Music for Life, Education for the World

In a city already bursting with choices: Two new music schools – one for pop genres and one for classical – both joining art with experience

Top Stories | Cynthia Peck | July / August 2012

New high-school students at the Amadeus International School of Music: following the city’s musical legacy, and adding to a broad-based International Baccalaureate (Photo: Michael Appelt)

This September two new music schools for middle and high school students are opening in Vienna. One will fill an evident gap: a "Pop-Akademie" specialising in the instrumental, technological and performance skills needed for a career in popular music. The goal of the other, the Amadeus International School of Music Vienna, is less concrete and yet reaches much further. Its directors aim to use music as a basis for a holistic education for creative world citizens ready to face the global challenges of the 21st century.

There is no lack of existing music schools in this city. For advanced professional training, there are two world-renowned conservatories: the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, run by the Austrian state, and the University Konservatorium Wien – the "Kons" – run by the City of Vienna. There are also a number of respected private conservatories, such as the Prayner Conservatory or the Vienna Konservatorium.

For children, there is a system of affordable city-run music schools, one in nearly every district, as well as the private Johann Sebastian Bach Musikschule (host school of the Pop-Akademie) and the Musikgymnasium, which is part of the city school system, among others. And of course there is the Vienna Boys’ Choir School, not to mention innumerable smaller music schools and private teachers.

The two conservatories are a class of their own. Their graduates are some of the best-trained professional musicians in the world: Having studied at one or the other is considered comparable to degrees from Julliard or the Royal Academy. Each year, the Music University accepts less than 100 new full-time students, and on average has a total of only 3,000. It attracts musicians from around the world – currently from 74 countries. Still, more than half are Austrian, with the largest number coming from Vienna. The Kons has fewer students, but similar demographics. This undoubtedly reflects the status given to music in this city, as well as the musical education of its school children.


 "Rock ‘n’ Roll High School"

But the City of Vienna isn’t resting on its laurels. The new Pop-Akademie has been initiated by the city as part of a programme of reforms in music education. As reported in the daily Die Presse, a Ministry of Education poll in 2011 reported that 26% of all school children in Vienna are learning to play an instrument. Another 11% take singing lessons. While this may sound like a lot, the City of Vienna considers it reason to expand what is being offered.

The director of the new music school, Hanns Christian Stekel, says that until now, studying any kind of pop music in Vienna, including jazz and world music, was hampered by the diffuseness of learning opportunities. Many were simply self-taught. "We wanted to establish a centre for pop music in Vienna," he says. The new school will be housed in the Gasometer complex in the 11th District.

It’s a good choice: There’s a hall for pop concerts, and also one of the largest music and instrument stores in Austria, Klangfarbe. The after-school programme will be for students between the ages of 12 and 18.

Students at the Pop-Akademie won’t only learn to play an instrument or to sing, but will also study all the practical sides of pop music: theory, song writing, arranging, studio work, etc. The aim is to prepare them for professional music studies. Where can you do that in Vienna? At the Jam Music Lab, a private conservatory for jazz and pop music, also at the Gasometer. Or at the popular music department of the University of Music and the jazz department at the Kons.


A nobel education

The Amadeus International School of Music Vienna is approaching music education for middle and high school students in a different way: Music will be the basis for an all-around English-language boarding school education. For highly talented young musicians from around the world, the school will combine classical music studies with an International Baccalaureate.

Amadeus Vienna is part of an international education association called Nobel Education Network. Financed primarily by private patrons in Asia, the network’s concept is to found schools throughout the world that are tailored to the talents of their students and utilise the strengths of particular cities. Thus, it is clear why Vienna has been chosen for a music school.

The director of Amadeus Vienna, Jorge Nelson, is an exuberant man. He is American, but for the last 27 years has lived abroad, from Korea to Pakistan to Paraguay. His model for education could be described as both new and ancient: He is creating a modern school based on the Socratic dialectic method combined with Confucian ethics and philosophy.

He envisions a school with hands-on learning where the importance of core values and competencies is remembered daily. The academic staff has been hand-picked for their innovative attitudes towards teaching; on the music side, a number of Vienna Philharmonic members have been recruited to teach.

Director Nelson is confident that music is a tool that will guide his students for the rest of their lives, whether as professional musicians or as leaders of an increasingly integrated world. And the City of Vienna is also striving for music, classical or pop, to be a vital part of its citizens’ education. In both cases, music is not merely an elite art form, but nourishment for life.


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