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Interview: Musical pro bono work crosses borders

We spoke with Judith Hopfhauer of “Musicians without borders” [Musiker ohne Grenzen] about voluntary commitment and the cultural support programme of GVL.

“Musicians without borders” is a global network of creative music projects which intends to enable people to access music, in particular to learn how to play an instrument, irrespective of their backgrounds, and to thus use the power of music for social change.

Judith Hopfhauer is studying music education at the University for Music and Theatre in Leipzig. The soprano is active as a soloist and in choral projects. She also plays violoncello. At Musicians without borders, she is part of the Managing Committee.

GVL: The name “Musicians without borders” creates connotations with doctors or journalists without borders. How did you get the idea to create such an initiative for musicians?

Hopfhauer: Even if the organisations you mentioned pursue different objectives, the overall desire is the same, namely to overcome barriers and cross borders and to support the community. We strongly believe that music is a rather wonderful means for crossing borders.

You were awarded the VIA special prize this year for outstanding merits contributed to the independent music business. By the way, we were very pleased when you mentioned your thanks to GVL during the award ceremony in Hamburg. So what was your reaction to this award?  

We are extremely pleased that our comparatively small association managed to be seen among all the projects that are out there. We consider receiving the VIA special prize as a huge opportunity to reach even more people and enthuse them for our voluntary work. We would therefore really like to thank the VUT for the award.

On the history of the association

It all started in 2005 with a German student finishing her A-levels who decided spontaneously during a year abroad in Ecuador, to offer music education in an inner city area. Three years later, some Hamburg music students founded the “Musicians without borders” association in order to better support the music school which had in the meantime grown from the original initiative.  Bit by bit, new musical projects popped up at places such as the Galapagos Islands, Jamaica, Ghana and now also in Bremen. In the meantime, individual projects are organised in specific associations under the umbrella of the mothership “Musicians without borders”.

Musicians without borders received financial support this year from GVL. Were you able to do something special with the money and how did you perceive the support by GVL so far?

We feel encouraged in our projects by the financial support given by GVL. We were able to plan our association activities more reliably and support projects in a better way. We held regular preparatory seminars, for example, so that our “borderless musicians” have a good start and are well prepared for the project work. That is very time intensive and confronts us - as an association of volunteers - with staff and money related challenges. Thanks to the support [from GVL], we were able to hold three successful seminars and that despite additional challenges which arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The objective to overcome barriers or cross borders in order to meet other people is part of the name of Musicians without borders.  How has the international crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your work?

The effects of the pandemic were, in fact, rather drastic for our networking efforts. In all of our projects we had to, at least temporarily, put our musical work on ice because the school premises were closed or simply because due to the “no personal contact” policies, it was not possible to play music together. Above and beyond that, and because of the risks involved, we did not want to place any musicians from Germany in the project countries.

Since we had already gathered many years of experience in terms of working online, we were lucky to be able to move some of our work into digital space. Several member associations were thus able to offer various online educational formats and stayed in contact with the pupils. We are, however, aware of the limitations of digital space. We are therefore very happy that we were able to return to playing music in person and to a lively social life.

If GVL rights holders wish to join your initiative, what are the opportunities here for collaboration and whom would they contact? 

The usual way to get involved at Musicians without borders is to work in one of our projects abroad. It is also possible to contribute in Germany, e.g. as part of our latest project in Bremen. Otherwise, it is also possible to be a member of the association and any kind of advocacy or publicity for Musicians without borders or the vision behind it is very welcome. We are happy about any kind of support!

  • If you are interested to become involved, just visit the website
  • If you have specific queries, just send an e-mail to​​​​​​​


  1. Photo: Julian Bendixen, Torre Wührmann and Frederik Köller accepted the VIA special award for their association in Hamburg. (Photo: Stefan Wieland)
  2. Photo: Recorder classes in La Entrada, Olon Ecuador
  3. Photo: Piano classes in La Entrada, Olon Ecuador
  4. Photo: Music Camp in Korle Gonno, August 2022, Accra, Ghana
  5. Photo: Preparatory seminar, summer 2022