But I only wanted to practice! Part 4: Musikhochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart, Germany

Musikhochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart, Germany
(Accurate to my understanding as of January 2019)

Practice facilities: 7 separate practice rooms / 9 practice organs
– mostly 3-manuals. two 2-manuals. one 1-manual
– all tracker/mechanical action
– mostly flat or concave and straight pedalboards
– four organs with swell shoes
– most instruments with 56 or 58 notes on manual and 28-30 notes on pedal; 1 organ with 61 notes in the manual and 32 in the pedal (fortunately!).
– one instrument with a short octave

Building hours: Exterior doors are open daily from approximately 7AM – 10:30PM BUT one can stay as late as they like or be let in by a security guard in “off hours.” (hours curtailed for holidays)

Number of students: approximately 40-45

Availability: every day beginning at 10AM, students may sign up for practice time on a sheet posted outside of the organ practice rooms for the following day: 2 hours on each weekday, 3 on each day of a weekend or holiday, with each hour in a different room.

The facilities of Stuttgart are extraordinary. Each of these practice organs are historically-inspired or are themselves historic, which allows students to take a lesson with these mechanical teachers every time they enter a practice room. In a single one of these rooms, you will find a 1997 Ahrend organ in the style of North Germany/Arp Schnitger, a Kern organ built in the French Classical style, and an anonymously-built Italian organ of the late-18th-century (complete with graffiti from long before its arrival in Stuttgart).
Walk next door to discover an instrument built in 1997 by Goll and inspired by 19th-century French organbuilder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll — but with some unique sonorities of the late German Baroque and Romantic eras. Next door to this is a nod to the geographic location of Stuttgart: a Schwäbish-inspired instrument built in 1998 by the organbuilder Mühleisen, whose shop is a half hour from Stuttgart. Up one floor is an organ from 1996 by Rohlf that teaches “perfection of playing”: it doesn’t hold back in letting an organist know s/he has incorrectly struck a note. Upstairs once again is a treasure: the so-called “Bach-Orgel,” a Central Germany/Silbermann-style instrument built by Wegscheider.
All the way downstairs in the bowels of the building are two “workhorse instruments”: the former main teaching organ of the previous conservatory’s building, built in 1972 by Weigle and a testament to organbuilding in the 1960s and 1970s, and a 1986 Wiedenmann instrument that has a special challenge to offer a student who wishes to practice. The pedalboard is offset by one note, making on feel as though they are always needing to shift to the right to accurately play the notes!

Brain flexibility is something we all should practice just as much as notes, history, or interpretation, since you never know what kind of new ergonomic (or not-so-ergonomic) positions we will have to deal with when meeting a new instrument. Switching between each of these vastly different mechanical/tracker-action organs, their uniquely-positioned pedalboards, and their varied consoles serves as practice for being able to readily change techniques in a very short amount of time – in fact, at the music school, one only has an hour before they switch both instruments and styles!


The above schedule is where we students sign up for practice times; Saturday – Sunday – Monday are on the left sheet and Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday – Friday on the right. The leftmost column indicates the hours (8AM – 10AM as start times) and the topmost row indicates the practice rooms.

Despite a very high number of students here in comparison to the available number of practice organs (both in the organ performance and Kirchenmusik [sacred music] programs), the practice situation is not nearly as dire as could be imagined. Since the music school is basically accessible 24 hours a day (!), staying late or arriving early is a viable option if a student needs more than their 2 reserved hours of practice – if they’re willing to wake early or stay up late… This is also an excellent option for one who is jetlagged: I sometimes will stay and practice until the last few U-Bahn (aboveground tram/local public transportation) trains leave town, which is around 12:30AM. Staying later than this would be an option, but the trains don’t restart until around 4AM, when I preferably like to already have been asleep for an hour or two!

Additionally, if a student does not arrive for their practice time during the booked practice time hours, a room is fair game either for the student before to practice longer or for a wandering student to take the extra practice time. I could easily see this becoming a comical game of “claim the practice room” as students roam the hallways to see if practice rooms have become abandoned!

If a student is 15 minutes late to their practice time, then the room is free to whoever arrives first, or the previous student can stay for the rest of the hour. I’ve had several instances of reserving one room after another and preferring the first room (and hoping to stay there for two hours). When the next student has shown up 13 or 14 minutes after the hour, I’ve gotten in my daily run by sprinting to my next reserved room to make sure I’m there before the clock strikes 15 past! This is probably the best possible way to make sure the next 45 minutes of practice is very efficient: having gotten up and moved around, there is far more attention and energy for the remainder of one’s practice time.

If one prefers daytime practice sessions, the most challenging aspect of this system comes into play: these practice rooms are also the teaching instruments for lessons. Teachers and classes have priority, so, when a student arrives for their lesson saying that they want to play Bach today, anybody who has reserved practice time on the Bach-Orgel at that time has to move their practice time elsewhere or forfeit that time. All the warning the practicing student has is a teacher walking in and saying “Wir haben einen Unterricht” (“We have a lesson”). This is why, on the above room reservation sheet, you see open slots in the three leftmost columns (the most common teaching instruments) on weekdays from 9AM – 5PM. Most students don’t reserve times that they will most likely lose! Even more “fun” are the teachers who teach on Saturday and Sundays without warning… here, they keep us on our toes for practice time!

Fortunately, organ students may also reserve pianos for practice, an essential part of practicing, especially for French music.


Performance/practice facilities on campus and in town:
– Rieger organ IV/P/81 in Konzertsaal in the music school
– an English organ II/P/13 in Kirche St. Katharina

Very few churches in the city of Stuttgart are directly connected to the Musikhochschule, but I’ve discovered that meeting the organs in town is quite simply done by contacting the organists of said churches. They are often thrilled to have somebody visit and get to know the organ, and sometimes will offer assistance in finding additional practice spaces — or suggest other extraordinary historic organs in the area(, the region, or the country) to visit! Living in the heart of Europe has distinct advantages: Strasbourg is a mere 1.5 hours by train, Paris only 3, London, Zurich, and Copenhagen are each an hour flight away, and there’s a direct train to Hamburg every few hours (although it does take 5 hours to get there). I have moments of sitting back in shock upon realizing how amazing it is to be here – and how grateful I am to be able to be here.

Sharing the 1997 Ahrend organ with visiting                      organists and organ-lovers!              Photo credit: Dee and Andrew Prior




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s