Eight years ago, the city orchestra in Bremen in northern Germany did something seemingly unremarkable. They moved their rehearsal rooms into a school. What followed however was remarkable, leading to nothing short of a transformation. As the BBC reports, this has seen a dramatic turnaround for students in the Bremen East Comprehensive School, who mostly come from a housing estate known for poverty and crime:
“the school’s results have improved, its drop-out rates have fallen to less than 1% and the atmosphere in the wider neighbourhood has been “transformed”, according to Joachim Barloschky, a local official who oversaw a programme of renovation and regeneration in the area.”
This wasn’t an intentional intervention, it was actually accidental. At the time the orchestra, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, needed a new rehearsal space, and with the school being renovated, the city authorities put the two together.
The school and the orchestra devised a series of activities to bring the students and musicians together, some formal and structured, and others spontaneous and casual. They have lunch together, students sit in on rehearsals, and together they develop varied theatre, choral and instrumental performances that draw on the social and cultural backgrounds of this culturally diverse area.
This initiative, which took out a Schwelle Foundation Peace Award in 2011, has seen an enduring partnership between a comprehensive school in an underprivileged area and the musicians of a leading professional orchestra.
Interestingly, this orchestra is not of the generously state funded variety, as The Goethe Institute notes: “Bremen’s Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Orchestra is in fact a non-profit making, privately financed undertaking, in which the members as shareholders have to come up with 60 per cent of their income themselves.” The musicians are highly motivated to engage, both in their music and with the students in this unique project.
The students and musicians who met when the orchestra first arrived, have now known each other for eight years. There is excitement as these pupils prepare for their final exams: “There is optimism because the number of pupils leaving school with the lowest qualifications has plummeted and the number staying on to take the Abitur exam at the end of secondary school has risen sharply.”