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Importance of travel as a developing young artist

by Stephanie Mientka

As a performing artist it is essential to find new avenues for the creative thought process.  There are many ways that we can grow as musicians, such as performing music from different genres, playing with different musicians, or studying with new professors. As a student, it is even more essential to find these various avenues in order to stimulate growth as an artist and find one’s own voice. To study in the country where a huge majority of classical music was composed would be one of the very best ways to expand the musical growth of a classically trained musician.

It’s always been important to me to travel and study music abroad. I believe that learning music in different cultural settings is crucial to discovering new ways of approaching music and one’s chosen instrument. I’ve been lucky in my life to have participated in many summer festivals abroad beginning at the age of 12, so I’m well accustomed to traveling abroad and can attest that it is well worth the many trials and errors that inevitably occur in both the planning and travel itself.

My parents were performing classical musicians and decided in the 1980s to move to Germany and make a concert career there. My country of birth is actually Germany, but my family moved back to the states not long after I was born, so I can’t say I remember that time of my life. However, in my youth I traveled back to Europe many times with my parents accompanying them on their various concert tours.

But adventures are scary!

Being a US citizen myself, I know that it is quite easy to remain in the states and study music in one’s home country. But due to my parents and their life as traveling musicians, I’ve always had the desire to travel and study music abroad. For many people it can be an intimidating idea, but I can say that everyone I know who has studied abroad in some capacity has appreciated the great opportunity.

Germany was a big draw for me personally, but it is also one of the best places to study classical music. Classical music has simply been a part of daily life in Germany for hundreds of years, and this relatively small country has produced some of the most notable classical composers in our history. This has deeply embedded a strong classical music tradition in German culture, as well as great respect and support for classical musicians.

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Meisterkurse

The master class I attended last summer was the Musikalische Sommerkurse, and took place in Leutkirch im Allgäu, Deutschland. It is a 12-day master class for violin, viola, and cello. The first evening the professors performed a wonderful concert, which kicked off the course in a very inspiring way.

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View of concert hall in Leutkirch

Each participant receives one 30 minute lesson every other day, and all the lessons are public, so the participants can observe all lessons taking place. Last summer there were four student performance opportunities, and these took place at beautiful venues in nearby towns and in Leutkirch.

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View from concert hall in Bavaria

The audiences were wonderful to play for; they were very appreciative and supportive. Every concert had a packed house, which was incredible. Along with private lessons at the course, there is also a professional pianist who gives the participants daily coachings (if you choose works with piano). These are almost as valuable as the lessons themselves. It is rare to have so much time to spend rehearsing with a pianist. This gives the violist the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the piano part, which in turns helps make you into not only a better violist, but also a better chamber musician. We had one long technique class led by Roland Glassl, which for me was alone worth going to the master class.

Advice for this type of course:

  • Prepare at least half a recital’s worth of music, and bring this repertoire to the course at the very highest level. In order to participate in the performance opportunities you must have repertoire that is performance-ready when you arrive.
  • Listen to as many lessons as you possibly can (as long as you get in your practice hours, of course!) There are violin and cello master classes going on as well, so when you’re sick of viola repertoire, go listen to a cello or violin class!
  • Take notes, record all of your lessons, and listen back immediately. This will help you to retain the comments and the progress that you make. It is a very intense 10 days, and it goes by very quickly!
  • Stay with a host family. The festival is kind enough to find host families for the participants, which is half the cost of a hotel at 15 euros per day. I’ve always had good luck with host families, and it really adds to the experience to be immersed in the culture.
  • And, of course, have fun and meet new people!!

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View from my room at my host family’s home

AND yes, let’s talk about cost

Lastly, I would like to comment on the cost of this type of adventure. It’s the first reason why most people don’t travel, and I understand it can be very expensive. However, if you do it right, the biggest expense is the flight, and that price varies.

Food and housing

Food is very cheap in Germany, and you can easily live on 10 euros a day or less. There are many opportunities to live with a host family, and most of the time they feed you, which cuts down the cost even more. One additional bit of advice on housing is to ask your friends if they have friends/family in the countries where you are traveling. You’d be surprised how many connections people have in far away places, and I’ve found that everyone loves to host traveling student musicians! I also know many friends who have had a lot of luck with hostels, although I haven’t had much experience myself.

Trains

As far as traveling within the countries, my favorite way to travel is the Eurail train pass. This allows you to travel and change plans freely without losing money. When traveling, the best thing you can do is to be flexible, and the Eurail pass allows you to do this.

Make money while traveling? Why yes!

One way that I have found to actually make money while traveling is busking on the streets. All towns in Germany have weekly, if not daily, street markets in the summer. And if you do it right, you can make good money. The tricky part is making sure that it is legal where you are busking (e.g., a lot of towns you can only play for an hour and then you have to change locations).

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Gift from wonderful host family!

Conclusion:

Okay folks, my conclusion is to just do it. And don’t wait, travel while you’re young and have fewer commitments (kids, job, etc.) holding you back. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to take the leap! You will never regret it. When you are planning, just remember to be creative and use the people and resources you have at hand, and before you know it you will be on a trip of a lifetime. Bon voyage!

Website for master class:
http://www.musiksommer-leutkirch.de/

Website for Roland Glassl:
http://www.rolandglassl.de/

Eurail website:
http://www.eurail.com/


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