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Taking a Trip to Austria? Using the Language of Music to Make a Difference

In this article we take a virtual trip to the American 첥 School of Vienna (AIS Vienna). Servus (Hello in Viennese)! When I think of my connection to first hearing about Vienna, the capital of Austria near the center of Europe, it is interwoven in many historic rhetorics of generations of individuals who have embraced its history. I can’t help but to think of the Christmas traditions in my home of us watching , one of my all time favourite musicals that my grandmother used to play for us as children and now I play during the season because it holds such an important part in my life. The historical presence of World War II, though it was before my generation, holds value that we can learn from the movie and name of the country and its history is intertwined in the plot that is very tragic, however it takes us back to a time period we can learn from and know we need to speak up and be united to hold peace in our world today.

For writing this article, I connected with Ms. Kathy Heedles, the secondary choral music teacher at AIS Vienna. When speaking about her interest and roots in music education, Ms. Heedles shared,

Sometimes the choirs were more advanced than others but quickly I learned that by putting together people of differing backgrounds and musical levels, they would grow together in rehearsals and were very proud and satisfied of what had grown from the experience, personally and musically. In Vienna a musician can experience music the way it was performed for the past 300 years. You can walk the same steps in Mozart’s apartment that he walked. You can take walks in the woods on paths that Beethoven walked while hearing the music inside his head.” I couldn’t help but research the historic context of the city and the country as I thought about the significant role that music plays in the lives of children and students attending the school, leaving them lasting memories of their host country.

Reflection Question

“What is something that you are doing in your school to engage and connect with the community that you work in?” 

As Ms. Heedles shared her response to start off this article on a cold winter day hibernating at home in Canada, I could hear Beethoven and Mozart playing my favourite melodies as I started to write this article about the importance of giving opportunities for students to connect through programming at school to the school communities. I have family members who are very musically inclined and love listening to them perform. Personally, I am more of a singer – I sing while I cook, in the bathtub after a long day and love playing music at home and this article took me into the interest of the educator at AIS Vienna to ensure that I could connect their vision with mine.

Not Extracurricular, but it is Integrated Music Programming!

There is so much value to integrated arts programming based on research to educate the whole child to aspire to try new things and is based on the development of multiple intelligences. The is something that we can tap into in programming as educators based on Gardner’s Theory as we teach any subject matter in our classrooms.

  1. Naturalist
  2. Musical
  3. Bodily-kinesthetic
  4. Logical-Mathematical
  5. Interpersonal
  6. Intra-personal
  7. Linguistic
  8. Spatial


Music courses offered alongside STEAM courses at AIS Vienna are proof of the school’s commitment to the importance of the arts at the school. Music is not treated as a standalone extracurricular activity, but rather an activity which helps students stay engaged in schools and helps build their interest in pursuing higher studies. One of the more interesting and noteworthy opportunities for students in the honors choir at AIS Vienna is auditioning for AMIS: Association for Music in 첥 Schools, which is a festival choir that helps create a connection between the musical and international world community.

Questions to reflect on for Arts Curricular programing in Music in any school and how 첥 Schools can build partnerships within the community they serve is something I reflected on through this journey in writing.

Staying Connected With the Community We Serve in Education

Some of the guiding questions I wanted to learn more about as I wrote this article included:

  1. How does the school ensure that all practical student costs to attend the program are covered as a consideration?
  2. Are there subsidies available for students to attend programs to make it equitable or a level playing field so all who want to attend can attend it?
  3. How does the school reach and engage with the community members they serve when performing?
AISV expects to have 35 singers traveling to New York City to join 200 other singers in a performance at Carnegie Hall.
AISV expects to have 35 singers traveling to New York City to join 200 other singers in a performance at Carnegie Hall.

“I chose Handel’s Messiah because in November of 2022, we can sing the work in Carnegie Hall in NYC in collaboration with DCINY- Distinguished Concerts International New York,” Ms. Heedles shared. “They have experienced cancellations during the pandemic, like all artistic events, but they are up and running as of March 2022 and AISV expects to have 35 singers traveling to NYC in November to join 200 other singers in the performance.” The connections built between the two countries via music was pretty amazing especially in a time where we need to stay connected globally as educators and global citizens.

In addition to international opportunities and programs, music to inspire connections to the local Viennese community dives deep into many projects such as connections with an organization called VIMA (Vienna International Music Apprenticeship). In past collaborations, AIS Vienna choirs have joined an adult Austrian Choir that meets in a  local village: The Hagenthaler Choir, also conducted by Kathy Heedles for the past 22 years. As Beethoven, the famous and iconic composer, once said, “music can change the world.” The work of Ms. Heedles and the students at AIS Vienna are a true testament that music has no language barrier but rather an “enchanted” way to connect students globally, as educators and communities to come together for the greater good through music.

Equitable Access in the Community

A reflection question I leave you with to think about is access to programs such as performing arts programs and costing and as educators working in a country where you can make a significant impact on the communities we serve, reflect on ways that can you establish a positive relationship with the community we serve. Programming for equitable access to education, means all students being able to afford the cost of purchasing an instrument, travel costing for trips for performances: How can we continue the enlightening and inspiring work shared here as a starting point to ensure that more students from all backgrounds can access opportunities to participate and share in these beautiful musical experiences?

I would like to thank the following educational professionals for their time and contributions in making this article possible at AISV:

  • Mr. Nick DeForest, The Assistant Director of the Events Office AIS Vienna for opening up the school virtually.
  • Ms. Kathy Heedles, Middle and High School Choral Director at AIS Vienna



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Nilmini Ratwatte Henstridge
Teacher at heart, who lives in Ontario, Canada. As an elementary educator, I love developing dynamic curriculum lesson ideas for classrooms. My area of expertise would be integrating equity and social justice topics into lesson plans to inspire conversations and connect communities. I was born in Sri Lanka, and we immigrated to Canada, where I now call home with family and friends. I look forward to traveling in my spare time, getting to know different cultures, and exploring historical sites worldwide. Reading for fun is something I often do, and I love book clubs anytime. If I were to do something every day, it would be learning to cook new cultural dishes when I’m home entertaining. When I’m not in the classroom, I enjoy blogging: read the “Equity and Inclusion, Just Got Better” Blog Series with the Teach Better Team coming out in the Summer of 2021. Inspired by collaborating and teaming with other educators as I am a lifelong learner at heart.

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