In my previous post, I began what will hopefully be a little series inspired by working professionals, young artists and students around Germany and German-speaking countries. This second post is for those who wish to study abroad (specifically Germany), with a few thoughts that might help.
There are some brilliant, highly respected music colleges here in Germany. They are ‘musik hochschule’ and include places like Berlin ‘Hanns Eisler’ and UdK (Universität der Künste – University of the Arts), Leipzig Mendelssohn Hochschule, Hamburg, Munich, Mannheim… just about every city you can think of!
What I would say first about wanting to study in Germany is.. LEARN THE LANGUAGE. The law has recently changed here and you really do have to be able to speak German for them to be able to accept you. They generally ask for TestDaf or C1 level German (more or less the same thing – two different names). It is expected that it will take a minimum of 6 months to reach this level of German, studying full-time in a language school in the country. It isn’t easy, nor is it free, but it is very rewarding. If you are accepted to a musik hochschule and don’t have the test certificate when you begin studying, you will have to do a German exam within your first year of study to prove your proficiency. It is well worth investing in the language as the fees for any student are a mere trifle of around 270 EUR per semester (two semesters per year). That is a stark contrast to the fee hike in the UK, where they are close to 9,000 pounds per year, or even 4,000 EUR in Holland, not including finding money for maintenance and living costs. Worth a thought.
As always with vocal training, the most important thing is to find a place with a teacher that you want to study with. Several of my advisors (thanks guys!) have written back to me about this, including Estelle and Eszter (two freelance sops based in Berlin) and there are differing opinions on this according to experience. However, it is not unknown in Germany for a student to be enrolled at a Hochschule but to also study with someone else out of the school. I think this can be frowned upon, however, there are even books written by teachers at music colleges here where they mention the case of a young singer who takes their training into their own hands and seeks help for their vocal technique outside of what they experience in music college.
This is an important point. Do not rely on a music college to make your career for you. Do not sit on your laurels. Please don’t interpret that as meaning that you should constantly compare yourself to your colleagues, but instead think outside of your institution. Look at which singers are having success at different international competitions, as well as what’s going on on your door step. Look at your CV. Do you have roles that are in your fach that are studied or performed? Do you have a sound that is developed enough to be used day in day out in a opera school/studio/fest contract? If not, then that is your responsibility, not your music college’s. They are their to help you, but ultimately, you are the one using your instrument.
Sorry for vast number of questions in the next paragraph. Things I think are important to think about…
What else do we wish for from a music college? What do you think will best equip you for a career when you graduate? Seriously look at what the course offers. If they offer languages, do they actually teach you to speak and understand the language or is it just in the context of aria and song interpretation? How many lessons and coachings will you have a week? Who will you get to work with? What productions does the music school put on, what standard are they, are they with orchestra or piano? At what level can you get involved with productions and performance? What kind of gigs do the students there regularly get to do? What are the other courses on offer besides singing, do you want to take voice pedagogy so you also have teaching experience for when you graduate?
Do not be surprised, if you enquire about studying at music college here without a music/voice undergrad, if you are advised to apply for a Bachelors, regardless of your age or having a previous degree. Rules have also recently changed about ‘non-consecutive’ masters, where you must have completed an undergrad in the discipline you wish to do postgrad. I have known a couple of friends do this, or be advised that a Bachelor programme is what they should apply for.
Thoughts on funding when you are studying abroad.
I have recently had to spend a lot of time looking into funding for an MA programme here in Germany. Yes it’s cheaper than the UK, this is good, but the funds available to me as a UK citizen are overwhelmingly (and scarily) unavailable to me because I will be ‘studying abroad’. I have been through the website of what feels like every single postgraduate trust fund for musicians and almost without fail, they are only to be applied to if you are studying in the UK. Even if I were in the UK, a lot of these funds you can only apply to if your head of department at ‘x’ conservatoire nominates you. There are funds available specifically for studying abroad at postgrad, such as the DAAD, Leverhulme and some AHRC funds and the odd travel bursary, but the deadlines and criteria for these are very strict, and they are also not compatible with the music college audition system here, where you are offered a place only 2 months before you begin. Example to illustrate this incompatibility: The deadlines for the DAAD and Leverhulme are in November/January, the year before you begin, so I have missed the deadline as I was offered a place last week (YAY!), to begin in April. I can submit an application next November, but this means I won’t get any funding until the following September 2014, by which time I will have practically finished my masters. Hmmm. There are not many more than two funds which I can apply to in the meantime, and they are the most competitive (Musicians’ Benevolent Fund and Countess of Munster) and again, these have very specific numbers (10 per year) of audition slots for these funds, let alone being awarded a fund. It’s not impossible, and I’m lucky to have one or two other options, but do research money as well before packing your bags.
Now for my final two penn’orth for this post…
If you decide to go outside of the traditional route (and don’t study at an institution) this is also great experience. You have to find for yourself your teacher, language coaches, rep coaches, role study, performance opportunities, connections to agents etc. Not easy, but not impossible. It is not a lesser option, and it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. A lot of becoming a professional singer is actually to do with getting over your hang-ups and learning to excel in stressful situations. Some people thrive in a music college/hochschule set-up, where they have a clear goal and syllabus to adhere to, they are inspiring places to be. Others thrive being independent, by being in charge of their decisions and learning to be discerning and resourceful. Neither option trumps the other, but whatever you choose to do, find peace with that decision, or do both so that when you embark on a freelance career you have the confidence to keep going even if it’s tough or you’re in a dry spell.
It really doesn’t matter which one you do, as long as you are aware of your options and have really looked into it before hand. The best music college in the world can’t guarantee you a glittering career. It’s what you make of it.