Abuse of power in German Jazz and Music Academia
I have thought long and hard about whether I should publish this statement. When it comes to a topic that concerns everyone but where most people look the other way for various reasons or don't (want to) take action, there is a great risk of ending up alone. Whether I end up alone or not, is also depending on your action. And I challenge you to look into it, to Google a word you don't understand, and to consciously make the decision whether to act or not.
This statement is about control, power, and abuse in music, with a focus on academia. It is primarily about psychological violence and emotional manipulation, especially in the form of neglect and omission, where action and taking responsibility would have been appropriate or even obligatory.
It is about epistemic violence, ignorance, repression; tolerance for violence and enabling it. About shifting responsibility as well as the structural dependencies that facilitate all this. In other words, all the things for which criminal law is not (yet) responsible and for which we consequently have to take care of ourselves as a civil community. And we have to.
As it is, you can no longer recommend anyone in good conscience to be educated at a music university in Germany.
It is very likely that as you continue, you will be confronted with your own thoughts, feelings, and memories that you don’t want to deal with or that you want to repress or put off.
These can be your own traumas and the several layers of shame on top of them. Or situations where you were a witness and, in retrospect, wish you had chosen to act differently. They can be memories of situations in which you have, in whatever form, committed violence in the broadest sense that has harmed others, directly or indirectly. Even if you acted unknowingly and with the best of intentions.
What applies to the rest of this statement, I would like to emphasize at the outset: It is not about criticizing people, but their behaviour. I can criticize someone's behaviour and draw consequences from it without declaring the person inflicting violence a monster. Likewise, I can acknowledge the disadvantages of those affected without pushing them into a dehumanizing victim role and denying them any self-determined development of their personality as the price for being believed.
We all experience and witness violence, and we all practice it. We all make mistakes. That does not make you a failure.
But it is your responsibility to reflect on your behaviour and adapt it so that you do not harm others. And it is your responsibility to demand that abusers be stopped in all spaces and structures in which you move and from which you benefit.
Exposing yourself to that and going through it is not easy.
I know that.
But it is necessary. The only way out is through. Because even if you are favoured by the system, even if you are not aware of the surrounding violence, it is there.
Not being aware of it is a privilege. Violence is everywhere, and in one way or another, it also harms you. It starts where people feel it, even if they cannot (yet) verbalize it in a comprehensible way. And we would all do well to listen to them without prejudice and enable them to speak without having to fear existentially threatening consequences, such as social exclusion.
The sooner you start trying to understand this, the better. The key is to realize that you are never alone in your experiences but are kept isolated by the grip of complex interlocking systems. Violence and discrimination, whether visible or invisible, are never individual. They are never perpetrated by individuals alone, but are always simultaneously structurally and culturally conditioned. The peace researcher Johan Galtung has presented this in an understandable way in the model "Triangle of Violence".
Overcoming isolation and making oneself recognizable as a person affected by violence and/or as an ally also means making oneself vulnerable.
For marginalized people, the mere knowledge that they are not structurally protected is threatening. This does not even require direct experience of violence with another person. Studying music is a struggle for survival, even without it. Understanding the invisible violence that is nevertheless acting on you all the time overwhelms and eats up your capacities without end.
For people who are privileged by the system, and especially for those who adapt to the system despite being disadvantaged, the challenge is to understand that they are still privileged over others in what they understand as their own struggle for survival or the protection of an institution.
Inner resistance to accepting this simultaneity, combined with conflicts of interest, social constraints, insecurity, ignorance, and unquestioned entitlement, often prevents solidarity from those with the most resources and capacity.
In a highly competitive environment like music academies, and generally in capitalism, this is often the crux of the matter. Young people are trained to be at the top and to be the only one there. But if we are mostly alone in a phase where we form our identity, empathy does not develop. Where we are almost exclusively among people who look a lot like us, there is no checking on privilege but, if anything, a distorted image of empathy. Where there is invisible violence, there are power imbalances, and vice versa. Both a lack of empathy and faulty empathy result in a lack of effective solidarity.
All this opens the door to abuse.
Seemingly contradictory simultaneity, is always an indication, that there is more to understand in detail.
Please engage with this and don't just push your precious uncertainty aside. I cannot stress enough how important it is to put your own need for harmony and your need to appear as smart, educated, and respectable as possible, at the back of discussions about abuse of power. Both are control mechanisms that prioritize one's own interests and take away the space for those affected to speak freely. But they are the ones who have the best insight and knowledge about abuse. If we listen to those affected, we can detect the flaws in the system and see where the structures in our spaces facilitate violence, discrimination, and abuse. This knowledge is necessary to know what consequences to draw from repeated misconduct.
I cannot and do not want to convince you to engage in this process.
And let's be honest: I think I've already done enough. This statement represents years of unpaid work that I would rather have spent making music. And I already know that many people will quote me without giving me credit for it. Oh, well.
But whether you go along with it or not, now you can't say you didn't know anything.