FEATURE: All about Europe’s Superar

Superar students at an international camp in Vienna, after the final performance.

Superar is a multinational organization that manages and oversees El Sistema-inspired programs in six different countries: Austria, Bosnia, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Liechtenstein. Altogether, our programs serve approximately 2,700 children. Superar is the only organization supporting programs in multiple countries, creating professional development that works for teaching artists working in the widest array of settings – from the high art capital of Vienna to struggling Roma communities in Romania. Our main funding partner is the Hilti Foundation.

Superar was founded in Vienna, and we have our headquarters here. Being in the so-called “capital of music,” of course we have a huge heritage – not only in classical music, which has informed the worldwide canon, but also our in own local traditions of music and music-making. However, working with so many different countries makes us humble. There is a saying in Austria about “being world-famous in Vienna” – a recognition that this is actually NOT the same as being world-famous in the world. We learn the truth of this saying every time we make a general claim about something, and then receive a reality check from our colleagues in other countries, who call and say, “What are you going on about? This isn’t true for us!”

As a headquarters and a centre, we are always working to find a balance between unity and diversity. Being in a multinational organization means we automatically live diversity every day – our colleagues from other countries and backgrounds bring in other perspectives. If I just look around the office here in Vienna, I see colleagues from Peru, Austria, Turkey, or with Serbian or Romanian family backgrounds; the music tutors rehearsing next door are from Hungary, Chile, Slovenia, Austria and China. But working together with our colleagues in other countries makes not only for a diverse team but also for very different contexts and situations in which to operate. In working together, we have to develop understanding and tolerance for multiple perspectives.

One advantage of having set up locations in so many different countries and contexts is that we have ample proof that our central concept works. You may have heard people say, “It’s great what they do in XYZ, but it won’t work HERE because things are so different here…” But we have done it HERE and THERE and in many places, and guess what? – it does work, in all those places. We can be secure in the knowledge that our general shared principles are universal.

In that overall context, the fact that we work in so many different countries and cultures gives us a richness of music, of traditions and of perspectives from which we benefit every day. In Superar overall, there is no majority culture versus minorities (as there might be within a single country) – for us, all cultures are equally worthy of celebrating. You might be a migrant or a minority in one Superar country, but in another, you are part of the majority – the important thing is that in Superar, everyone is welcome! Our working language is English (which is no one’s mother tongue here); we use it as a true lingua franca so that no „national“ language takes precedence in our daily exchange. Our children sing in about 20 different languages.

Due to our multinational nature, we have gathered a lot of experience in setting up new locations in the most diverse contexts. We have adapted our concept where necessary and possible, but in doing so, we have always asked ourselves – Is this still Superar, or are we creating something that is not recognizable as the same concept anymore? We want to make sure every location is free to develop its own specialties and strengths, but we also want to ensure that everything we do is based in our joint El Sistema-inspired principles – this is part of what shapes our organisational identity, and of course it is also vital to ensure the same standards of quality everywhere.

Whenever we make a change here in Vienna, we have to think not only about the sustainability of our own program, but also about what it means for the development of other locations –not just other nucleos in Austria, but every single country in Superar. Would it need adaptations? Would it have some negative impacts in other countries? After all, sensibilities are different, local contexts are different, and what might be easy in one place could be a severe infringement on cultural and ethnic identity in another place.

International Superar faculty colleagues, while attending a week-long training in Vienna.

Among our musicians, we combine many different schools of thought and educational traditions – we use these different approaches to get new ideas, to challenge and develop our Superar methods, and to distill the best way to teach children with a positive and yet demanding attitude in order to support and strengthen every child. This constant challenge of new ideas, and the attempt to create the best synthesis for Superar, means we are permanently engaged in developing our organisation further – be it because we need to tackle a new issue, or because we have a new “family member” to set up.

For our member programs, being part of a larger multi-national network offers several important advantages. Perhaps most important, we offer a joint core repertoire that is shared by all locations. This not only provides guidance as to which music is suitable for the respective development of each group but also has a vital uniting factor: Whenever children of Superar meet in the world, they may not be able to speak each other’s language, but they can immediately make music together and feel part of the same family. We also offer more general musical support and guidance, personified by our Director of Music Andy Icochea, who supports and develops colleagues in all locations. We work to create opportunities where we can have international exchanges – amongst colleagues in the form of training and encounters, amongst children for joint performances and camps. In addition, we help colleagues with organizational issues, from the setup of a new location all the way to a high degree of autonomy. We provide the roof of our common brand and principles, develop our joint vision further and form a kind of hub or bridge between all the programs and countries. We also see our role as an innovation hub for new programs and musical ideas as well as organisational or fundraising concepts.

With the growth of individual country programs, our role, and the roles of colleagues, are also changing. The „mother“ organisation in Vienna still serves as headquarters and as a base to build on, but the national teams are taking on more responsibility and developing more autonomy. We continue to use our experience for capacity building within the team and for the training of new members. In addition, we have frequently been asked by other organisations to share our experience, and we would like to do so in a more organised way. We are working to set up a competence centre for training in both musical pedagogy and organisational management.

In everything we do and create, we automatically think of how this could also be useful to others. Because our means are limited, we constantly search for synergies – over time this has made us develop a sharing mindset across all our locations, and even as we all focus on our local endeavours, we keep our worldwide colleagues in mind!

Author: Angelika Lošek, Managing Director of Superar

Date Published: 28 February 2018

Editors note: Did the song Love People in the Superar video sound familiar? It was created by the students and leaders of Superar Bosnia, and this is the resulting, award-winning, film in 2017 that is the first worldwide Sistema Creative project:

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