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Talking education with Stefan Willich

Or: living in two worlds

I like interfaces.” Well, that’s an understatement. It comes from Stefan Willich. He’s a remarkable man, who’s been very successful in two different fields: medicine and music. And he’s managed to draw his two passions together with the creation of the World Doctors Orchestra. “I find it productive to bring things together,” he says, with another display of understatement. Would he call himself an idealist? “No, no,” he protests, “I’m a hard-nosed realist, who likes developing things that are new.”
Stefan Willich, my latest guest on Talking Germany, is far from understated when it comes to the role of shared music-making: “Choirs, orchestras and other ensembles, are great places for learning a really broad range of skills, including emotional skills. Orchestras are places where you learn to play as a team. You learn how to develop strategies. What’s also important is that you have to learn to make up for both your own weaknesses and those of others.”
It’s the same kind of thing, I suggest, as the team sports that were so central to my youth. “Absolutely,” says Stefan Willich: “But there’s a problem there because in German schools these days sport and the arts are both underrepresented.” Which, fits in well with the long, tortured and ongoing debate here in Germany about the education system, where critics complain that young boys and girls spend too much time staring at the front of the class, and too little time working in groups to develop their curiosity and interactive skills.
Clearly, being able to play in a team is a very important skill. But, to achieve as much as this doctor-conductor, to run first a medical institute and then a music academy – as he has – you need to be a very disciplined and determined individual. Even a little driven, perhaps? So I wonder about Stefan Willich’s own family environment and his education. “I’m extremely fortunate,” he says. “I grew up in a protected home. I had an excellent education.” A fortunate man indeed.

Date

May 3, 2013

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