Julian Li is currently pursuing his masters at the University for Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria on double bass. The Band Post explores the differences between studying music in Singapore and abroad in the Musicians Abroad series.
‘To be able to understand music better is to study it in the land of music’.
This is what I have always tell myself and believe in. Ever since my peers started to leave this sunny island to pursue music abroad, I tell myself that one day I will be doing the same and share my knowledge upon return.
After I completed my Bachelor Degree from the University of Wales in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), I was strongly persuaded by my double bass teacher, Jacek Mirucki, to further my music studies in Vienna, where he had been on his musical journey with one of the legendary double bassist Ludwig Streicher. He believed that my learning journey will be very fruitful and will allow me to be better than how I was before.
When I first arrived in Vienna, I truly understood the meaning of ‘culture shock‘.
Graz is a smaller city than Singapore, but much more spacious as compared to our country. Their official language is German and they preserve their historical buildings as part of heritage conservation. Unlike Singapore, there isn’t much to do as they do not have that many shopping malls but beautiful landscapes.
Nonetheless, I enjoy the environment as I can focus a lot in my practicing without distractions while gaining inspirations by taking a stroll in the park and even going to their Cathedrals whenever I have to play pieces from Classical period.
The Viennese music scene is very active, with many orchestras around the city having ongoing concerts daily. In the central city of Vienna, Stephanplatz, tickets are being sold to tourists for these concerts. Orchestras formed in Vienna are named after Austrian composers such as Richard Strauss Chamber Orchestra and Schubert Chamber Orchestra. My current professor is the principal bassist of Vienna Symphony Orchestra and I have the privilege to attend their rehearsals before the actual concert.
The school culture between my current and previous is hugely different. The students here are free to choose their modules and can complete them at any time. For example, a student can choose to do only the practical units for one semester and academic units for another semester. We are given the freedom and luxury to complete the modules in our time but sometimes one may procrastinate to complete their modules and extend their graduation date.
In my double bass classes, we have to perform almost every month to boost our confidence and to build our repertoire. The locals in Graz are very spontaneous when it comes to concerts performed by the University and external groups. There is a regular audience attending our Klassenabend (Class performance) where they strongly appreciate the performances put up by us.
Adapting to Foreign Life
Living in a foreign country was initially difficult for me; adapting to the culture and also their system. Learning the German language was even more difficult (I am still learning right now) but fortunately for me, it is easier to pick it up as I am proficient in the English language. However, for my friends from Taiwan, China, Japan and Korea, it is a true struggle for them.
In Graz, the requirements to take the German language efficiency course for Masters is B2 level (similar to ‘O’ level English grade) and a B1 for Bachelor students, where we need to complete in 1 year. Students need to pass the German language examination as it is a requirement for getting and extending our student VISA.
Although the language used in Austria and Germany is German, they differ a lot from each other. Austrians have a very strong use of their dialects whereas the Germans use Hochdeutsch (Higher German/Standard German). Hence, I found it very difficult to learn the German language in the beginning until I found a private tutor.
Life So Far
Similar to Singapore, Graz welcome many foreign students from around the world.
I have made friends from Spain, France, Japan, Taiwan, Slovenia, Russia, Hungary and all around the Europe, and at the same time I have also learned their cultures.
The meals in Austria are more expensive than Singapore as they do not have coffee shops but fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and Kebab stores. I cook in my apartment daily and as time goes by, I learned the recipes of our local delicacies such as Nasi Lemak, Hainanese Chicken Rice and Curry Chicken/Fish.
In my three years here, I participated in many orchestral projects at the University and also in external groups.
I had the honour to freelance with Vienna Concert Verein, Tonkuenstler Orchester, Innvertiel Symphony Orchestra, Upper Austria Youth Orchestra, Graz Recreational Orchestra and also Graz Chamber Orchestra, through my professor’s recommendations.
I will be completing my Masters at the end of this Semester (end of June) and will be returning to Singapore after completion. I am happy that, till now, I have achieved all 1s throughout my studies and hope to get them again for this semester. I also hope to share my experiences with my future students and to hold recitals for every local in Singapore.
A contributing editor at TBP.