Wendelin Bitzan

Wendelin Bitzan

Changes Impending at Berlin Music Schools

The Berlin Senate has issued a press release stating that, for the time being, they will not turn freelance fee contracts into regular employments at public music schools in Berlin, unlike many other German municipalities aiming to achieve legal security in consequence of a decision of the Federal Social Court, which clarified that teaching positions in music schools are subject to social insurance contributions. Instead, the Berlin administration goes for a continuation of the status quo with 77 percent freelance faculty, offering the prospect of financial compensation for those of the 12 districts that might face a loss due to possible back payments of employer’s contributions. In my opinion, this is an irresponsible approach that does not help the situation of freelance teachers at all, but encourages the district authorities to stick to a potentially unlawful practice. I authored a statement with my colleagues from the board of the Tonkünstlerverband Berlin, discussing the HR policy of the Senate and its possible results, and proposing some alternative strategies for a future-oriented operation of music schools.

» Read the statement of DTKV Berlin

Some Thoughts on Absolute Pitch

When I was diagnosed with absolute pitch as a kid, I took it for granted and thought of it as no particularly remarkable capability. I was so used to be able to identify and produce pitches on demand that it astonished me to learn that others weren’t. Later during my adolescence, I more and more realised what a rare and freaky feature I had at my command. It kind of contributed to my nerdy reputation at school and was frequently mistaken for a proof of extraordinary musicianship or talent (which I was sure it wasn’t). Sometimes I even was annoyed by it, because my listening and musical experience was inextricably linked to my incorruptible pitch perception. It was just not possible to turn it off for a minute.

At university, when surrounded by a significantly higher percentage of people with similar abilities, I recognised the special challenges associated with switching between absolute and relative ways of aural perception. Demands such as listening to music in historical temperament, singing in a choir that could not keep tune, or sight-transposing sheet music posed considerable difficulties to me. I ended up in deliberately training my aural skills with respect to interrelations between separate pitches and complex harmonies, and to focus on structural aspects rather than individual elements in music. While doing so, my absolute pitch began to change and gradually became less reliable in certain contexts (especially with regard to unfamiliar sounds and instruments), but this was more than outweighed by a considerable gain in flexibility and listening strategies at hand. I also learned to adapt my ear and to perceive recordings of early music in the key in which they were meant to sound. A critical factor in this process was, so I believe, my own vocal practice in various choirs and ensembles.

During my studies, being in possession of perfect pitch was still relevant yet by no means crucial, and even though I passed every aural skills exam with distinction, I sometimes wondered what this capability was all about. It sure helped in my everyday work, providing quick and reliable tonal orientation while listening to long and complex pieces at all times, but it didn’t feel indispensable to me. After graduation, when I started to lecture in music theory and aural skills myself, it wasn’t so much a thing anymore. Students hardly ever asked me how to deal with absolute pitch, and I never felt inclined to have it served with any particular attention or methodology in my teaching. It is my conviction that relative aural skills need to be focused and cultivated as much as possible, while absolute skills, be they present or absent, do not. Consequently, I refuse to accept that perfect pitch should be of any relevance for the assessment of other crafts and musical proficiencies.

Things to Look At

Some new promotional material is now available, and I am excited to share! First, a long cherished desire of mine was fulfilled with a custom-tailored suit for multiple purposes. Second, I had an enjoyable and inspirational photo shooting in order to update my visual portfolio. And third, I produced a set of hand-crafted business cards, layouted and printed in lead typesetting all by myself. See below for some results.

Credits: Suit by Kuhn Maßkonfektion, photographs by Ania Sudbin,
grand piano courtesy of Reinhild Kuhn, business cards from Druckgraphik Atelier


An Inspirational Weekend

Thankful for a weekend full of diverse musics and performance experiences: On Friday I started the first-ever web livestream from my studio, presenting some piano pieces by Marie Jaëll. On Saturday I felt marvellously entertained by Lennart Schilgen‘s delightful song programme at Zebrano Theater. And on Sunday I was lucky enough to witness an entrancing concert of Caroline Shaw and Sō Percussion at Konzerthaus Berlin. Much obliged to the dear people who made all this possible!

Performing Jaëll on Women’s Day

On the occasion of the #womencomposersday, I will be playing a few pieces from French-German composer Marie Jaëll‘s piano cycle Les jours pluvieux (1894) live on my Facebook page. I’d be delighted if you tuned in on Friday, 8 March, at 1 pm CET, to listen to some unjustly rarely performed music. Thanks to Arno Lücker for launching this initiative! See here for the full line-up, featuring some highly valued musicians and ensembles.