Training and Further Education The Teaching and Study of Contemporary Music

Complaints about the conservative attitude of many traditional musical training institutions are as old as the institutions themselves. And they are certainly not entirely without foundation.

Every composer who devotes their attention to contemporary music will also be familiar with the power (superiority) afforded to tradition within this setting. But it has been evident for some time now that something is afoot at German colleges of music. Institutes for contemporary music have been or are being established almost everywhere, or dedicated training courses for contemporary music are being created. The trend towards modularisation as part of the so-called Bologna Reforms, which aim to achieve a universal European higher education system by 2010, currently seems to be promoting this process. It has been recognised across the board that it is no longer acceptable for students of music to look at contemporary music only outside of their actual training, or only after they have actually sat their examination. And people have probably realised that the fascinating nature of the modern arts can only be communicated and developed properly through training which is both thorough and diverse in equal measure.

Pioneering work: The Institute for New Music in Freiburg

The Freiburg University of Music owes the composer Wolfgang Fortner a great debt of gratitude for the pioneering role he played in this respect. In 1954, it was here that he founded the Institute for New Music, which over the decades of its existence has developed the link between theory and practice that is now also a characteristic feature of similar facilities at other universities of music. With a few notable exceptions, such a close foundation in practical relevance continues to be largely unthinkable at traditional universities in Germany. But universities such as those in Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Essen, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg have now also followed suit. They all develop a range of different activities in order to counteract the isolation of contemporary music which is often bemoaned, both in concert life as a whole and in the universities themselves. The spread of such activities is inspired by the fact that the faculty of musical science and music education has been strengthened considerably at universities of music over the last two decades, and at many places both disciplines have now recognised the need for a close link to contemporary music.

Experimental field: The Darmstadt Institute for New Music and Music Education

Other institutions have long since undergone such a process of opening up. Mention should probably be made here first and foremost of the Darmstadt Institute for New Music and Music Education. Whereas when it was established at the end of the 1940s restorative tendencies were still very much in evidence, it later evolved to become a place of lively debate encompassing the very latest trends and issues, a regular supplementary facility for students, music teachers and other professionals. Here, as at other places, it is becoming apparent that contemporary music is not a universal, monolithic entity as a whole, but instead represents an exciting, highly diverse field of possibilities. The opening of the institutions benefited here from the open nature of the music itself.

The famous International Summer School for New Music in Darmstadt underwent a similar development. The courses are one of the world’s most famous further education events for contemporary music and to the present day they still boast an unyielding ability to attract in particular composers and instrumentalists from all over the world. At this place, where musical history was written in the 1950s and 1960s in particular, there is still great hope for that extremely vibrant blend of theoretical reflection and practical vision which is absolutely essential for disseminating contemporary art.

Expansions: Training outside of the universities

Considerable sustainability in the dissemination of music is provided by pursuing the aim of achieving a range of other diverse initiatives and facilities which provide courses, public seminars or discussion events to focus on the area of contemporary music. Some of the subject matter which is at risk of being dealt with too briefly within the context of university training is looked at in more detail in offers provided by various regional organisers in the form of practical or theoretical courses. Examples which may be mentioned here are the Jugendhof in Vlotho, the Cologne Office for Concert Education or the Berlin exploratorium, which describes itself as an “events centre and educational institute for improvised music and creative music education”. But reference must also be made to various academies which have been set up in the area of musical theatre usually in cooperation with universities of music, for instance the Hellerau Summer Academy for Experimental Musical Theatre or the Academy Opera Today.

Renowned German special ensembles (such as the Ensemble Modern and the ensemble recherche) are continuing to advance the same embodiment, which has been common since ancient times, under other auspices. The academies which they have established in recent years serve primarily to provide tenacious support to instrumentalists, for instance students and graduates of universities of music. The area of training and further education is also receiving increased attention by virtue of the fact that specific educational events for music teachers or for young composers have been added to individual festivals for contemporary music, for instance the Donaueschinger Musiktage – a clear sign of the growing responsibility of these concert festivals within society as a whole and the field of music education in particular. Something else which has become widespread in recent years is the range of “Response” projects, which are based on the English model and involve schoolchildren and students starting their own compositional experiments relating to music which already exists. This offering, which has been established by a range of different institutions – right through to the Berlin Philharmonic – is targeted primarily at schoolchildren and is now generating a considerable response at many places throughout the country.

The primary aim of training and further development in the area of contemporary music is not just to allow professional performances to take place. Rather, it extends far beyond this in that it attempts to communicate new practical and theoretical experiences. These can and should give all participants a closer understanding of what it is that creates the specific charm and the distinctiveness of contemporary music.