Everyone knows the saying "Music is the universal language of mankind" and this principle also underlies the work of the world's leading organizer of international choral competitions and festivals: INTERKULTUR. In this interview, we talked to founder and president Günter Titsch about his vision for the choral world, the background history of the worldwide organization INTERKULTUR and its global network between choirs, culture, cities and politics.
How does one come to establish an organization for choir competitions? What inspired you?
I have been active in choirs as a singer and chairman since my childhood and experienced early on how people and nations could be brought together through music. The power of music as a transcending link between nations is still the guiding principle of INTERKULTUR today: bringing nations together through song.
At the end of the 1980s, this vision began to become reality with the first choral trips from Germany to Hungary, behind the "Iron Curtain". At the first international choir competition we organized in 1988 in Budapest, the foundation was laid for today's global organization, and this set me on the path that would lead to the World Choir Games, also known as the Olympic Games of choral singing.
Were you able to imagine the success you would have with your vision and how influential your organization would become in a very short time?
I was aware of the power of music. The unifying element of enthusiasm for choral singing makes prejudices disappear, enables friendships across borders and creates a lively and peaceful togetherness beyond music without looking at nationalities, ideologies and religions.
In recent years, INTERKULTUR and the World Choir Games have created a great added value for their partner cities and organizations and have also gained a great economic importance. In general, the World Choir Games and all INTERKULTUR events have expanded tremendously over the past 30 years in terms of the audiences and markets they reach.
Looking back on the past decades, it fills me with pride how much our staff and partners have done and continue to do for choral music worldwide.
Your international team organizes events and competitions around the world all year round - what makes INTERKULTUR events so special compared to other choir competitions?
Probably the people and variety of our events. With our large international team, we are committed to reaching singers of all levels and ambitions.
One of our mottos is "participation is the highest honour" and this is also lived by many choirs. The competitions are open to all amateur choirs in the world. For singers, participating in an INTERKULTUR event can be a life-changing experience: Where else do you have the chance to meet people from all corners of the world, hear their music and experience their traditions in such a short time? Meeting people from other cultures and backgrounds changes your own view of the world and broadens your horizons.
And what about your partners, the host cities – what makes your events special to them?
The cities are the focus of the events and are a great additional incentive for the choirs to make the sometimes very long journeys. During the event, the city is filled with singing, music, international meetings, spontaneous street concerts and this unites not only the participating choirs, but above all the local population, retailers and restaurateurs.
At our major events, up to 30,000 participants from more than 70 nations come together, as well as an additional 300,000 visitors, making the cities vibrate with music and life. So, of course, the hosts also benefit economically. It is no coincidence that after hosting the World Choir Games, cities like Graz and Riga even decided to bring other major international events to their cities in subsequent years
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on culture and the performing arts. How are you, the choral world and your partners dealing with it? And what are your plans for "after the crisis"?
The restrictions and effects, both currently and in the long term, are really serious, especially also for the choirs of this world. Of course, since the beginning of the pandemic, we too have experienced some difficult moments and numerous setbacks due to the circumstances. But we are a strong organization, sustained by our incredibly dedicated staff and everyone's passion and commitment to our vision. The positive news for us is that in consultation with our local partners on the ground, we were only able to postpone all of our events to a later date and not cancel them completely. This shows impressively that we are all just waiting for the end of this pandemic, in order to then return to normal everyday life full of strength and zest for action - full of joie de vivre, music, singing and international encounters!
The exchange with our current partners and future host cities was and is very intensive. Even though the challenges for politics, business, culture and every individual were and are enormous, for many politicians the time has come to look ahead and adopt plans for the development and future of their city and region, now that the crisis is slowly being overcome. We know that in many places the question of how to promote new perspectives and a secure future is now increasingly on the table – and this is where we support our partners and the global choral scene.
This interview was conducted by Franziska Hellwig, Coordinator for Communication & Development, President‘s Office, INTERKULTUR