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Benjamin Holzapfel: “Making music is a basic need”

He breathes music, he plays music, he lives for music: Benjamin Holzapfel holds a degree in systematic musicology, is a music pedagogue, plays the double bass, violin, viola, guitar, piano and heads the Elbphilharmonie’s ‘World of Instruments’. His mission: helping you find your access to the world of music so that you may express yourself beyond words.




You use it to define who you are and how you want other people to see you. You can recall your most personal memories with its help. It may help you fall in love as dating services match you with others based on your preferences. If you suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer’s or autism, it can provide comfort. It surrounds you every day. Have you ever realised the fundamental role that music plays in our daily lives? And more importantly: can we understand human nature better if we look at our musical behaviour? We travelled all the way to Hamburg to ask Benjamin Holzapfel about his opinion.

Get a glimpse of the Elbphilharmonie’s ’World of Instruments’

We have heard that you are an enthusiastic double bass player?
Yes, this is absolutely true. When I was younger I started off with the violin, followed by the viola. With time my hands grew larger and larger, so I ended up with the double bass. I play other instruments too, but this is clearly my favourite. When you hold the sound box in your arms, it is simply a wonderful feeling.

And when you aren’t busy playing the double bass you manage the Elbphilharmonie’s ‘World of Instruments’. Can you please explain this special department?
What is even better than listening to music? Making your own! The Elbphilharmonie’s music education programme offers age-appropriate concerts, creative workshops and musical encounters that allow our visitors to participate actively. We address children, teenagers, adults as well as seniors.

I often observe that especially children have great respect for musical instruments. They worry about breaking something or not having the required expertise to play it. Interestingly enough they do not feel the same way about technical equipment and simply play around with smartphones and tablets. When you place a violin in their hands, it is a completely different story. This is why we are here: we want to free them from these inhibitions.

What is the contribution you make?
Diving into the world of music has changed my entire life. This is the reason why I want to trigger this passion for music in our visitors, too. We will surely not succeed with each and every participant, but if it happens in a few cases, then this is already a very important contribution to an individual’s life. It is satisfying to be passionate about a topic and pass it on.

The digitalisation of our entire lives is progressing. We are interested in the opposite: the human touch. How do you interpret this expression?
In music I would primarily associate ‘the human touch’ with a personal style. Musicians have the opportunity to express themselves in a specific manner while playing an instrument or by composing music.

Adding new facets to a composition and thereby making it ‘mine’ is another important aspect. Just think of the last time you visited a bar. When the DJ includes a small reference, then he or she immediately has a much stronger connection with the visitors. When I add a small quote to a jazz solo in one of our concerts, I use a kind of code that creates a shared basis.

Do non-musical humans exist?
Everybody has some kind of relationship with music - even people who claim that they’re non-musical, which I don’t think exist. There are different manifestations and preferences for dedicating time to music and learning an instrument, but non-musical humans do not exist. Everybody has some gateway to the world of music and it is my goal to make you find it.

What is truly human and can never be replaced by a machine?
What will never be replaceable is the personal touch: the ability to define imperfections as quality features. Stated differently: mistakes as quality features. Thelonious Monk, for example, could be criticised for making numerous technical mistakes. However, he had such a strong character that his technical imperfections have become a distinctive style and ultimately, a quality feature. Replacing this unique set of features by a machine will be very difficult. I believe that fifty years from now we will not remember the virtuoso musicians, but those who are capable of adding their own personal touch to a piece of music.

How about the composition of music?
Making music is a basic need; it is inside everyone. My own children are constantly singing and making music, and I see the same behaviour in other children. This is something that keeps a society together. We have a joint trove of music pieces, music establishes identity, and it is simply very important to express oneself in some form or the other beyond language. I can play together with musicians with whom I am unable to have a conversation. I notice immediately that there is a connection, because we’re on the same musical wavelength. Music will always be created, regardless of the result.