Erasmus – and that during a pandemic?

mdw-student Lukas Hartmann about his semester abroad in Valencia

posted by Lukas Hartmann on September 16, 2021

Do you know the feeling? Maybe you’re right in the middle of preparing for an exam or in an intensive rehearsal phase. Your to-do list seems endless. You are completely immersed in the musical and technical world of the upcoming performance. But isn’t something different?

Is a certain tingling feeling missing? Something unforeseeable—perhaps a certain liveliness and vibrancy that is always a part of making music and performing?

If so, that makes two of us!

This is how I felt in mid-January, in the Viennese winter, whose grey skies reflected the monotony of daily life during the pandemic.

I decided to embark on an inner search for the root of this feeling. And when I got the news that I could go to Valencia for a semester with Erasmus, I didn’t hesitate.
I quickly packed my bags and set off to an unfamiliar country, in search of a feeling I couldn’t precisely describe.

And I want to tell you about this experience here, the experience of studying abroad with Erasmus during a pandemic

Conservatorio superior de music Joaquin Rodrigo (CSMV)

In Valencia, my everyday life didn’t change much at the beginning. Instead of my three Viennese roommates, I now had one Spanish roommate. My weekly piano lesson was now with Miguel, and I continued practising social distancing.

But what a sense of liveliness and vibrancy I felt!

A kilometre-long beach was waiting right outside my door, and even if my fluency in Spanish didn’t extend beyond uttering a polite greeting, I was bombarded with impressions and with the Spanish words of my interested teachers.

Playa Malvarosa

The language of instruction at the Conservatorio superior de music Joaquin Rodrigo (CSMV) is Spanish, although the regional language is Valencian. And unfortunately, one doesn’t get very far with English there.

Parliament in Valencia

But with Erasmus’s Online Linguistic Support and some basic knowledge of French and Italian, I found it easy to make friends and quickly learn some rudiments of the language. The conservatory in Valencia is smaller than the mdw, with all departments located in one building. This made it easy for me to find my way around, and if I needed help, there was usually a student available to assist me.

The teachers there as well as the mdw helped me find interesting classes that also fit with my course of study in Vienna, so that it was not a problem to change my classes and have the credits accepted at the mdw.

I enjoyed immersing myself in the Spanish piano literature, and I sensed how the encounters with the Valencian musicians stimulated me. The one thing I missed was the good pianos we have in Vienna, as neither the practice pianos nor the teaching pianos were in good condition.

Class recital

Perhaps you are also thinking of spending a semester abroad with Erasmus and wondering if it is difficult to make friends due to all the contact restrictions.

The contact with students at the conservatory was restricted. Only a few classes were held in groups, and even with those, the group size was reduced.

But Valencia is a city where life happens outdoors, and where there is plenty to do despite COVID-19 restrictions. I quickly found friends at a volleyball club, which played an important role in my stay there. But at the conservatory, as well, we Erasmus students were encouraged to play chamber music together, so a group of friends quickly formed that played a lot of music together.

The atmosphere at the CSMV seemed very relaxed to me. A few classes (such as body technique and choral conducting) were rather “school-like”, with weekly assignments, but the teachers allowed us Erasmus students a fairly large amount of freedom in designing our course of study. Particularly in individual instruction, such as in my improvisation lessons, I was able to contribute my own ideas.

In short, I was able to profit a great deal from my semester in Valencia. I learned a new language, met contemporary Spanish composers, and was able to immerse myself in the Valencian music community.

I also found answers to the questions that had led me to Valencia: The interesting encounters with the professors at the conservatory and making music with other Erasmus students gave me back the diversity and vibrancy in music that I was missing in Vienna in January.

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