An anniversary is always the moment to look back and appreciate what has been achieved. At the same time, it is an opportunity for the Bertelsmann Stiftung to recognize that more remains to be done and, as a result, to begin focusing on the challenges that will affect our everyday lives in the future.

Motivator and Bridge Builder

Author: Tanja Breukelchen, Johannes von Dohnanyi
Photography: Besim Mazhiqi, Valeska Achenbach, Sebastian Pfütze, Tom Figiel

“Music is a language used for communicating all around the world. For societies everywhere, it has an indispensible ability to bring people together. It is a repository of tradition, helping people remember their heritage and feel at home. At the same time, music can be used to build bridges and initiate an open dialogue between cultures, one that transcends language and borders of all types.” That is how Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, describes the power of music.

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“These days, society needs music’s ability to help people connect, given that millions of people have been displaced from their homes due persecution, oppression, hunger and war.”
Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

Connecting people

For years the Bertelsmann Stiftung has been using its many projects to help people come together through music. Music, Language, Participation is based on the insights gained during the projects Musical Primary School and Music in Child Care Every Day. As part of the project, teachers and volunteers in Germany who work with recently immigrated young people learn to use music as an effective tool in their everyday educational activities. The goal is to promote participation despite the lack of a common language, while also creating a sense of community and supporting individual development. It also makes it easier for newcomers to learn German.

“These days, society needs music’s ability to help people connect, given that millions of people have been displaced from their homes due persecution, oppression, hunger and war,” Mohn says. “Music makes it possible for people to get to know each other. It makes them feel they belong while promoting interaction and exchange among people of completely different backgrounds. We have to make use of music’s potential to increase understanding, appreciation, respect and a sense of community. If we succeed, then cultural diversity will be seen as an opportunity and enrichment, and society will be more cohesive.”

Liz Mohn at the dance together with little schoolchildren at the Bialik Rogozin School in Tel Aviv

Music – a shared experience

A look beyond Germany’s borders indeed reveals that, even in those regions where conflicts rage, music can help people connect. That is why on March 1, 2016, three of Berlin’s premier music groups, its Staatskapelle, Konzerthausorchester and Philharmonisches Orchester, came together with their respective conductors Daniel Barenboim, Iván Fischer and Simon Rattle to give a benefit concert for refugees and their helpers. Meant for all newcomers, it was a welcoming gesture that was impossible not to hear.

Since 2012, the TRIMUM project has been organizing an intercultural faith-based “musical encounter.” As part of the project, Jewish, Christian and Muslim musicians, theologians, cantors, composers and researchers come together to investigate what “music in trilogue” sounds like. The main venue and acoustic laboratory for this endeavor is the TRIMUM Choir, whose members are Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

Learning from each other musically

Music can bring about minor miracles when it comes to integrating people into society and giving them the courage to keep going. For example, in 2015 the opera singer Mohsen Rashidkan created a Choir of Nations in a shelter for refugees in Hannover. And in Zurich, the Monday Choir initiated by singer Christoph Homberger is now in its second year, allowing refugees and locals to learn from each other by singing together. Music – a source of hope and shared experience.

“Difference sometimes only exists in our heads”
Prof. Dr. Raimund Vogels

The ethnomusicologist Raimund Vogels has been intensively engaging with the refugees and their music. “There are many musicians among the refugees, and they bring their music with them,” he says. “With that, the circle is complete: our musical culture is very much based on the Arab world’s musical tradition and music theory. And now its musical practices are coming to us as well.”

The two Syrians, Ammar and Salem have been in Hanover for three months – and they are looking for an oud, a type of Arabic lute. They always made music with this at home, but they were unable to bring one with them on their route to Germany. They have now come across Prof. Dr. Vogels in their travels, who is going to help them find one.

Music as a fundamental right

In addition to being a professor of ethnomusicology in Hannover, Vogels is also the director of the Center for World Music at the University of Hildesheim. He sees music as a tool for promoting understanding. “I feel music is very political,” he explains. “For me, it’s a basic human right to be able to express yourself with and through music. And that also means the right to be visible to your listeners.”

Vogels also emphasizes that if we are to make full use of the power of music, everyone who has to do with music in one way or another must now get involved. That includes educational policy makers and even society as a whole, he says, since music’s significance for society is often underestimated.

