“Music for All”: More cultural participation for people with disabilities

Jessica Köbele during her weekly music lesson with a resident of the institution “Lebensplätze für Frauen”. This facility in Munich offers formerly homeless women a permanent home of their own. Not only financial but also physical hurdles make it difficult for them to participate in cultural activities
© Fuchs

The importance of cultural participation for the individual well-being is currently felt by everyone particularly strongly due to the restrictions of the pandemic: Museums, theaters and cinemas are closed; no concerts are taking place. But even without corona, there are people who generally have difficulty accessing cultural offers – be it due to psychological, physical or social impairments. This is why Jessika Köbele has started her “Music for All” project in Munich that particularly aims at formerly homeless women and residents of an inclusive shared apartment. The 29-year-old is studying in the Master’s degree program in “Community Music/Inclusive Music Education” at the KU. This KU study program, which is unique in Europe, combines inclusion as a human right with the professionalization of music teachers.

Köbele has many years of experience as a social worker and also worked in the field of homeless assistance. In her work, she came into contact with the Munich project “Lebensplätze für Frauen” (“Living Places for Women”) of the protestant aid organization Evangelisches Hilfswerk. This project provides elderly women who have been homeless for many years with an unlimited rental contract instead of temporary accommodation in emergency shelters. They often have previously untreated mental illnesses and addiction problems. The goal is to provide a place for the women to find peace after long years of homelessness. “During my night shifts at the facility, I got to talk with the women and told them that I make music myself. For these women, it is very difficult, socially and financially, to go to a museum or attend a concert. That’s what gave me the idea of bringing culture to their home in the form of making music together”, says Jessika Köbele. Now, she makes music with some residents of the “Lebensplätze” once a week – initially in a small group, and then, due to corona, in individual sessions. For her, it is very important to make the offer as low-threshold as possible and to respond to the individual wishes of the women: “One woman comes from Greece and simply enjoys singing music from her home country; another participant has particular fun with rhythmic exercises.” For many, this regular music hour is a highlight of their week because they tend to live in isolation and often no longer have any contact with their families. “This project gives our residents the opportunity to participate without having to contribute financial resources, which they unfortunately do not have for spending them for cultural offers. In addition to the question of financial resources, we must also not forget that often, residents are not sufficiently mobile to participate in the offers in the wider city area. Some of them can’t find their way around on their own or have difficulty walking”, explains Maria-Elisa Napolitano, a social education worker at the Evangelisches Hilfswerk München. The project helps residents to identify their strengths, weaknesses, inhibitions and special characteristics. At the same time, it encourages them to overcome their inhibitions and to be open for other offers: “When the residents find the courage to try something new, it creates self-confidence and their self-esteem improves”, says Napolitano.

In addition to the “Lebensplätze” institution, Jessika Köbele also cooperates with the Munich-based association “Gemeinsam Leben Lernen” in the context of her project. Among other things, this association offers ten shared apartments in which people with and without disabilities live together. The residents without disabilities – mostly students or trainees – accompany their roommates with disabilities through their daily lives and can live in the apartment without having to pay rent in return. Everyone has a single room in these shared apartments, but they cook and eat together. Since the shared apartment is considered as one household, Köbele can also visit the shared apartments as an additional person during corona times. She also fulfills special wishes here – for example, the group has a particular fondness for Schlager music and folk songs. Jakob Förster manages the shared flat at "Am Hart" and reports: “Especially in times of corona, we could see very positive effects of the project on our residents. On the one hand, it was a welcome distraction from the rather dreary daily routine. On the other hand, the residents’ interest in making music independently was also awakened outside of the project. For example, there were more inquiries about the next music lesson, and residents brought instruments from their parents to the residential community without being asked.”

For Jessika Köbele, making music together not only has an effect on the clients, but also offers herself new ways of exchange: “You can communicate nonverbally and thus read even more from facial expressions and gestures than in a classic conversation.” She says she was always looking for a focus in social work and initially completed continuing education in elementary music education while working. Now, she is building on this with her Master’s degree program in Community Music.

For more detailed information on the degree program, please visit www.musikpädagogik.info.