Vienna: The Language of Lieder

Westminster graduate student Kaitlin Barnard reflects on her experience studying German and lieder in Vienna.
Natasha Fuller
Kaitlin Barnard at the the Schubert Geburtshaus, birthplace of Franz Schubert

Kaitlin Barnard at the the Schubert Geburtshaus, birthplace of Franz Schubert

Set in the heart of Europe, Westminster’s Vienna: The Language of Lieder program is a three-week long study of German language and lieder, German art songs from the Romantic Period. Program participants travel to Vienna, Austria; the home of such famous classical artists as Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart; to live together, sing together and grow together.

Second-year Westminster graduate student Kaitlin Barnard participated in the program before enrolling at the Choir College.

“I remember the very first day I was there I took the train into the center of the city and came above ground and I remember taking a million pictures because I just couldn’t believe it was so beautiful,” says Barnard.

Before Barnard participated in the Vienna program, she has taken five years off from vocal performing. She felt nervous jumping back into the world of music, but she says the structure of the program made her feel comfortable and welcome.

“I don’t think that anyone comes in at the same level. We’re all at different points in our development, which is really great because you really feel that this opportunity is about your own personal growth instead of feeling like it’s competitive,” says Barnard.

The Vienna: The Language of Lieder program is not only open to undergraduate and graduate students, but welcomes professional singers and teachers as well. Participants take German classes to master the language and master classes to learn the art of German lieder. There is also one-on-one coaching, diction class, and the opportunity to take private voice lessons, although they are not required. Each participant presents his or her enhanced knowledge of the language and lieder in a final recital at the Schubert Geburtshaus- the birthplace of Fran Schubert.

“Regardless of your long term vocal goals, this program helps to foster and enhance whatever your path is. It’s mostly focused on German lieder, but I think that the bigger focus is on expanding your own boundaries and flushing out your own path and your own plans. I don’t think there was any part of it I didn’t enjoy. There were parts that were challenging and parts that felt nerve racking, but they’re all things that you end up overcoming, which is part of what makes it such a growing experience,” says Barnard.

While the program does push the students to reach their full potential, it also provides opportunities to explore the beautiful city of Vienna. Barnard says, “The professors and coaches who run the program try really hard to bring people to performances, to go see the Vienna Symphony, to make sure you are exposed to the entire city and understand the history. The program is really intensive, but it’s also flexible, and that’s a hard combination to master.”

Looking back on the program, Barnard remembers and appreciates the in-depth knowledge she gained of the German language and the permission she was given to make mistakes and find her voice.

“The people were really encouraging and kept giving me permission to sing loudly and be this bold-voiced opera singer and just let it out. I think sometimes when you’re at home with the same routine you can’t access that as easily. Going somewhere and having a new environment and people and feeling like everything is new and mysterious opens you up creatively.”

In Vienna, Barnard found her voice. She came home and enrolled in graduate school at Westminster Choir College as a Voice Performance and Pedagogy major on the Performance track.

Barnard says, “I’ve done other summer programs, but this one has been my favorite. Vienna is what got me back into the world of music.”