Opening to music

“Music is infinitely important right now,” he adds. “Music is one way to, if not overcome, then at least ameliorate this speechlessness, which has to do with foreign language issues, at least to some extent. If you open yourself to other types of music, then you create moments in which trust can arise. If we are serious about promoting integration, then the goal cannot be assimilation and making everything the same. All that would remain would be a grey mass in which individual identities get lost.”

Music, Language, Participation

Jointly organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and Lower Saxony’s Ministry of Education, this project creates comprehensive educational programs, especially for newly immigrated young people. It focuses on tapping music’s potential to promote language learning, participation, equitable opportunities and social cohesion. In addition, it shows both educators and volunteers how they can use music as an effective, practical medium and tool. A modular, needs-based training program is also being developed based on participants’ real-world experiences and on the relevant academic research.


Musik unterstützt Spracherwerb!
Workshop: “Music talks! Musik spricht”
Musikalische Bildung

Participation through Music

Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Valeska Achenbach, Siegfried Baron

There are many ways to help people discover music. The Bertelsmann Stiftung uses its projects to engage with even the youngest learners, since music still plays too small a role in preschools. The project MIKA – Music in Child Care Every Day helps children grow and develop by involving them in musical activities. It also accesses and builds on music’s potential to improve early childhood education.

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MIKA – Music in Child Care Every Day

To achieve that goal, MIKA supports all child-care participants in all contexts: during initial and ongoing training, and during daily activities. After all, only if educators are themselves enthusiastic about music and feel confident leading musical activities can they pass on the joy of music to children. Regional networks and, where desired, support from qualified practitioners make it possible for educational institutions to anchor music in everyday settings, both conceptually and practically.

Mobile Music Workshop

The Mobile Music Workshop visits child-care centers, schools and other educational institutions, allowing youngsters and adults to experiment with music, build “sound spaces” and repair instruments.

Musical Primary School

Now that the Musical Primary School project has been established in six German states, children can continue their discovery of music after they leave child care. The project’s motto: “More music by more participants in more subjects at more times.” The project shows how music can be included throughout the day to improve the quality of education. The results include a greater sense of belonging, new ideas for classroom teaching, increased parental participation and expanded cooperation with external partners.

NEUE STIMMEN – Creating Careers

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s NEUE STIMMEN International Singing Competition offers young singers the opportunity to become better known in the world of opera. The goal of this internationally renowned competition is to discover and support young talents, first through preliminary auditions held on five continents, then during the week-long semifinals and finals held in Gütersloh.

Darren Pati left his home country, New Zealand, to pursue his career and won second place in the 2015 NEUE STIMMEN singing competition in Gütersloh

Winners receive additional support in the form of prize money, master classes and the Creating Careers initiative, which imparts career-relevant skills. Above all, winners benefit from a unique network of opera-world institutions and individuals, a network that will continue to serve them well into the future.


MIKA – Musik im Kita-Alltag
Konzept über Voraussetzungen, Grundlagen und inhaltliche Ausgestaltung des Projektes MIKA – Musik im Kita-Alltag
Musik schafft Begegnung! Till Brönner im Interview
Der Jazz-Trompeter, Till Brönner, erläutert in einem Interview nach dem Besuch einer Musikalischen Grundschule, warum Musik so wichtig ist!

Music-Related Media

Websites, e-magazines, studies, books, films – these are just some of the ways the Bertelsmann Stiftung makes its work accessible, explains activities, presents examples and offers compelling material for viewing or reading. Here are three examples.

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Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Sebastian Pfütze

Music’s potential

On behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Paderborn-based music professor Heiner Gembris examined the literature published before mid-2015 and created a summary of scientifically sound statements on music’s potential.

Refugee children learn German through music

Our pilot project Music, Language, Participation is designed to make it easier for young refugees to learn German, thereby helping them integrate quickly into German society. Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, Frauke Heiligenstadt, Lower Saxony’s education minister, and Doris Schröder-Köpf, Lower Saxony’s state commissioner for migration and participation, visited a refugee center in Friedland to discuss how this goal can be achieved.

change Story: The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s e-magazine

The first issue of our new e-magazine focuses exclusively on the NEUE STIMMEN International Singing Competition. Join Russian mezzo-soprano Nadezhda Karyazina – a prizewinner in 2011 – to explore our magazine. Experience the fascinating world of music and opera, and find out why the competition still means a lot to Nadezhda today. Simply click on and watch the opera world’s largest international singing competition unfold before you.


