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The Best of Both Worlds: Moores School of Music Sends Coogs Abroad to Music Capitol

A new exchange program allows UH students to study at prestigious conservatory in Leipzig, Germany.

The German city of Leipzig — a magnet for musicians from around the world and Houston’s official “sister city”— has played a pivotal role in the history of classical music. On par with music capitols like Vienna and Paris, countless musicians and composers have called the small city home over the years, including Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Now, as part of a unique partnership between the Moores School of Music (MSM) and Mendelssohn’s famous Hochschule für Musik und Theater, University of Houston (UH) music students are able to study in the musical epicenter.

MSM and the Hochschule officially launched the student exchange program in the fall of 2016, but the idea developed over many years as UH hosted recitals by Hochschule students and faculty. The new study abroad exchange program expands opportunities for both UH and Hochschule students, providing them with a chance to gain hands-on experience studying and performing in a different country.

“Study abroad changes your perspective. It makes you a citizen of the world,” says Associate Professor of Musicology Jeffrey Sposato, who heads the exchange program. “I wouldn’t be a musicologist if it weren’t for the year I spent in Germany as a college student. It was where I fell in love with the field.”

Michelle Girardot (B.M. Voice Performance 18) was the first MSM student to take the plunge, heading to Germany in the spring of 2017 for a semester of voice-intensive study.

In addition to the student exchange program, which provides one to two select students from each school with an in-depth training at the other school, the partnership includes masterclasses held by each school’s faculty members and student recitals. This October, Hochschule voice professor Brigitte Wohlfarth led masterclasses at UH and two of her students presented a special “Moores to Mendelssohn” performance in Dudley Recital Hall.

The pilot year was only open to vocal majors — it was identified as a good starting point because the Hochschule is internationally recognized for its voice program but only produces one opera production an academic year, while MSM produces four — but Sposato looks forward to expanding the program’s scope. “We began with voice because we saw that each school had something special to offer the other, but we want more students to have the chance to do this,” he says. “The students are the heart of the exchange. We want to provide them with a new perspective, new techniques and a new outlook that will give them a head start in the world of music.” To that end, this year the program has expanded to include instrumentalists, the first of whom will be attending the Hochschule this spring.