Done with learning? No opportunities for further training in orchestras?

The idea of learning a life long is common in many professions, yet curiously absent from the job experience of most orchestra musicians. It is in fact something of a taboo topic, seen to indicate professional deficits rather than potential for improvement or a preventive (medical) measure. Only a handful of music academies have even begun to address the issue. Musicians themselves give a whole range of responses on the subject: some have already had very positive experiences, others would reject institutionalised further training, pointing out that participation in chamber orchestras often is an effective substitute. The central question seems to be on of communication: how to criticise perceived shortcomings of colleagues’ performances in a constructive manner?

Musicians want to learn more - not only for outreach and education work

Positive feedback comes from some orchestras, after special workshops with specialists for baroque music or for respiration and brass instruments: not only do musicians find their technical abilities improved, the workshop also has a beneficial effect on group dynamics and communication. Trainers point out that playing techniques are acquired during the body’s prime years, yet these techniques may no longer be adequate later on as physical capacities decline with age. It is here that further training can make a significant difference to improve play and prevent occupational illnesses. Further training also offers some benefits from a management perspective: as a preventive medical measure it is usually cheaper than remedial action or losses due to sick leave; but, seen as an indication of goodwill, it can also improve mutual trust between management and musicians. Even so, opportunities for further training remain limited at the moment. Most institutions that offer further training do not focus on artistic development, but on subjects such as outreach work or communication.

An exception in Germany is the Baden-Württembergische Ensemble Akademie Freiburg (BWAEF), offering master classes in early and new music, instrumental training, technique and music theory.

Conclusion: Orchestra musicians need more opportunities for additional and specialist training on the job to keep up and improve their artistic excellence for a long life in the profession. Orchestra management should discuss this issue in the orchestra in an active role.

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