Arbeitsbedingungen Diskussion Junge Leute Ratgeber

Gastbeitrag: The social reality of free-lance musicians in Germany

© Fiona Stevens
© Fiona Stevens
Geschrieben von Fiona Stevens

The social reality of free-lance musicians in Germany: should music colleges address this, and if so, how?


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the debate surrounding the potential future closure of music colleges in Baden-Württemberg in Germany in 2013. The minister who suggested reducing the number of places offered on undergraduate and postgraduate music courses from 2500 to 2000 based this on reports that there was an over-supply of music graduates relative to employment possibilities. I argued that music colleges in their capacity to educate creators of cultural value potentially have an important part to play regarding social cohesion at a societal level, and therefore shouldn’t be shut down.

This is all well and good, but how does it sort out a potential issue with over-supply of music graduates on the market, if there is one at all?

Esther Bishop’s MA thesis examines the status quo of employment possibilities for performance graduates and questions whether the structure of music colleges in Germany is appropriate in the context of today’s employment opportunities.

Of the situation in 2014 compared to the past she writes: “Significantly more musicians work as free-lancers and there are more free-lancers than salaried musicians … most music performance graduates will work in other professions than that which they intended.” (2014:9).

Statistics on the Musikinformationszentrum website suggest that in 2014, free-lance orchestral musicians’ average earnings were below the poverty line.

A few months ago, I discussed this issue with a group of performance undergraduates I was working with. Placing themselves in the position of a government with the responsibility of solving a very real issue they argued back and forth about the impact closing a music college or reducing the student intake would have for the staff, the other students, the prestige of the college and of the town or city in which it was based, and also the issue of raising students’ expectations that they would find work on graduating whilst knowing how unlikely this would be. The students at first agreed that they could see no other way to solve the problem than to reduce the number of music graduates by reducing undergraduate intake (with the concomitant loss of teaching jobs and prestige) just as Ministerin Bauer had done in Baden-Württemberg.

I argued as above, that music colleges should stay open because of what they are worth to society in terms of cultural value. I suggested that there may be other ways to address this issue and asked them how much they were learning about entrepreneurship during their course of study – that is, the kind of entrepreneurship knowledge that they would need if they did not win an audition for a salaried position in a state-run orchestra after graduation, in Bishop’s words: “Other difficulties faced by performance graduates include the differences in skills necessary to be free-lance rather than in a salaried position. Self-organisation, communicative skills and creativity are competencies described as being far more important in a free-lance context than they are required by salaried orchestral musicians.” (2014:10).

The college they attended either doesn’t offer such a course, or they didn’t know about it, certainly their current studies didn’t address acquisition of the particular skill-set required by free-lancers.

My research project with HIP orchestral musicians – all of them free-lance because that is the only option in HIP in Germany – gave me insight into the day-to-day working of the skill-set required by a cultural entrepreneur as defined by Swedbergthe carrying out of a novel combination that results in something new and appreciated in the cultural sphere.” (2006:260). HIP musicians seem to be particularly good at being cultural entrepreneurs, perhaps because the mind-set that informs HIP requires a calling-into-question of received performance parameters.

Based on my insights I proposed to my student interlocutors a study module intending to simulate a free-lance context within the safe space of the music college in which teaching consists of a hands-on approach to solving free-lance issues such as fund-raising, project management, and concert dramaturgy. I argued that introducing such courses would open up new employment options for students on graduation, also in other areas than music, since they would have gained transferrable skills that could be implemented in other contexts.

In the best of all worlds this might mean that music colleges, by rethinking how they can address the issue of over-supply and appropriate qualification, by nurturing students’ entrepreneurial potential and engagement with cultural value through their instrumental studies, might educate citizens who can navigate both the world of economic value as well as that of cultural value.

I will be presenting this module in April at the “First international conference on entrepreneurship in music” in Oslo, Norway.

Geschrieben von

Fiona Stevens

Fiona Stevens ist eine leidenschaftliche Verfechterin der historischen Aufführungspraxis. Im Alter von 16 Jahren hatte sie das Glück, Bachs Werke auf dem Schulcembalo üben zu dürfen. Dabei begann sie zu ahnen, wie vollkommen anders die Musik mit den Instrumenten klingen könnte, für die sie komponiert wurde. Als sich ihr zwei Jahre später die Möglichkeit bot Barockgeige zu lernen, ergriff sie diese Chance und ist nach wie vor voller Begeisterung für dieses Instrument. Sie studierte Musikwissenschaften an der Cambridge University, Violine in Düsseldorf und historische Aufführungspraxis in Frankfurt am Main und Den Haag. Sie arbeitet regelmäßig mit Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Jos van Immerseel, Andreas Spering und Rüdiger Lotter, und konzertiert in den wichtigsten Sälen Europas und der USA. Sie war als Coach für die Bremer Philharmoniker in historischer Aufführungspraxis tätig und hat mit Studierenden der Musikhochschule Bremen, der Universität der Künste Berlin und der University of Southampton, UK, gearbeitet. Zwei Jahre lang experimentierte sie im Bereich des Kulturcrossover und veranstaltete dazu Konzerte an Orten und unter Umständen, die für Klassik in höchstem Maße ungewöhnlich sind. Bei ihren eigenen Kammermusikkonzerten legt sie großen Wert darauf, dem Publikum die emotionalen Gründe, die dem Musikerdasein zugrunde liegen, zu vermitteln, denn sie ist fest davon überzeugt, dass so die Musik für die Zuhörer unmittelbarer erfahrbar wird. 2015 gründete sie zusammen mit dem jungen Nachwuchsdirigenten und Geiger Jakob Lehmann die Kulturgesellschaft Eroica Berlin. Eroica Berlin versteht sich als Vereinigung junger angehender Berufsmusiker, die sich für historische Aufführungspraxis und Musikvermittlung interessieren. Eroica Berlin steht dafür, dass Musiker einen gesellschaftlichen Auftrag im Sinne einer Verbesserung des sozialen Zusammenhalts haben, und setzt innovative Projekte in diesem Bereich in der Stadt Berlin um.
Fiona Stevens promoviert derzeit an der University of Southampton, UK, im Fach Kulturökonomie zum Thema des kulturellen Werts am Beispiel der historischen Aufführungspraxis in Deutschland.

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