The education programme should remind us that music is not a luxury but a basic need.
The Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle were pioneers in the field of education work. From the very beginning, they wanted to convey the holistic nature of music, how it speaks equally to the mind, body and spirit. And what becomes particularly clear through the education work, is that music is a driving force for development and change. It promotes activity, participation and creativity, contact with others and the exchange of ideas, overcoming inhibitions and shyness. In the past ten years, more than 3,000 people aged 3-73 years have actively participated in the education projects of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and the results have been presented in front of more than 200,000 spectators. The various aspects of the education work are summarized in the following questions and answers.
It was the beginning of a new age of how the orchestra saw itself when Sir Simon Rattle became principal conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2002. He brought with him from England a new perspective on the role and function of the orchestra: the challenge of taking on a social responsibility and to become open to all people from all walks of life. “To be a performing artist in the next century, you have to be an educator, too.” His determination and powers of persuasion now became the driving force for the Berliner Philharmoniker to start its own education programme, which has been made possible since then by Deutsche Bank. The first to manage the project was Richard McNicol from London, who passed on his experience as the head of educational projects with the London Sinfonietta and the London Symphony Orchestra. From 2005 to 2012, the Australian Cathy Milliken, composer and oboist of the Ensemble Modern, continued to develop the education programme in exemplary fashion under the name of Zukunft@BPhil.
From the very beginning, the education programme was never about attracting new subscribers or developing new audiences. Its remit extends far beyond such economic considerations. It was a matter of personal importance and conviction for Sir Simon Rattle that the Philharmonie should be open to all nationalities and ethnic groups – something Berlin is particularly rich in – as a “temple of culture”. Even more, it should open up to all sectors of the population and actively reach out to them. The Philharmonie and the orchestra should be a place of learning which has an impact on all cultural and social sectors, and which addresses people of different age groups, abilities and talents.
Education is almost a paradox: it is an open and yet protected space for people to actively participate in music. It offers amateurs the chance to meet professionals face to face. It is an investment in people and their capabilities, but without the expectation of quantifiable financial benefits.
The greater part of the programme of course involves music-making, if also increasingly in combination with other artistic disciplines, from film and the visual arts to literature and dance. The educational projects are related to the repertoire of the orchestra, so new themes relating to the concert programme are developed every season. There are also encounters with the musicians of the orchestra in concerts, lectures, rehearsals and workshops, in kindergartens, schools and even prisons. Although most of the education programme takes place in Berlin, there have also been projects in Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg, Sydney, Amsterdam and New York – and they have impressively demonstrated how music can overcome language barriers and cultural differences.
For the musicians, education work means leaving their comfort zone and engaging with new people and unpredictable situations. They find themselves presented with new demands, it develops their willingness to take risks, to have the courage to make mistakes and to put themselves back into a learning situation again. Music is a two-way communication. It arises not only between musicians, but also between the musicians and their audiences. The people who take part in the projects, whether children, young people or adults, become colleagues on the same level, and together, they all embark on a journey.
In doing so, the orchestral musicians again experience their sense of curiosity and discovery. Of course they are aware of their roles, their responsibilities and duties with regard to the project process, and they know how to consciously apply their expertise. But the question of whether the artist is the better teacher does not come into it. What is important is what happens in the encounter between one person and another, how they come together in the first place and how they then go their separate ways again afterwards.
The first season with Sir Simon Rattle marked the beginning of a new era in which the Berliner Philharmoniker took their work and their music to social spaces beyond the concert hall. And the first step on this path was taken in February 2003, with a stage production of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. In the arena, an old bus depot in Treptow in Berlin, 250 children and young people from 25 countries – mostly from so-called problem schools – rehearsed over a period of more than six weeks for the performance of this ballet under the guidance of the choreographer and dance teacher Royston Maldoom. The immense response to this production and its wide-spread fame is thanks not least to the documentary Rhythm Is It! which captured the event. The film shows the astonishing development of the young people, how they grow in confidence and mature as personalities through facing difficulties, challenging their own personal limitations and experiencing success.
Since then, there has been a similar dance project every year, most recently in a project based on Carmen in May 2012, with choreographer Sasha Waltz and her company. In all these projects, each lasting for several weeks, all attention was focused on the children and young people involved who, generally speaking, were experiencing music and dance at such an intense level for the very first time. In these projects, they were able to show what they were capable of, more than anyone might have expected of them – least of all themselves. For the participants, the projects certainly remain an unforgettable experience – and for some of them, it may even have been the first step towards a new understanding of themselves, and a new perspective on life.
