From the street to the stage | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 25.01.2012
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From the street to the stage

A group of Berlin's former homeless people and drug addicts are set to sing in the German capital's most prestigious concert hall. DW spoke with the founder of the unique ensemble.

Stefan Schmidt conducts the Berlin Street Choir

Now, everyone in the choir has an apartment

Otherwise a venue for concerts with some of the world’s most renowned musicians, this week Berlin Philharmonic's Chamber Music Hall is on Wednesday to host a concert with Berlin's Strassenchor, or street choir. They are set to perform Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" to a sold out audience.

The choir was established in 2009 by concert pianist Stefan Schmidt and has since performed all over the country and appeared frequently on national television.

Deutsche Welle: Why did a successful concert pianist decided to establish a choir with people from Berlin's streets?

Fifteen years ago I had some serious heart problems and I couldn’t play for some years. During this time I thought a lot about my life and changed a lot. Then I moved to Berlin and saw all these people on the streets, doing nothing, and thought I could create a choir with these people.

What sort of a background do some of the choir members have?

Well, we have everything - some people are crack and alcohol addicts. Some have serious psychological problems; some people had only ever lived on the street. But now everyone in the choir has an apartment. There are also some members who have normal jobs but are in the group because they want to sing in this choir.

Were you surprised by the high standard of musical talent you found in the choir?

Yes, really surprised! We have two or three exceptionally talented people and I hope I can help them to get training in that direction.

Stefan Schmidt

After suffering from health problems, Schmidt decided to invest his time differently

How has being a member of the choir changed the lives of some of these people?

Initially, a lot of them started to find apartments, and now they are starting to work again. Many of them are studying or training for new professions. We have lots of young people in the choir who are just starting their lives; lots are trying to start their lives over.

What have been some of the major challenges you have been personally faced with people in the choir?

I think the biggest problem were the drugs and the alcohol - we didn’t allow anyone to take either before rehearsals, and I think this helped many people to stop altogether and start loving the choir and the choir's community. Initially, they stopped for two hours, but most of them have stopped forever.

How difficult has it been to establish discipline in the group?

In the beginning, people were not use to this at all - but now there is a group network and they help each other. If someone is not concentrating, the group reacts. Sometimes (laughs) it is just really difficult to get the group to be quiet.

How is the project financed?

It is difficult; we don’t have any sort of foundation. We do have some donors and some concerts we are paid for. This helps us to survive from one month to the next.

How important do you think it is for people to be confronted with art and music that is not familiar to them? Can this really help them?

Music can change a lot. In a group they learn to get in contact with other people. On the street they are all alone and have to fight for their own lives. In the group they experience this new emotion of belonging to a group of people - I think most of them never had this. It makes them very open and alert to their emotions. Sometimes they might suddenly cry because of this feeling. I think it is incredible what happens with music. It brings and keeps people together.

Interview: Breandáin O'Shea

Editor: Kate Bowen

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