By Andy Icochea Icochea, Music Director, Superar International
What can we do to exert a positive impact on society?
That was the question asked in 2009 by our three founding organizations in Vienna—the Vienna Boys Choir, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and Caritas of the Archdiocese of Vienna. The response was to envision a place where music would be the joining element, the core engine to reach equal opportunity, and the key to reenergizing what is most essential in society: justice, personal realization, and solidarity.
This led us to our next question: “Where should we begin?” To answer, Superar started a small, free-of-charge program in urban schools within populous neighborhoods of Vienna, led by motivated choir leaders in cooperation with visionary public school leaders and around 300 elementary school children. Within a few months, and following successful performances, the nonprofit organization experienced a remarkable process of expansion in vocal and instrumental group instruction.
This year, Superar celebrates ten years of music-making, with a reach of over 3,000 families in 27 locations across seven countries in central and eastern Europe: Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Liechtenstein, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. All programs are offered free of charge, through the support of the Hilti Foundation and many other local and regional partners. In addition to choral and instrumental music, Superar also includes a program in musical theater, with instruction in singing, dancing, and acting. While each program operates in partnership with local school systems and community centers, Superar locations adhere to the same central principles: since everyone is welcome, the organization nurtures an environment of appreciation and respect for each individual’s contribution and a culture of collaboration at all levels. With an average of eight performances a year per location, Superar aims to offer all of its children the opportunity to present their musical achievements on small and big stages. We see ourselves as an educational project that also supports interculturality. The children and young people also take part in regular international exchange projects. Superar’s music repertoire is the language they share.
Our latest international collaboration highlight was our 10th Anniversary Concert at Vienna’s Konzerthaus: 600 choristers and musicians from Vienna, Salzburg, Vorarlberg, Bratislava, and Budapest joined forces for a sold-out audience. The theme: Joy. Marin Alsop’s kind words on stage, Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and 7th Symphony, along with selections from around the world—all of this made for an unprecedented kind of ode!
Press pause for a pandemic. The quick shift of COVID-19’s epicenter to Europe brought our communities to a sudden stop in mid-March. Within a week of the announcement of mitigation efforts, our headquarters fell into complete silence. Our entire team of musicians and administrators shifted their energies from leading, coaching, and teaching to finding new ways to reach our families during these times. As most readers have experienced as well, we were faced with many new challenges, from a wide variety of national regulations to limited access to online tools on the part of some of our students’ families.
The particular situation of every country and location made all early attempts for a coordinated, across-the-board response almost completely vain. Therefore, we went back to those two original questions (“What can we do?” and “Where do we start?”) and encouraged our teams to respond according to their specific situations at the local level. As a result, we have witnessed an incredible strengthening of all regional units; new leaderships emerging as new tasks are devised and developed; an explosion of collaborations outside of the regular teams; and a smooth transition of existing synergies from the analog to the digital world across all programs.
For the past 12 weeks, we have been offering continued instruction through our newest program: Superar Zuhause (Superar at Home). Depending on the type of program and the location, this might offer an intensive video-playlist program with interactive tutorials especially designed for our children; supervised live sessions on WebEx, or the assignment of music tasks and quizzes through online platforms; sometimes even a regular segment on national TV. In locations where resources are scarce, private members of the community have stepped up and helped us to acquire and distribute needed equipment, at no cost to our families. All offerings are built upon the Superar principles and adapted to local Superar child protection policies. The success of these new offerings is partially measurable through built-in analytics (non-personalized) of audio, video, and content platforms, as well as through anecdotal feedback from participating families and schoolteachers via email, texts, or handwritten notes of appreciation and encouragement.
As the pandemic’s center has shifted elsewhere and schools are again (partially) in session, we are adapting our programs to keep our children involved with music and joy while protecting them from harm. In some locations, our teachers join in the fun at class via Internet connection; in others, we are leading them in their classrooms with music-making and activities that are regarded as safe—changes we happily embrace for now. In other centers, we will be returning in the summer or next school year. We can’t wait!
The lessons learned in the past few months encourage us to devise more efficient channels of communication going forward. These can be used concurrently with our regular platforms, or as primary avenues of instruction, should the need arise again. As we transition back to a world with different codes and norms for education, business, and community life, we rejoice in the prospect of making a joyful noise and healing with it.
Now more than ever before, our initial questions feel relevant. What can we do? Where do we start? As always: let’s do what we can do best, and let’s start where it is needed most.
For more information about Superar, please see our article of February 2018, by Angelika Lošek.