A Person’s Career is Determined by Hard Work, Not Special Effects

2024-07-08, Valid until

“Nearly 15 years ago, when our students attempted to gain entry into the most prestigious music conservatories in Austria, Germany, and Italy, hoping to learn from Europe’s best music professors, they were often politely told that there were no more places available. Now, professors from those same schools come to our Academy to teach master classes to our top students. We are no longer on the periphery; quite the opposite, we are recognised and valued by European musicians,” says Professor Saulius Gerulis, Dean of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) Music Academy.

As the university celebrates the 35th anniversary of its re-establishment this year, Dean Prof. Gerulis believes that much has been achieved in the training of musicians: from joining VMU, creating its own study programmes, and preparing teachers to establishing an international presence and producing graduates who have conquered the stages of the world’s most renowned theatres with their talents.

The road to autonomy

As Prof. Gerulis explains, both when VMU (then known as the University of Lithuania – Ed.) was founded in 1922 and when it was re-established in 1989, there was no provision for music studies in higher education. Nevertheless, in 1989, the training of musicians was revived in Kaunas with the establishment of the Kaunas Faculty of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LMTA). However, the musician community in Kaunas wanted and was ready to operate autonomously.

On 10 January 2011, during a VMU Council meeting chaired by Valdas Adamkus, it was decided to establish an academic division of the university – the Vytautas Magnus University Music Academy, with Professor Gerulis appointed as its dean, a role he continues to hold to this day. “On 1 February 2011, former students and the majority of teachers from the LMTA Kaunas Faculty began the spring semester as members of the Vytautas Magnus University community. Since then, a new generation of students and academics has emerged,” Prof. Gerulis says.

Prof. Saulius Gerulis

According to the VMU professor, at that time, the Academy did not have its own study programmes, so one of the first steps was to develop programmes that would be distinct from those already existing in Lithuania. “It was crucial that the programmes included aspects of composition, creativity, and repertoire formation. We wanted our music studies to be unique and distinctive. And we certainly achieved that – the study programmes at VMU Music Academy have been accredited by international experts several times,” Prof. Gerulis says.

Exceeds the university’s average in internationalisation

According to Prof. Gerulis, it was precisely becoming part of VMU that greatly helped the Music Academy not only to attract talent but also to gain recognition in the international musician community. “Training musicians involves a great deal of individual work. It’s truly gratifying that we have the opportunity not only to employ pedagogically talented teachers from both Lithuania and abroad but also to nurture our own academic staff.

The Artes Liberales approach to studies at the University allows our students to choose from a variety of additional disciplines. We are expanding our network of international partners – currently collaborating with over 50 higher education institutions worldwide, where our Academy’s students and teachers undertake internships. We are full members of the European Association of Conservatoires in the field of Theatre and Music. We constantly monitor global trends in performer training, participate in international assemblies, and bring back the experience gained. We also host visits from renowned musicians from Europe and around the world,” notes Prof. Gerulis.

According to the dean of VMU Music Academy, the university’s internationalism is also reflected in the student body. There was a time when the Academy ranked first in the University in terms of the number of full-time international students. “The geographical variety of those coming to study in Kaunas is indeed broad, including countries from Asia, Armenia, Mexico, the Baltic states, and Ukraine – we always extend a helping hand to our friends from Kharkiv and other higher education institutions. Currently, international students make up 36% of all those studying at VMU Music Academy. In total, we have nearly 280 students. While this might seem a small number to some, compared to other European higher education institutions, we certainly don’t appear modest. In terms of student numbers, we are we hold a strong middle positionMoreover, our academic staff alone comprises over 100 individuals. By university standards, this would correspond to the staff of two faculties,” outlines Prof. Gerulis.

VMU Music Academy

Maintaining professionalism is key

VMU Music Academy offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The Performing Arts programme currently offers more than 30 specialisations, ranging from singing, piano, wind, and percussion to string instruments. This autumn, VMU Music Academy will introduce a new specialisation in popular music.

“Singing studies remain highly popular. This is a consequence of popular culture. Following market trends and striving to meet student needs and prospects, we are launching a specialisation in popular music this year,” says prof. Gerulis. He also highlights that, due to significant technological advancements, the academic training of musicians has recently faced considerable challenges.

“We follow the example of renowned music conservatories and academies worldwide, believing that a person’s career should be determined by hard and long-term work, not special effects. The world is becoming less demanding, and the media is being taken over by people who are not necessarily well-trained, which is painful for us professionals. Although these performers may not be of the highest calibre, they are highly visible in the media. Thanks to various TV music projects, even swimmers are starting to sing,” the academic notes.

According to Prof. Gerulis, while VMU Music Academy strives to maintain traditions, it does not shy away from implementing innovations. “That’s why we decided to establish a specialisation in popular music. With these studies, we want to emphasise that those who work hard and diligently become high-level professionals. The same principle can be applied to popular culture, which, I dare say, is quite cheap in our country. However, if you are a professional, you can secure a long-term status. Thus, education is a long-term investment that pays off. Over 90% of our Academy’s graduates find their niche after completing their studies,” says the dean.

The university’s graduates continue their careers not only on the stages of theatres in Kaunas, Vilnius, and other major cities in the country but also in some of the most famous theatres in Europe and the world. Among many others, this includes Kostas Smoriginas, who was awarded the “Golden Stage Cross” this year, and Almas Švilpa, who performs in theatres in Austria and Germany. From September, conductor Vilmantas Kaliūnas, who has spent much of his career in Germany, will teach the oboe and symphonic conducting specialisations, while renowned singer and actor Mantas Jankavičius will share his expertise with students in the popular music programme.

Today’s students feel the pulse of the world

VMU Music Academy students not only hone their musical talents but also pursue additional knowledge at the university. Studies based on the Artes Liberales model allow students to choose from a wide range of minor study programmes and disciplines.

“We notice that students eagerly choose studies closely related to the cultural field, as well as humanities, and social sciences. For instance, it is very important for musicians to have a strong psychological foundation, so students delve into courses in this field. Others study the basics of business management to better understand the administrative side of their field of work. Classical opera, for example, requires Italian. Students learn this language as a compulsory course but can also study it as an elective It is also useful to have a foundation in French or German. Let’s face it, not understanding what you’re singing about can put you in an awkward situation,” says the dean of VMU Music Academy.

He also points out that due to their tight schedules (instrumentalists play for 3 ­to 4 hours or more each day), there are constant discussions with students on how to properly arrange their study timetables to balance both their major and minor studies.

VMU Music Academy students

Speaking about today’s students, the professor notes that they are more active and capable of presenting themselves well to future employers. He jokes that teachers from the US used to come to teach these skills. “Today’s students have more opportunities and do not need to localise their activities. Modern culture naturally compels us, whether we are teachers or students, to constantly remind others of our best abilities,” notes Prof. Gerulis.

According to him, over its more than 13 years of existence, the greatest achievements of VMU Music Academy are its music study programmes, internationalisation, integration into the European musicians’ community, and the accomplishments of its graduates.

“All the offered music specialisations are also taught in English. Alongside their musical education, through minor studies and the Artes Liberales approach, students gain knowledge necessary for the modern labour market. Being part of the university and making use of its opportunities is a great advantage. Speaking of internationalisation, it is delightful to hear exchange students from Italy and our teachers communicating in Italian. We are most proud of our graduates who become top-level professionals and perform on the stages of the most famous European theatres and philharmonics. It makes you want to bow down before them,”­ Prof. Gerulis concludes.