Multicultural Music Education

English Information on German "Interkulturelle Musikerziehung"

compiled by Wolfgang Martin Stroh (Oldenburg, Germany)

The first part of this article describes the migration 1955-2010 an the response of music pedagogy: here!

2. The decline of the Mlticultural Concept since 20120

There are two reasons, why this concept was never completely accepted by music pedagogy within the actual debate on integration:

First: Music Education after PISA

One of the results of PISA was, that German’s youth is very bad equipped for a life in the modern global world. The political debate following this result culminated in the promotion of the “hard skills” – math, language, nature science – in public schools. Therefore the  “soft skills” together with art, dance and music had to legitimate their mere existence. Concerning music education, a severe struggle to survive began. This had two consequences:
First, music pedagogy research concentrated on the investigation of “effects of transfer”. Some tried to proof that the IQ might increase by musical instruction, others found that social behavior gets better, and even others said, that the learning of languages will be smoother if one plays an musical instrument.These arguments of transfer are good for politicians and a stupid public opinion, but not as  arguments for professional music educators. Music educators prefer another, so called “inner-musical” way of rescuing:
The name of this (second) way is “JeKi” what means “every child an instrument”. The program is to install so many musical instruments in Elementary Schools that every child can get instrumental instructions for about two years. As this concept arose on the background of the fact, that in German Elementary Schools only about 25% of the needed music lessons are realized,  “JeKi” covered four demands: first to satisfy angry parents, second to be an 100 Mio. Euro-investigation of Germany’s music industry, third to give a popular answer to the “PISA-attack” on art and music, fourth to engage non-academic teachers, which are cheaper.
Both ideas are no useful concepts of intercultural music education, and not a profound answer to “music and migration”. Their motto is: making music is good in any way, no matter what kind of music or what cultural context. Of course, these ideas can give an attribution to the actual debate on integration. If kids with different ethnic background play together in a music group, integrative aspects will play a role. But nevertheless, these rather diffuse effects do not constitute a concept of intercultural music education.

Second: The Policy of Integration instead of Multiculturalism

In the year 2006 German media and the responsible politicians proclaimed, that integration has failed in Germany. The Federal Chancellor  constituted an “Integration Summit” (Integrationsgipfel). Two causes of the proclaimed failure were discussed: first that the migrants are not willing to integrate themselves into the German society, second that the idea of multiculturalism was wrong.
In 2007 the Federal Government started the “Nationwide integration program”. This program is a typical policy for managing a status quo, which is due to a long history of political mistakes concerning migration. The traditional self-image of the Germans shall not be questioned. Migration is considered as an economic chance, not a chance of cultural enrichment. Concerning culture, migration remains an unavoidable problem.
The actual policy does not deny that Germany is multicultural. But the aim of the policy is to change this. Germany should be plural, democratic and liberal. Different cultures should act under the roof of the German “guideline culture” (Leitkultur). Only very view people try to formulate aims which go beyond the actual debate, for example when sketching a society and a school system where people can speak different languages without being discriminated[ 6]. 

Music Education and Integration in Germany today

Let’s have a look at the actual “Nationwide Integration Program” 2007. It is based on two pillars:

  1. the concept of nationwide “Courses of Integration” and
  2. the support of “models” or projects which show integration within informal groups and organizations.

(1) The Courses of Integration cover 600 units of language-instruction and 45 units of “basic orientation”. This facts mirrors the opinion that the knowledge of the German language is the only key to integration. I doubt that this opinion is useful. The competence of acting self-determined within the society depends not only on the knowledge of German language but also on a profound cultural knowledge. As Germany still is multicultural this competence is a competence of multicultural activity just as the concept of multicultural music education says. So far there are no nationwide concepts for the inclusion of multicultural perspectives into the Courses of Integration[ 7].
(2) The second idea of the new “Nationwide Integration Program” is to support projects, which bring organizations of the migrants together with German organizations. There are lots of organizations within the migrant communities. For example, the music life of the Turkish community is very wide spread, reaching from traditional folk- or dance-clubs to choirs, private music schools, studios, discotheques, concert managers, music groups, music soloists etc. Nevertheless, this music life is amorphous. And it has still hardly any connection to the very good organized musical life of “official” Germany. Let me show one example:

