Tricky Moments address issues of boundary violating remarks and acts during situations of teaching and learning. Reading through them can therefore have a (re-)traumatizing effect on people who have encountered violence and discrimination before (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.). The following Tricky Moment depicts a fictional situation inspired by actual experiences.

Haydn was anything but gay!

This is about:

Border crossing

Describing the situation

Individual artistic tuition: teacher, student and répétiteur are in a classroom. The past couple of weeks, the student has dedicated himself to a Haydn concertino together with the répétiteur as part of his literary studies. He has thoroughly prepared himself for the individual artistic class and his recital. At the end of the third movement, the teacher asks the student to repeat a certain passage in a livelier and more coquettish manner. The student attempts to meet this request. Laughingly the teacher assesses the student’s interpretation as follows: “Haydn was anything but gay!”

What happened here?

Viewing/regarding the situation from different perspectives

With their comments the teacher ridicules the student’s attempt at interpreting the notions of “livelier” and “more coquettish” in his musical performance. At the same time, he exhibits a substantially homophobic attitude paired with a heteronormative conviction. The term “gay” is stereotyped and used derogatorily and can be read/understood both as a personal attribution and/or in relation to the performance. Here, for example, gestures that may be interpreted as “exaggeratedly feminine” or “deviating from the norm” can play a role.

In order to perform the piece he worked on, the student has thoroughly prepared himself for the individual artistic class and hopes for constructive feedback of the teacher. He answers the request of playing livelier and more coquettish by trying to find an original interpretation. By following the teacher’s suggestion and because he experiments with different expressions, the student’s position becomes exposed and vulnerable. Due to these dynamics, rehearsal- and/or teaching situations require a certain element of trust – rehearsing means giving it a try.

At the teacher’s reaction the student feels confusion and insecurity. What could have been wrong with his interpretation? What connotations does the term “gay” have here?

Version I
The student considers the laughing remark a joke. He feels humiliated in his interpretation attempt and in his self-expression. He does not know how to react.

Version II
The student interprets the comment as a personal attack. He feels hurt and insecure and does not know how to react.

Version III
The student understands the remark as humorous. He laughs but does not know how to change his interpretation in order to improve.

Teachers embody a pivotal position in relation to the artistic development of students and their entire course of studies, especially in the main artistic subject. Teachers’ opinions often have far-reaching consequences concerning students’ study progression and professional career.

The remark reveals the teacher’s difficulties in relation to providing comprehensible and adequate feedback on the student’s musical qualities (tempo, phrasing, technique, etc.) or his bodily expression.

Répétiteurs are tasked with rehearsing the pieces together with the students and to accompany them at the recital. They play an important role in the main artistic subject. Usually, répétiteurs are selected by the teacher which often leads to long-standing cooperation between them. In the hierarchical system of universities, the position of class répétiteurs is subordinate to teachers despite their professional and artistic qualifications. Siding with the student or speaking up could have stark professional consequences for the répétiteur.

The répétiteurs neutrality in the situation described can be perceived differently:

Version I
Secretly, the student feels encouraged by the fact that the répétiteur does not interpret the remark as a joke.

Version II
The professor feels encouraged by the répétiteur because they do not side openly with the student.

Teaching and learning setting

Individual artistic tuition

“The main artistic subject forms the core of studies, (…) [in which] consistent development of technical skills, musical comprehension and independent interpretation are pursued.” (mdwOnline)

One-to-One settings represent a special form of teaching with great potential for focusing on a student’s individual artistic performance/development. At the same time, teacher and student find themselves in positions of asymmetric power relations. It is for this reason that these settings can enable boundary violating actions which remain invisible: for students, one-to-one classes can turn into very unsafe and inhibiting spaces.

Exercises in which participants are expected to imitate animals, crawl on the floor, experiment with expressions… of emotion are not in themselves demeaning. If the relationship between teacher and student is characterized by respect, imitation exercises can be perfectly fine, as long as their objective and purpose are adequately communicated and there is room for preparation. Depending on many variables, teaching situations in one-to-one settings can vary considerably as can the space they provide for initiative/experiments.

Communication characterized by respect and transparency and the possibility of saying no/stop are therefore crucial in these settings.

Which terms, concepts and images are relevant here?

The following definitions are taken from Carmen Mörsch’s glossary Diskriminierungskritische Perspektiven an der Schnittstelle Bildung/Kunst [“Engaging discrimination at the interface of education and art – critical perspectives”]

Heteronormativity »Heteronormativity denotes a worldview and a societal value system which accepts and regards as normal only two genders (male and female) and heterosexual relations between them (one man and one woman). Members of a heteronormative society are subject to societal expectations in connection with how they are supposed to relate to one another as man and woman. Humans are born either male or female (and educated accordingly) and exclusively form sexual connections with the opposing sex. Any human who does not fit into this binary system because they identify as non-binary, transgender or intersexual, for example, or because they do not live heterosexual relationships are perceived and depicted as “different” and “deviating from the norm” (Othering)…. visit for further information [webpage available in German only]
Homofeindlichkeit (anti-homosexuality) »Hostility against homo- and bisexual humans denotes aggression and animosity towards homo- and bisexual humans or humans that are perceived as such. This attitude is often referred to as homophobia. However, phobias are in fact understood as fears within the context of mental impairment – and not in any way connected to discriminating behavior [webpage available in German only]

Becoming active, doing what and how?

How can my actions actively contribute to successful situations of teaching and learning?

Have you experienced a similar situation? ?

You are not alone. Here you can forward your experiences with discrimination directly to the Working Group on Equal Opportunities (AKG) or ask for possible courses of action. Your information will be treated confidentially.

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