In May 2019, a very special transformational concert set an entire school building resonating and reverberating: for two years, a large group of individuals from the mdw’s Department of Music Education Research, Music Didactics, and Elementary Music Education (IMP), the contemporary opera company Neue Oper Wien, and the New Secondary School 12 at Johann-Hoffmann-Platz in Vienna worked together as part of a collaborative art project initiated by IMP’s Axel Petri-Preis. Its conclusion and climax presented the outcomes of this three-way collaboration with a large audience in attendance.
The collaborative effort described in the following, an effort that involved three institutions, was one of 18 such projects Austria-wide to be supported financially by sponsor KulturKontakt Austria’s funding programme Blick_Wechsel, the objective of which—as its call for projects states—is to fund cultural development at institutions that provide obligatory schooling to disadvantaged children and adolescents. The three institutions mdw, NOW, and NMS12, however, went beyond this policy objective by defining their work together as a “collaboration”, which—to quote the German sociologist Mark Terkessidis—assumes “the contradictoriness of individuals’ situations and activities”. In contrast to how it is with cooperation, this project did not conclude with a return to intact units, instead touching off a process of transformation in which “the protagonists realise that they themselves are being changed—and, indeed, even welcome this change.” The aim was to realise a partnership in which all of the participants could potentially undergo a transformative educational process and, with their views of the world and themselves thus altered, could in turn effect changes to the form and character of their respective institutions. Accordingly, the object was not for the cultural partner to help effect mono-directional changes to the school—and a decision was also made to do without one-sided attributions of inadequacy.
A total of two years of work involved four year-levels—including an integrative class—at the school (totalling altogether 100 students) along with around 30 teachers, 10 artists, and 45 students from the mdw’s Music Education BA and Lateral Entry programmes. The involvement of the mdw students is relevant in terms of educational policy insofar as the new rules on teacher training stipulate that all future teachers for Austria’s lower- and upper-cycle secondary schools as well as “New Secondary School” institutions be trained together. And a pleasing incidental detail is that two of the students who participated now teach at NMS12 themselves.
This project revolved around the development of an experimental music theatre work and took the word EINANDER (each other, one another) as its motto. A special feature of EINANDER as a theme is how, by adding prefixes like MIT- (with), FÜR- (for), and GEGEN- (against), one can arrive at meanings that can then be addressed in the involved artistic media of text, music, and visual imagery. While students made music on Baschet instruments during the first project year, the second year saw them design their own sound sculptures—which they then constructed out of everyday items and waste materials and subsequently painted.
Before the school students themselves began composing, the percussionist and mdw student Max Calanducci intervened artistically by improvising in response to their sculptures, thereby broadening the school-age participants’ horizons in terms of the various ways in which sounds can be produced. Music education (ME) students as well as the composer and mdw graduate Johannes Schmidhammer then acted as composition coaches to support the students in putting their own texts, which they’d developed in class with their teachers beforehand, to music. Their exploration of sound and improvisation gave rise to short pieces that were notated on brown wrapping paper as graphic scores. This project’s final phase then saw three stage directors work together with the students to devise the staged presentation of their compositions. Help in creating the costumes for this—and in transforming the school building into an art space—came from stage designer Diego Rojas-Ortiz and the NMS art teacher Martina Papadopoulos.
Central to the artistic work on this project was the task of creating a situation in which all of the participants could communicate on the basis of trust, respect, and mutual esteem. In this way, and in an in-between dynamic of sorts that was situated beyond categories of right and wrong, an atmosphere arose in which aesthetic perception and artistic action became possible.
This project, now entitled “junge oper wien” [young opera vienna], is set to continue as a collaboration with Neue Oper Wien and the academic secondary school Gymnasium Geblergasse in 2020.