Many other orchestras and cultural institutions have long been convinced of the necessity of education work and have begun to open a dialogue with their audiences with staged concerts, workshops, and regular visits to organisations and institutions over extended periods of time. There is now hardly an orchestra that has not established an education programme of its own or has extended existing concepts. A general consensus now exists regarding cultural education, creative learning in the arts, and links between culture and society. Education has become a top priority.
Education has become an integral part of professional artistic activity, not only for cultural institutions but also for the musicians themselves. Concert and presentation formats are changing, different audience profiles are being taken more into account, educational activities are in demand. Musicians are ultimately required to bring the same intensity, passion and professionalism to these as they do to their artistic expertise. And this puts particular demands on educational institutions. Some conservatories and music colleges already offer graduate and post-graduate courses in music education.
The English term “education” is used as its meaning and potential for interpretation remains broad. The concept of music education – no less open to interpretation – is also slowly finding its way into professional circles. As a result, the boundaries between teaching, musicology and performance, marketing and public relations strategies are still in need of clarification. What is clear, is that the society’s relation to the arts is an integral part of education.
“Education” can be translated from English into a variety of German words, all of which refer to specific functions such as training, teaching or schooling. But why do we avoid using German terms? Perhaps there is the concern that they suggest a didactic approach to art which could open the floodgates to its misuse or instrumentalisation for non-aesthetic purposes, to its trivialization and simplification or even to deny its complexity. The German words are possibly too closely associated with formal education institutions, with state schooling and training, whereas the approach to education in this context should be about broadening horizons.
By using the English term, the concept and its interpretation remain safely broad-ranging. No less open to interpretation is the concept of “Musikvermittlung”, or music education, which is also slowly taking hold in the profession. However, with the introduction of these terms, the borders between educational, musicological and artistic activity, marketing and PR strategies still remain to be defined and clarified. One thing is certain: The relationship between society and the arts is an integral part of education.
Active engagement with the arts creates not only uncertainty, resistance and friction, but also new perspectives. Apparent certainties disappear and the participants are faced with something disorientating and unknown. Allowing this alienation into the artistic process, confronting it and approaching it productively, is only possible in the first place when curiosity outweighs fear. Overcoming this alienation provides participants with the opportunity to discover for themselves that interventions, change and shaping their lives are possible, and that they can reposition themselves. In the appropriation of “artistic thinking”, the personal relevance is of living and shaping oneʼs own life.
Even with 10 years experience in education, the learning, exploring, curiosity and further development never stops. The range of projects offered is to be communicated in a more differentiated, more transparent, accessible and open way. At the same time, the orchestra has expressed the desire to be able to participate in a longer-term project in addition to the several week long dance projects. As a result, there will be a new component to the education programme, in which singing – the most fundamental and most immediate form of musical expression – will play a major role.
Simon Halsey, who as a choral conductor brings a lot of experience in the field of “Community Singing” has been secured as artistic director. In the future, more emphasis will be put on amateurs making music together with the orchestra! Moreover, in several areas and districts of Berlin, spaces for the experience of music-making through singing are to be created, focusing particularly on disadvantaged children and young people. In this choral programme, neighbourhood- and partnership contacts and networks will be developed, outside educational institutions, in the free social space of children and young people, based on respect, trust and continuity.
The most wonderful moments are when the students motivate or help each other, and when you watch them during rehearsals and see a smile on their faces, all things which are rare in normal, everyday school life.
Teacher, 2010 dance project
Education work is just as important as playing Bruckner symphonies.
Christian Stadelmann, member of the Berliner Philharmoniker, 2003
When Iʼm dancing, I feel like I am discovering the world. I am where I should be.
Gina, primary school student, 2010 dance project
09 May 2021,
05 Jun 2021,
Sat, 05 Jun 2021, 15:00
Members of the Berliner Philharmoniker
Simon Rössler conductor
Nelly Danker stage direction
Kurt Weill Magic Night
06 Jun 2021,
Sun, 06 Jun 2021, 11:00
Members of the Berliner Philharmoniker
Simon Rössler conductor
Nelly Danker stage direction
Kurt Weill Magic Night