Expertise von Professor Dr. Heiner Gembris
Transfer-Effekte und Wirkungen musikalischer Aktivitäten auf ausgewählte Bereiche der Persönlichkeitsentwicklung
NEUE STIMMEN 2016 – Der Meisterkurs
Begleiten Sie die Teilnehmer und Trainer des elften Meisterkurses unserer NEUEN STIMMEN.
Flüchtlingskinder lernen Deutsch mit Musik

The Liz Mohn Foundation for Culture and Music

Author: Tanja Breukelchen
Photography: Jan Voth

Small children race around the stage. They sing and dance – excited at trying new things. When she sees events like these, Liz Mohn beams. The chairwoman of the Liz Mohn Foundation for Culture and Music (LMFCM) has seen so many young people onstage. Children and teenagers, certainly, but also young professionals to whom she’s given scholarships so they can participate in the International Opera Studio at the Staatsoper Berlin, young people she’s supported through the foundation that bears her name.

It was precisely this excitement and learning, this joie de vivre, this empowerment that music gives which led her to establish LMFCM in November 2005.

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“It was important for me to do more to acknowledge the significance that culture and music have for an individual’s development and for society as a whole.”
Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

Mohn has been an active supporter of culture since 1987, when she initiated the NEUE STIMMEN International Singing Competition, later expanding it by adding master classes, workshops and training events. Along the way she also began promoting music education and intercultural dialogue.

Bridges of understanding

Above all, LMFCM focuses on music. In addition to supporting up-and-coming opera singers, it dedicates its resources to music education as a way of promoting understanding among children and young people of different cultural backgrounds. Its projects include the International Opera Studio at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin and the “ideas initiative” Cultural Diversity and Music (Ideeninitiative ‘Kulturelle Vielfalt mit Musik’). LMFCM also wants to use the Children’s Musical Theater (Kindermusiktheater) to support cultural activities on a practical level and to work with young people in Gütersloh, the community where the foundation is based.

Designed to help youngsters transition from child care to primary school, the Children’s Musical Theater illustrates what the foundation’s support looks like in real terms. The project was carried out for the fourth time in 2016/2017, making it possible for some 120 children from six Gütersloh child-care centers and primary schools to experience music and various art forms first-hand. During the project, institutions work in pairs to develop a joint piece of musical theater, guided by experienced theater, music and art teachers.

Bridge between cultures

After initial discussions and workshops, the real project work begins. The focus is on singing, making music together, acting, dancing and designing costumes and sets. In March, the participants take to the main stage of the Gütersloh Theater for the project’s high point: the actual performance.

Musical projects can bridge other gaps – between cultures, for example. Since 2008 LMFCM has therefore been using the annual Cultural Diversity and Music initiative to support the development and implementation of new projects which bring together children and young people of different national heritages. In 2016, the foundation again made €50,000 available to realize the best project ideas.

Through the initiative, applications for grants can be submitted to LMFCM. The foundation has an endowment of €16.2 million, and the funds it generates flow into the projects carried out within the foundation’s three focus areas. LMFCM’s Executive Board develops the organization’s overall strategy as well as its first-time projects and activities.

The bridge builders

In addition to its chairwoman, Liz Mohn, the Executive Board includes vice-chairman Prof. Friedrich Loock, director of the Institute for Culture and Media Management at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater; Francisco Araíza, Kammersänger and professor at the College of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart; Louwrens Langevoort, artistic director of the Cologne Philharmonic and CEO of KölnMusik GmbH; Pamela Rosenberg, dean of Programs and Fellows at The American Academy; Asli Sevindim, journalist and author; and Prof. Martin Christian Vogel, former rector of Detmold University of Music.

“Promoting culture and music means promoting values that are indispensible to society.”
Liz Mohn, vice-chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

All are experienced practitioners who ensure the foundation can draw on the broadest possible range of perspectives from the world of culture and music. In addition, they are committed to promoting artistic diversity and sharing their experience in the areas of integration and participation. Together they support change that moves society forward. Or as Liz Mohn puts it: “Promoting culture and music means promoting values that are indispensible to society.”


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