Video 4: Turkish Music School in Oldenburg

The “Turkish Music Conservatory” of Oldenburg exists since 1999. The organizer’s aim is “to remind the kids of their tradition and to keep them away from the road”. He never dared to cooperate with the Music School of the Oldenburg Community, although some of his students learn in this German institution. And a higlight of his activity was, when I (as professor from the University) did visit and record his rehearsals and concerts.
This example shows that there is a need of  better contacts between the informal multicultural life of migrants and the established German institutions. Every official support of contacts will be usefull.
Nevertheless this support is necessary but not sufficient. Still the most important places where different cultures meet one another are the public schools. Music education within the public schools is the basis of all the spectacular projects of cooperation. But music education in public schools is not yet part of the Federal integration program. The Federal Ministry of Migration and Refugees has not yet discovered the integrating power of music, as a member of the Ministry told me some weeks ago. And the music teachers have other problems then considering special cultural needs of migrants, as I mentioned above.

The discussion on migration within the community of music educators seems to be finished: “All is said”. But still, it seems, that nothing is done.

Politicians like to support spectacular project, which win prizes and can be observed by the media. Politicians do not like to support the basic work of teachers at public schools, as this is very expensive and has little response from the media. As You might know, Germany’s financal support of the education system is on the European wide lowist possible level, and within the three last years these expenses even dropped  slightly. Thus, music education in public schools plays no role within the actual discussion on integration and migration.

But let me mention an example of intercultural work, which connects the project-concept of the “Nationwide Integration Program” with basic teaching in public schools. And which shows, that still something is done. Near my town Oldenburg, there is a camp for asylum seekers. The office “IBIS” which is responsible for carrying out the integration courses also takes care of the asylum seekers and supports them on their way trough the institutions. Besides this, the office makes arrangements for – mainly African - asylum seekers to teach music and dance in public schools. And last but not least, just four weeks ago, they showed an “experimental musical”, which was performed by a group of asylum seekers, three professional Rap-Dancers and one German teacher. Here we had an ideal connection of music education in public schools, which profits from the musical abilities of migrants, and a spectacular musical project supported by the Federal integration program.

Video 5: IBIS-Musical with asylum seekers[ 8].

This text was the manuscript of a speech held as key note on the 18th Congress of European Association of Music at School at Bolu, Turkey, April 29, 2010. The text was published in an extended version in the Congress Manual.

3. Migration since 2015

Since 2015 some Million refugees and asylum seekers come to Germany. First (2015) mainly from Syria, Irak, Afghanistan, later (2016-2019) mainly from African countries. Since 2022 there are refugees from Ucraina. For example, in 2015 more then 325.000 children of refugees and asylum seekers started to attend German schools. By the end of 2022 there were 200.000 Ucraina-children visiting German schools. Thus there was a new situation for Multicultural Music Education. The new activities can be devided in three sections:

1. musical activities in refugee-camps etc.,

2. musical support of learning the German language,

3. regular music education in public schools, where refugee-children are sitting in between children of German or "older" migration background.

If You are interested in more details, please check the German pages, which describe this new tasks, present new materials etc.: go here!


7 At my University there are courses of integration for foreign students. We tried to integrate musical activity into these courses. The results of this experiments can be transformed into a model of general courses of integration for migrants: Their competence of multicultural activity can be trained by just accepting the diversity of the different migrant backgrounds of the people who participate in the course. If every participant just offers one music example which might be typical for him and his ethnic background, and if all the others listen to this music and ask, why this music is chosen by the one who presented  it, this would be a thorough training in multicultural competence

8 If there is time left: The other examples is a Turkish or Kurdish Wedding. Such weddings are places and events of ethnic self-definition. In Germany every such event comprises at least 500 to 800 people, no matter if the parents of the couple are unemployed, on social support or are rather well-off. All the hundreds of participants together pay for the rent of the wedding-hall, the musicians and the food (Video 4a: Kurdish Wedding in Delmenhorst).
On the other side, the established German musical organizations do very little to open themselves towards cooperating with the rather informal musical life of the migrants. In 1999 I asked all 80 “Musikschulen” of Niedersachsen, what “foreign music” they offer in their curriculum. 64 Music Schools answered that there are nce in a while courses with Latin Percussion, Panflute and Balaleika. However, over the rest of the country, only one single class was offered for bağlama (saz), an instrument which is very popular among Turkish migrants in Germany.