Exceptional students in Higher Music Education: desire or threat?”

Institutions for Higher Music Education use exceptional students and alumni to demonstrate their excellent quality. This can be observed easily by visiting the webpages of these institutions where prize winners and students or alumni that have shown exceptional achievements are featured prominently. Selection of these ‘high-fliers’ has a normative effect as it represents the sense of what the institution is proud of, a sense that is usually reflected in the design of curricula and assessment criteria as well.

Especially in classical music, looking at the selected students and alumni carefully shows that their particularities were more often related to excellent fulfilment of the requirements of competitions or auditions rather than their displaying exceptional artistic personalities. At the same time, almost every mission statement in Higher Arts Education claims the development of students´ artistic personalities as a main goal. In the experience of the author, students with exceptional artistic personalities all too often meet with opposition at these universities.

The paper aims to investigate examples and concepts for creating a supportive learning environment that serves different students in their individual strengths and thus helps them to develop a distinctive, and hopefully exceptional, artistic profile. This supportive learning environment must enable the students to challenge the traditional musical practices and expectations. Furthermore, it must demonstrate open–mindedness towards diversity.

Dejans et all. (2015) showed that the inclusion of artistic research at Master´s level stimulates curiosity and a reflective attitude. Sarath et all. (2014, p. 2) suggested a radical change in the undergraduate curriculum using creativity, diversity, and integration. If we truly wish to encourage students to find inside themselves their own unique capacity to be exceptional, these approaches are going to have to replace – or at least augment – the tendency to privilege those students who simply fulfil most faithfully our preconceived notions of excellence.

Dejans, P. et al. (2015). Perspectives on the 2nd Cycle Programmes in Higher Music Education: Combining a Research Orientation with Professional Relevance. Brussels, AEC.

Sarath, E., et al. (2014) Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors. Missoula: The College Music Society.


Georg Schulz: Born in Graz in 1963. Initial studies in Chemistry at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz (1987 Mag. rer. nat., 1990 Dr. rer. nat.). Musical training as an accordionist at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (KUG), in Hannover and in Copenhagen (1992 Mag. art). International concert career as soloist, ensemble performer and orchestral musician. His main specialty is concentrated on contemporary chamber music. A teacher since 1992, in 2002 he was appointed as Associate Professor for Accordion at KUG.

Next to his artistic and teaching career, he has attended the professional-advancement university program “Higher Education Management” at the University of Klagenfurt and the program “Higher Education and Academic Management” at the Donau-Universität Krems (2007 Master of Science). He has been expert in several evaluation procedures, which were carried out by different international organisations (e.g. AEC, EUA, evalag), and realises relevant lecturing, expertising and training activities.

Deputy Dean of Education at KUG 2000-2003, Vice-Rector for Education 2003-2007. October 2007 to the end of 2012 KUG Rector. Since November 2012 Member of the Council of AEC (Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen), since 2014 Vice -president of AEC. Active participation at AEC and EUA conferences, the bi-annual ELIA conference, as well as at IUA, UNESCO-CEPES, Magna Charta and EAIR conferences.