for state grammar schools was also given to the universities of music, with the effect of nationalizing and increasing the institutional stability of the universities of music, which until then had often been private. Already by the end of the nineteenth century, the third element was in place – namely, musical education in comprehensive schools – creating the triad of musical education and training that is still in place today.

Triadic Training

With the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, this tradition was affirmed, which was expressed not least in the many new communal music schools and state universities of music. Since then, comprehensive schools have been responsible for general music education. Instrumental and vocal training is offered by more than 900 private and public music schools and by a large number of freelance private teachers. Professional musicians and singers as well as music teachers are trained at the state and ecclesiastical universities of music. This tripartite structure has led to a highly creative scene for musical education in Germany, but this structure is not without its problems. In the meanwhile, the state has begun to use the work of music schools as an argument for reducing its efforts to teach music at comprehensive schools, while communes, as the sources for funding of the music schools, often ask in financially difficult times whether this voluntary offering is truly necessary.

The universities of music are largely isolated from this debate over education policy. In addition to eleven, usually very small ecclesiastic universities of music, which train church musicians almost exclusively, and a few universities of music that are actually institutes of universities or specialist colleges, the twenty-four autonomous state universities of music form the core of training for professional musicians and music teachers. These twenty-four universities of music, with a total of around 20,000 students enrolled, came together in 1950 to form the "RKM - Rektorenkonferenz der deutschen Musikhochschulen" (Rectors' Conference of German Universities of Music).

In principle, all RKM universities of music distinguish between four types of courses of study: musical-artistic, musical-pedagogical, music in schools, and church music. The course of study for music in schools trains teachers for grammar schools. In keeping with German tradition, instrumental training is not taught there, which has an effect on the curriculum of studies there. Studying church music prepares one to work as an organist and cantor; consequently, organ performance and choral conducting are the focus of study. Instrumental and vocal training are offered both by private and public music schools and by a large number of freelance private teachers. The musical-pedagogical courses of study prepare students for such teaching activities, and hence instrumental and vocal training play an important role there.

Broad Range of Subjects

Education is most diverse in the musical-artistic courses of study. They are for training not only orchestral musicians, chamber musicians and choral singers but also instrumental and vocal soloists. The canon of subjects taught is very broad; as a rule, all the orchestral instruments are represented along with piano, guitar, and singing. In addition, there are several subjects not taught at all universities of music, such as accordion, early music, electronic music, jazz/pop, non-church organ performance and sound engineering. The presence of such subjects depends a great deal on local circumstances. That is not least true of so-called opera schools, which are special facilities at several universities of music where vocal training is supplemented by dramatic training, where, among other things, a professional stage is indispensible.

In addition to courses of study focusing on an instrument or the voice, it is also possible to study conducting, composition, music theory, ear training or musicology. Because universities of music in Germany are subject to the same regulations as universities generally, they have the right to grant doctorates and the qualification for professorships in scholarly fields and occasionally in music theory as well. The introduction of a structure based on bachelor and master's degrees – a process that was largely unproblematic at German universities of music – went hand in hand with even greater diversity of study offerings, based on the needs of the profession. For example, these subjects range from elementary music pedagogy for teaching music to very young children to specializations in early or contemporary music as well as instrumental pedagogy or training as a répétiteur.

Germany's universities of music are highly international institutions. It is the rule rather than the exception that the students come from forty or even fifty different countries. Various surveys of students have repeatedly shown that young musicians from throughout the world find it particularly attractive to learn their profession, or at least perfect it, in the land of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner. Equally attractive is Germany's unique theatrical and orchestral scene; no other country in the world has as many opera houses and orchestras as Germany does. That also improves the chances that students can obtain practical experience early on through traineeships or temporary positions in orchestras or opera choruses.

New Professions

This proximity to practical experience is important because entering the profession can be a great challenge for musicians in particular. Whereas the demand for teachers at grammar schools remains high, despite the reduction in the number of students, because the percentage of students attending grammar schools rather than other secondary schools is increasing, the labour market for teachers at music schools continues, unfortunately, to suffer heavily from the funding cuts of communes and states. The labour market is particularly tight in the area of state and communal orchestras, where an alarming reduction in the number of positions has been evident for years now. For that reason, many students work freelance after completing their studies. In addition to many forms of solo and chamber music performance, this entails such emerging fields as so-called freelance orchestras, which are now found at nearly all of the festivals and also in the film industry. This makes it necessary, however, that students acquire the know-how for such work. Consequently, many universities of music now offer such subjects as music promotion and music management and have career services departments offering seminars on start-ups.

However, for all the diversity and quality of training at universities of music, which carry on a unique tradition of Germany's rich musical life, there is cause for concern that musical training is increasingly disappearing from comprehensive schools or being combined with other subjects. Nor can the funding cuts at public music schools be a matter of indifference, since many parents of talented children cannot afford tuition even at present levels. An attractive musical life supported by the society needs more than just the crème de la crème of an artistic elite; it also needs broad musical education so that new talent can be discovered and nurtured and so that an educated audience is prepared for concert life and can appreciate the artistic achievements of university-trained musicians.