Why we need an English word for “Musikvermittlung”

Musikvermittlung is a concept enjoying high popularity in German music education today.

Translating the idea into English is a real challenge, as a quick internet search shows: “the communication of music to young people; music communication; conveying music through general education; making music accessible; music conveyance; getting music across; music mediation; music appreciation; the way music reaches out; music education.”

I was recently asked in which way my music education projects are any different to anybody else’s, given that similarly to others I place importance on peer-to-peer discourse between the educators and their students – by this I mean that I believe there are advantages when the age gap between the teachers and their pupils is not very large, or that they belong approximately to the same generation.

I believe that my projects stem from an understanding of what Musikvermittlung is and where it comes from that is different to others’, and that I view the act of “musicking” (Small 1998), that is, music as an activity involving music performance, as a means to an end which aims to promote social cohesion.

My own research into cultural value has led me to believe that the act of musicking in the context of Musikvermittlung may play a more important role in establishing a healthy society than current perception imagines.

My PhD thesis intends to establish a vocabulary that could enable discussion and debate in the arts, performing and otherwise, on the plane of the arts’ inherent – or cultural – value. If I ask my performer colleagues or students which value their professional activity has for them, or might have for others, they often find it difficult to express anything in concrete terms. It’s a tricky subject that begins to slip through one’s fingers the minute one tries to be more specific.

The surveys and interviews that were central to my research offered some surprising results. For example the impression gained that professional HIP musicians’ characters are strongly entrepreneurial, but that unlike “classic” entrepreneurs their main aim is not to accrue economic capital. Moreover, they seem quite happy about this situation, despite reporting that their financial situation is anything other than relaxed.

In the context of Bourdieu’s (1986) work on the different types of capital, the question arose as to which form of capital the musicians aimed to accumulate.

It would appear that the main type of capital that can be gained through the act of musicking is emotional capital as described by Gendron (2004). According to Gendron, emotional capital can be augmented in situations in which a high amount of emotional communication takes place. Koivunen (2011) describes how the act of making music together entails a high amount of emotional communication due to the kinaesthetic empathy that arises when body movements are coordinated. This promotes social cohesion – it satisfies the basic intrinsic need “relatedness” (Deci & Ryan 2000) – and this is the basis on which my education projects are designed. This means that my projects aim to integrate and unite musicians and non-musicians via a musical activity, regardless of the musical level (or lack thereof) enjoyed by the non-musicians in the group.

On the part of the musicians this requires careful thought and scrutiny of what it means to do what we do and how we can communicate this with non-musicians in the group in such a way that they feel they belong to what we are doing. Essentially, this is what the German word Musikvermittlung means – one word in German, a whole sentence in English!

If we, as musicians, wish to inspire non-musicians and people who are not fans of classical music, then it is our task to approach them and enable them to access our world.

This requires the definition of a lowest common denominator that we share with them, and the results of my research have convinced me that this common factor has nothing to do with the outward presentation (“packaging”) of the music and everything to do with emotional communication.

Of all the art forms, music is the only one that functions at the level of emotional communication without necessary recourse to images or words. Anyone who understands this language does not need anything more than the music itself, without recourse to “packaging”. For example, in the case of a staged performance of an opera, in the best of all cases the staging supports and underscores what is already present in the music, it can’t however replace this.

In order to attract and inspire an audience for classical music, the musicians need to be very clear about what they wish to communicate on an emotional level. In addition I believe the musicians need to think very carefully about how they wish to communicate these emotions, basing their strategy on the emotional content of the music, and I believe that they should be aware of what their action signifies at a societal level. As musicians, we do indeed need to educate our audiences, to teach them the language of emotions which is so self-evident for us, to enable them to take part in what we create on stage.

Musikvermittlung is an important subject in German music education today, and my research results suggest that it is central to creating a healthy society.



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