With projects like Musethica, the All Stars Inclusive Band, and Musik am Krankenbett [Music at the Sickbed], the mdw champions free access to the arts and culture—thereby elevating social responsibility to a central commitment.
© All Stars Inclusive Band

“We live in a diverse and inclusive society—and I think it’s important that an arts university also work to reach those people who can’t afford to buy admission tickets from a cultural institution or are prevented in other ways from accessing the arts and culture,” says Rector Ulrike Sych, explaining one of the many considerations behind the mdw’s community outreach projects.

An example of the mdw’s low-threshold cultural offerings would be its sustainable collaboration with the European project Musethica. This project has musicians perform for audiences who—for any number of reasons—aren’t otherwise able to partake in live classical music. By performing at facilities like prisons, “hotspot schools”, hospitals, and refugee shelters, artists can gather experiences that differ starkly from their standard concert stage routines, dealing with new audiences and exploring unaccustomed situations. “Musethica’s concept aims to have participants formulate their own artistic messages so clearly for themselves that they don’t need a traditional environment or the best acoustics to get them across,” says Johannes Meissl, the mdw’s Vice Rector for International Affairs and Art as well as its Musethica project head, in description of what students stand to gain.

I’m convinced that innovative projects give rise to new event formats that find their way into broader artistic and cultural life, thereby helping to shape society.

Ulrike Sych, Rector, mdw

© All Stars Inclusive Band

Detailed arrangements as well as on-site visits clear up organisational questions ahead of time while appropriate coaching prepares the musicians for their performances. In this context, respect for the audience and high-quality music on an even footing are the foremost priorities. “Each one of us saw just how much emotion the group played with. We knew how they were feeling the music and took joy in playing for us. It was a breathtaking experience,” says a participant in the WUK work.space, a training measure for youth and young adults at the threshold between school and working life, about a Musethica concert.

Another person familiar with the special moments that result from these Musethica encounters is Kathi Hofkofler, a special education teacher at the Leopoldschule (FIDS Leopoldsgasse, Department of Inclusion, Diversity, and Special Needs Education): “A particularly great moment for us was when an autistic boy stood up in front of the ensemble while it was playing and started to conduct. It let us not only feel but also really see the musical connection that had been made. It was very touching.”

Performative outreach projects have a direct impact on society but can also play a huge role in the development of students’ artistic personalities. “Social commitment and direct contact with people make a significant contribution to our students’ artistic maturity and development. That’s why the mdw is very eager to provide proactive support to these projects, like through the future cooperation between ECMA Pro1 and Musethica,” explains Johannes Meissl. Such collaborative projects aim to have students actively develop their roles in society, assume social responsibility, and try out new formats. “Innovative arts outreach projects give rise to new types of events—and that has a positive impact on our students’ professional opportunities going forward,” Rector Ulrike Sych is convinced. “It enables them to find possible niches that correspond to their personal gifts and interests.”

It’s about having an impact on society while in turn learning something about oneself.

Johannes Meissl, Vice Rector for International Affairs and Art, mdw

Just how the idea of outreach can be reflected in the music education context is something students learn as part of the All Stars Inclusive Band, in which people with and without disabilities meet every week to make music together with mdw students. It’s all about the kinds of equitable encounters that make it possible to learn from one another. “The All Stars Inclusive Band creates a unique space of experience, a protected environment in which one can informally build up contact to people with physical and cognitive disabilities while at the same time gathering pedagogical experience in an inclusive setting,” explains Marlene Lacherstorfer, the founder of this mdw-based initiative.

In the All Stars Inclusive Band, led by Bernhard Lengauer and Marlene Ecker, participants work together to write their own lyrics, develop song melodies, and arrange their favourite hits. © All Stars Inclusive Band

Numerous outreach-oriented projects are bundled together in the platform “Musik für Geflüchtete/refugees_mdw”, which was launched in 2014. As part of “Zusammenklänge – Musizieren mit Geflüchteten” [Accords – Music-Making with Refugees], for instance, students have the opportunity to apply and deepen their knowledge and skills. This programme simultaneously enables displaced youth to enjoy high-quality music education offerings. And in the area of music therapy, the project “Musiktherapie für Geflüchtete” [Music Therapy for Refugees] was developed in cooperation with the assistance organisation Integrationshaus. Since 2016, music therapy students have had the option of participating in this initiative—which received the My Kids child protection award in 2019—as an elective with supervisory assistance by mdw faculty.

The music spoke directly to all of the senses. One girl danced and sang to a composition by Ligeti. For our kids, these concerts have opened up new ways of perceiving and thinking about music.

Margit Krammer, Dr. Adolf Lorenz School for physically disabled children, on Musethica

© Musethica

The ability to realise outreach projects even amidst pandemic restrictions comes thanks to the installation of high-quality streaming technology at the mdw. It was thus possible for the mdw to team up with the Wiener Gesundheitsverbund (Vienna Health Network) to stream a Christmas-themed music programme directly to the hospital beds of patients at Klinik Floridsdorf in December of last year. “This musical gift was meant to make the Christmas season a bit easier for the patients,” says Klinik Floridsdorf’s administrative director Agnes Frey. And for the students, it was an opportunity to perform for people despite shuttered concert venues. This cooperative project, planned as a long-term effort, was recently continued in the form of an Easter concert streamed from the mdw’s Joseph Haydn-Saal and featuring recipients of scholarships from the Tokyo Foundation programme SYLFF.

The mdw Rectorate is now looking to continue expanding the University’s outreach projects, intensifying its search for partners. “Particularly during a pandemic, which is a period of crisis, art’s power comes to the fore and proves in so many ways how it can lift people out of the abyss, lending them energy and strength,” concludes Ulrike Sych.

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