This past week Barbara Siesel had the honor of working with 12 talented students from the University for Music, Theater and Media in Hannover, Germany. Her husband, Keith, and her were invited by flutist extraordinaire Barbara Kortmann, who is one of the flute teachers at the University. They both enjoyed working with serious and talented students as they explored concepts of artistry and entrepreneurship.
When New York Meets Hanover: Notes on a Music Entrepreneurship Seminar in Germany
By Diana Lauren Shull, Hannah Sophie Schütz, and Anna-Katharina Schau
The University for Music, Theater, and Media Hanover (HMTM) is a study in contrasts. The
main building itself, designed to mimic the shape of the human ear, is a foreboding brutalist
structure built of gray concrete, but somewhat incongruously decorated with exuberant
magenta carpets. It is located at the edge of the Eilenriede, the largest urban forest in
Germany, which is twice the size of Central Park. The effect of man-made edifice juxtaposed
with natural world is striking. The artists working and studying in this space are also
remarkably varied and diverse, with around 1,600 students in 33 different study programs.
Beyond this, there are several well-respected institutes associated with the school, including
the European Center for Jewish Music, the Institute of Music Physiology and Music Medicine,
The Research Center for Music and Gender, and a pre-college program. It costs very little for
students to study here in comparison to the United States, but this means it is extremely
competitive. With harsh entrance exams and low acceptance rates, potential students have
to specialize from a very young age.
The professional world here in Germany is also very different. There are more orchestra jobs
with permanent contracts than in the States and more full-time positions available at
community music schools. A feeling of job security, along with deeply ingrained attitudes
about what it means to be gainfully employed, mean that many professional musicians do not
feel the need to find substantial freelance projects outside of their regular work. It is so rare,
in fact, that terminology like “freelancer” or “entrepreneur” are not in common use, and there
is very little spoken about forging a career path outside the traditional route. However, times
are quickly changing, and we need to change with them. Competition for contracts is
increasing with the arrival of talented young professionals from other countries, and many
contracts are disappearing due to budget cuts and restructuring. In this setting, we twelve
brave music students sacrificed our three-day weekend to learn what it means to think
outside the box.
The first day we had performance training with Keith Torgan, in which we each took a turn on
stage with our instruments. After performing, we were encouraged to self-reflect. How did we
feel? What were we thinking about? Keith found a unique and spontaneous way to work with
each of us that suited our individual personalities. We did things to open up and try
something new - making eye contact with everyone in the audience, telling stories, singing,
screaming at each other, and even jumping up and down. Anna remembers how close to
home things could get, “as we stood alone on the stage, he asked us some extremely
personal questions, things no ‘normal’ person would ask. He asked what songs our mothers
sang to us as children, what songs we sing to our own children, and if our families support
what we are doing now.” We spoke with our own voices, and in our own mother tongues -
German, English, Spanish, Turkish, and Ukrainian. We learned that it is enough just simply
‘to be.’ One especially moving moment was when Hannah improvised a beautiful piece on
her flute. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She says, “this experience deeply moved me
on an emotional level, and I trusted myself to play how I really am.”
During the next two workshop days, we learned how to be freelancers. The unit started with
a presentation by Barbara Siesel and Keith about their past, present, and future plans, which
gave an insight into how diverse the work of a musician can be. For example, with their
project, "Green Golly and the Golden Flute," they have not only played concerts for
thousands of children and adults in various configurations, from duo to symphony orchestra,
they have also developed a children's book, CDs and animated videos, with which they plan
to use as a tool to bring classical music to every child.
There was also a discussion of the difficulties that can arise when implementing these ideas:
How does the business model that you set up work so that you can ultimately make money
with it? How can you request financial support from the federal government, state programs,
private foundations, or even large companies? It became clear that it is not just a question of
how creative the musicians are or how good their idea is, but above all how they
address marketing, a functioning team, continuous research and development, advertising,
sales. Discipline and hard work, and in the end also money, are the deciding factors that
determine success or failure. The students gathered their first ideas on extraordinary
business models. From these ideas, three groups emerged, with projects in collaborative arts
education, musical outreach for children in undeserved areas, and performance of works by
underrepresented composers. We worked together to write and present action plans for our
projects, and now the next step is to put them into action. We are really going to do it!
It was a truly transformative experience, and an effective mix of the concrete and the abstract.
We left the seminar with business plans in our hands and a thousand questions in our hearts.
Our weekend together also highlighted the importance of offering similar workshops and
study courses here in Germany. If this is what we could accomplish in just three days,
imagine what we could do in four years! Intercultural exchange like this can be both beautiful
and difficult, but it is something we desperately need in these changing political times.