Borletti-Buitoni Trust
05 June 2020

#BBTathomeforawhile –
Staying in Tune During Corona

by Bridget Kinneary, MitMachMusik

The MitMachMusik Project in Berlin, an education initiative to introduce children with a migration background to music instruction and foster integration by including local children in Berlin, navigates the Corona Crisis.

“Turn it a little higher… right… not too tight… like this,” says the teacher before singing the pitch A through a video call, hoping the students will triumph over the fickle tuning pegs. Tuning is a skill that students usually learn in the intermediate phases of playing, but suddenly many beginners are adapting and figuring it out. Others are not having the same success, and teachers travel to the homes of students to help them tune with masks and gloves as soon as public health restrictions allow. We add it to the list of concepts we might teach differently in the future.

Even if half of a virtual lesson is spent tuning, it still counts as valuable contact time for the students of the MitMachMusik Project, many of whom have a migration background and are living in shelters. The students receiving video lessons are the ones lucky enough to have access to a mobile device and internet connection. They are usually quite happy to have some time in a room by themselves with their instrument and a caring teacher, even if it is only virtual. The face-to face calls offer a bit more connection than the written, take-home assignments most of our students receive from their shuttered schools.

Al fresco tuned violin handout in Berlin-Spandau from MitMachMusik

There is little opportunity to teach new material without analogue communal learning. Instead, teachers take to their smartphones, learning how to use new applications like Acapella, Zoom, and even TikTok to create review activities, play-along sessions, and written challenges to keep the students thinking about music. Co-Music director Demetrios Karamintzas, creator of the TikTok challenges, also notes how online instruction helps the children to become more independent learners, a skill we aim to develop in our programme-wide teaching philosophy.

Board member and site leader Marie Kogge creates hand-written worksheets every week, which help the students to analyse the music they already have, finding new patterns, theoretical elements, and connections to nature and their lives in the notes and rhythms already familiar to them. One gleam of hope in the tough times is seeing that some children are indeed deepening their knowledge just by having the increased processing time. It is amazing to see teachers, many of whom are faced with incredible financial hardship due to their freelance artist status, persevere and continue to develop and modernize their craft despite devastating financial shortages.

Demitrios Karamintzas, Co-Music Director, says, “the greatest challenge brought on by education in the time of Corona is the lack of physical energy and feedback from the students. The feeling of using digital media in order to reach students is somehow artificial, somehow flat, leaving me somehow missing something.” Nonetheless, we are finding new ways to cope with digital mediums. As restrictions ease, our teachers are some of the first to travel into refugee shelters. They greet students through the gates when visits are not yet formally allowed, and they connect with families in our community, ultimately keeping the music going. One of our locations in a district of Berlin with slightly more relaxed distancing has already planned a safely distanced chamber music series in various social centres in the area for the fall of 2020.

We maintain and promote awareness of public health while also keeping the value of music relevant and alive. Thinking about the future is met with both wonder and fear. One of our guitar teachers, Alan Ibrahim comments, “There is a fear of the future because of the unknown. After teaching in this project and seeing the students grow over four years, I see all of the positive things music does to them, and I am convinced it is building a better world. Yet, I worry about how their commitment to our project will be when big group lessons and concerts are not entirely possible.”

In the end, we are collectively devastated yet also growing, even if the growth is in a direction and manner none of us could have predicted. We were a week away from hosting an orchestra day with seventy five students the week the crisis started, and since then, we have had to cancel fundraising events, a summer camp, and many small house concerts. Through the hard times, we trust in our mission of using music to bring communities together, and we continue to rely on the support of like-minded people and organizations to keep our operations running through the crisis and beyond. Stay tuned on our website and social media channels for the latest updates.

MitMachMusik was one of the first five recipients of  BBT Communities grant in 2019.  See here for details