How musicians acquire knowledge and skills pertaining to audience and community engagement, and what this means for their professional training and continuing education.

Musikvermittlung1 encompasses a broad range of audience and community engagement-related artistic and educational practices and has come to represent an integral component of many classical musicians’ professional activities. Regardless of whether they pursue portfolio careers that combine numerous types of work or are permanently employed, they’ve now become involved in things like concerts for children, long-term cooperative projects between cultural institutions and schools, new concert formats geared to various audiences, and community projects involving diverse segments of the populace. In doing so, they go beyond simply playing their instruments to realise practices for which they typically weren’t prepared as part of their instrumental studies. Even though the German-speaking region has seen the creation of a few isolated university and continuing education programmes as well as modifications to artistic and arts education degree curricula since the turn of the present century in reaction to the growing significance of Musikvermittlung particularly in the classical concert business, the fact is that adequate formal preparation of musicians for this type of activity is still largely absent.

My dissertation therefore examines how musicians who engage in Musikvermittlung have acquired the knowledge and skills needed to do so. From my findings, I deduce recommendations for the training and further training of musicians studying at university-level institutions and working in professional music-making settings. My data come from interviews with 12 Austria-based musicians who have been involved in my research process as research partners, including with respect to communicative validation. This data was examined based on the situational analysis of Adele E. Clarke and before the backdrop of both practice-theoretical and pragmatist assumptions regarding sociality and learning.

As a rule, the interviewed musicians accord their instrumental studies little significance with regard to their activities in the field of Musikvermittlung. Exceptions here were orchestral projects in cooperation with music education departments as well as instrumental teachers who encouraged the adoption of a specific, audience-oriented attitude towards music-making. In reaction to the shortcomings they perceived, several of the research partners had constructed individualised curricula that proved difficult to reconcile with the requirements of their degree programmes, and they also found themselves looked down upon by teachers and fellow students on account of such extracurricular activities.

On the other hand, it was possible to reconstruct diverse learning processes in informal contexts that have extended across the research partners’ entire lifespans to date as well as pivotal moments in which significant and long-lasting transformations of identity have taken place in connection with practices of Musikvermittlung. Particularly important are self-founded ensembles as “artistic laboratories” (Rineke Smilde) in which musicians have been able to develop and test out new formats free from structural or institutional limitations and in an atmosphere of mutual trust that has been conducive to learning. As a means of observational learning, sitting in on the work of other orchestras also played an important role and provided the opportunity to integrate and further develop observed practices in the research partners’ own activities. The musicians’ participation in existing practices of Musikvermittlung, where it was frequently “significant others”—musician-colleagues or professional Musikvermittlung practitioners—who turned out to play major roles in the attendant learning processes, revealed themselves to be examples of “legitimate peripheral participation” in the sense of Jean Laves’ and Etienne Wenger’s theory of situated learning. Indicative of existing power structures was the realisation that (without exception male) artistic directors and chief conductors had acted as gatekeepers in the careers of several orchestral musicians, facilitating or precluding further employment and hence further learning in the context of Musikvermittlung and its practices.

Institutions of higher music education now face the challenge of preparing musicians for activities in the field of Musikvermittlung and developing offerings that serve this purpose. The analysis of the learning trajectories via which my research partners acquired their knowledge and skills points to the need for specific educational offerings as well as latitude for learning and experimentation in the context of artistic laboratories. This entails the necessity of further developing existing curricula and new study options, such as those to be realised in the mdw’s new Contemporary Arts Practice (CAP) master’s degree programme. Moreover, students need their instrumental teachers to include role models whose artistic portfolios go beyond traditional careers in the classical music business to also encompass practices of Musikvermittlung. For mid-career musicians, customised further and continuing education offerings on a professional level will be needed and could arise from collaboration between institutions of higher music education and cultural institutions. And finally, work needs to be done towards the establishment of a broad understanding of artistic excellence that is based upon the indispensable foundation of skill on one’s instrument but expanded to include pedagogical sensitivity and social responsibility.

This dissertation will be released by the publisher transcript in June 2022.

  1. For more information about the term Musikvermittlung and the difficulty of translating it, see Sarah Chaker and Axel Petri-Preis (2022): Tuning Up! The Innovative Potential of Musikvermittlung. Bielefeld: trancript.
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