What would it be like if it were possible to make music simply for the sake of making music? We wouldn’t have to become smarter or more socially adept, and there’d be no pressure; music-making alone would be the focus, an end in itself. What we’re talking about here is a liberating, natural way of making music referred to as elementary music-making.

The related field of Elementary Music Education, or EMP for short, is one of the areas covered by the mdw’s Department of Music Education Research, Music Didactics, and Elementary Music Education (IMP) and deals with research on, the teaching of, and the actual practice of elementary music-making. The department’s EMP division was originally established and shaped by Ruth Schneidewind and Johann Bucher. “We work to have music interact positively with other forms of expression such as language, movement, and representative play, and we then use this connection in order to lend more intensity to music-making, deepening it and involving the entire human being along with his or her sensory perceptions,” explains the current EMP division head Veronika Kinsky. “This makes possible the intense perception, experience, and understanding of music in all its diversity.”

Elementares Musizieren
©Thomas Weichselbaum

Elementary music-making, though it’s accessible to all people of all ages and all musical levels, is neither simple nor trivial: it much rather represents a broad avenue of approach for laypeople and professionals alike. Small children learn a way in which to represent their feelings musically with the possibilities available to them, developing their powers of creative expression, while professionals find a complementary, depth-enhancing approach to their instruments and embark on a quest for sounds that are theirs and theirs alone. “Professional musicians value this different way of making music quite a bit. They’re not subjected to extreme pressure to perform to a certain standard, here, and that enables them to find a way to express themselves on their own instrument that’s more relaxed and more independent,” says Kinsky.

The areas where EMP can be employed are broad. In addition to individual, group, and ensemble instruction, inclusion, introductory music classes, and music teaching in schools, concerts geared to appreciation are also an important component. Veronika Mandl, an instructor in the EMP division, develops innovative concepts such as the Agathes Wunderkoffer series at the Vienna Musikverein, which targets a young audience aged three and up. “Agathe” is the character who moderates each programme, joining the children and their chaperones to explore the music. “My focus in planning a concert programme isn’t on cognitive acquisition of knowledge by the audience. Some kids notice details like what kind of mouthpiece a trombone has and how you blow into it, while other kids are simply fascinated by the sound of the instruments, by the history, and by the music. It’s about art.” Another important thing is relationships—between Agathe and the audience as well as between the musicians and the audience. “The work that goes into forming a relationship is an important factor in exploring the phenomenon of music in greater depth. That’s why I describe putting together a concert for a young audience as an art of relationships.” In terms of children’s desire to learn an instrument later on, as well, the relational level—alongside individual instruments’ sounds and motoric qualities—is crucial.

This crucial ability to relate can be nurtured not only by a concert, but also by a guitar-playing nursery school teacher. And for this reason, it’s particularly encouraging that more and more cooperative arrangements are being established with nursery schools and primary schools in addition to the work going on in music schools and general school instruction. Further training courses for educators such as the extra-occupational EMP programme at IMP train participants on how to make music an integral part of their teaching—or, in the case of social pedagogues, their everyday work with clients—as a matter of course.

Der tapfere Ritter
Der tapfere Ritter, a narrative music theatre work based on the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes ©Peter Lindner

Fundamental to elementary music-making is the acceptance of every individual as he or she is: it’s about attentive interaction, sensitivity, and openness. “I once had the opportunity to sit in on our colleague Katharina Ruf at a nursing home run by Caritas,” remembers Veronika Mandl. “The theme of her elementary music-making session was the tradition of Midsummer bonfires. That nursing home’s patients are very old, with some of them wheelchair-bound. But all them were able to relate to the topic, and they really got into it. The bonfire was set to music using a number of different instruments for the crackling of the wood, the leaping flames…

Elementares Musizieren
Astrids Ideen [Astrid’s Ideas], a musical journey through the life of Astrid Lindgren ©Peter Lindner
And then one woman, remembering her childhood, suddenly began singing a song. Katharina Ruf, who was leading the session, started singing along, and they continued singing together. Such moments of dialogue with participants are ones where everything that’s lively in human beings is conjured up and cherished.”

In order to enter into dialogue with the participants, elementary music educators have to be able to express themselves as musicians; improvisation is a matter of course, and artistic self-identification as a musician is of great importance. “I have to be able to take up impulses from the group, to offer something but also be able, to accept what they offer me,” explains Veronika Kinsky. The tools used to do so come from a large treasure chest of possible methods and forms of play that one learns and can then expand upon. Such tools are joined by the willingness to take joy in physical motion as well as be open to the greatest possible number of musical styles. “Making music is always paramount. We make music for the sake of making music.”

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