Early musical education From 0 years of age on

Children reading the “Jekiz”-flyer
Children reading the “Jekiz”-flyer | Photo (detail): KDH / Petra Coddington

Education programmes – for almost a decade now there has been hardly a concert house in Germany that has not taken up activities in the field of musical education for the young. The goals are similar, the paths to sustainability different.

Superficially considered, it is about a new generation of audiences. Yet is the concern about the concert-goers of tomorrow really the only one driving organizers? Naturally it is also about awakening the joy in music, here and now. The trend of recent years is astonishing. If formerly there were at most monthly flat rate ‘children and young people’s concerts’, in the last roughly ten years musical education programmes have been shooting up like mushrooms. Rüdiger Beermann of the Festival Theatre in Baden-Baden emphasizes that ‘neurological research has only recently brought forth objective evidence for the positive effect on children of performing music. At the same time, especially classical music has been disappearing from the everyday life of many families. Many parents feel overburdened by making music with their children’.

The goal of sustainability

Promotion of young musical interest is no longer a fixed idea of organisers alone but has now found broad support. More and more concert halls therefore waive age restrictions. The Düsseldorf Tonhalle and the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, for example, offer concerts from ‘0 years of age’ on. ‘We don’t view children in isolation. They come to the event with their families. We hope that this shared experience can be stimulating and broadens horizons’, says Ariane Stern, a concert educator for the Tonhalle. Düsseldorf therefore deliberately works with various age groups: ‘We’ve developed five concert series that cover the age span from 0 to 12’.

All event organisers rely on the lasting effect of their education programmes. This effect is achieved, according to Jan Boecker of the Dortmund Concert Hall, by delivering ‘the highest quality, continuity and broad appeal’. One example would be the exhibition of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s multi-media installation ‘re-rite – You Are the Orchestra’, which affords insights (practical as well as theoretical) into the interaction that takes place in an orchestra. It had nearly 10,000 visitors, young and old. Cooperation with schools is in some cases closely connected to the curriculum. One current school project is concerned with Alban Berg’s opera ‘Wozzeck’, coordinated with the preparations for the 2013 school-leaving examination in the subject in which Büchner’s drama ‘Woyzeck’ is the focus.

In Cologne, the idea of sustainability includes close contact with the schools. ‘Our offering is now an integral part of the school curriculum’, says Othmar Gimpel of the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra. Musicians go to schools and present their instruments and repertory and prepare the children specifically for concerts, for participation and independent response. ‘The children creatively treat substantive aspects of the concerts by dancing, painting, filming, composing and writing.’ The spectrum of topics is varied and rich, ranging from ‘Norwegian legends’ to ‘film music from other galaxies’ and ‘African voices’.

Baden-Baden attempts a form of early musical education that teaches not only a reverent listening but also active participation. ‘The path to music begins with us on the stage’, says Rüdiger Beermann. ‘From the start children learn a respectful relationship with artists. Since they themselves sing and dance, a broadening of horizons is pre-programmed.’ So as to pursue this approach even more intensively, a music house is being built at the cost of several million euros and will display instruments in oversized dimensions. The recorder flute, for instance, will measure about two metres long. But the instrument will not be a museum piece. Those who blow into it will generate original tones. Musical experience as holistic experience.
The children-play-yourself orchestra exploring Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf' at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. The children-play-yourself orchestra exploring Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf' at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. | Photo: Festspielhaus Baden-Baden / Andrea Kremper Even the broadcasting corporations, whether WDR, SWR or BR, have recognised the responsibility and potential that lies in early musical education. In the end, it is not only about a particular target audience but also the hope of inspiring later adults for classical music. It is of course clear that these efforts will not automatically lead to more subscribers flocking to concert series; they therefore aim at isolated successes on the one hand and at a long-term expansion of general musical awareness on the other.

Financial partners: important helpers

Whether in the creative field, in direct encounters with orchestra members, whether in the promotion of young talent, in the collaboration with schools and other institutions, or whether in the inclusion of children and young people from social flashpoints, the networking of early musical education has been given increasing importance. The education programme of the Berlin Philharmonic, which is lucky enough to count the Deutsche Bank as one of its loyal financial sponsors, has been growing for years. In times of scarcer public funding, efforts to gain partners from the business world for such programmes will surely increase.
The U16-Orchestra of the Young Tonhalle Düsseldorf, source: Tonhalle Düsseldorf / Youtube

To the question about what share of the budget individual institutions allocate to early musical education, the answers are often not very specific. Either no information is given or it is pointed out that the financial expenditure depends on seasonally changing needs and planning. In Cologne, according to Othmar Gimpel, the sum ‘budgeted to the musical information team’ is estimated to be nearly € 200,000. ‘If you take the musical information services as a whole, the amount is much higher.’ Overall, not only the quantity and intensity of early musical education has steadily increased in recent years, but also the quality. This has contributed to the growing acceptance of classical music by a highly critical audience. Thus we can already make out the initial success of the programmes.