Music in Milan

Headshot of Abigail Stupar.
Abigail Stupar
April 12, 2023
A shot from a Maneskin concert

For four months, I've immersed myself in the cultural landscape of Milan, Italy, with the intention of studying music formally in classes and the renowned Italian opera scene. However, I found myself captivated by the more subtle and enchanting melodies that fill the air of this vibrant city—from the buskers on the street corners to the performers in the metro stations. It's a world of music that transcends the concert halls and formal education, a music that speaks to the soul of this city and its people. In this blog post, I'll share my profound experiences of the music lessons, street music culture, and compare the contemporary Italian music industry with that of the United States.


I. Music classes in Milan

Through my operatic voice lessons with IES Abroad in Milan, I began an unexpected journey of self-discovery, facing my own insecurities and limitations. In the US, by voice lessons focused on contemporary technique, so my operatic skills were mediocre at very best. During auditions, when I heard the other students perform through the walls, the stark reality hit me that the other students studying operatic voice were already quite trained compared to me. With new fear in my heart, I performed a wimpy audition. The attitude I received in return was far different from that I expected having only auditioned in the US; the instructors, straight-faced, told me I had a lot of work to do. They asked me just how dedicated I was; if I wasn’t truly dedicated, I wouldn’t make it. 

So I dreaded lessons at first. I was dedicated, yes, but was I bound to make a fool of myself once a week for a whole semester, then perform a graded clown show in the end? Practice rooms in Italy are far from private; mine, in the middle of a class hall, were surrounded by walls so thin the whole courtyard could hear singing from inside. Would I have the nerve to practice enough to improve?

But my instructor ended up being kind and encouraging, despite his high expectations. And he pushed me more than I’d ever been pushed before in lessons. I quickly caught onto opera technique, impressing myself by reaching a place I’m quite proud of now. I don’t know if I would’ve done it without the intensity I had to enter lessons with in Italy. I’m glad I stuck it out rather than letting it scare me enough to run; it paid off.


II. Street music in Milan

Street music has become a symbol of Milan’s artistic and cultural diversity. The city's musical scene includes everything from classical opera singers to jazz saxophonists, from drummers to experimental electronic performers. I see instruments I can’t name out of unfamiliarity, and performers whose talent I can’t describe through writing. Most importantly, I’ve seen the way these musical performances create a sense of belonging and shared experience in listeners. My favorite street performances I’ve seen are those around which circles of people dance, those that draw in young children to play and sing together, those that inspire celebration on the street. I’m positive this exists in the United States as well, but I personally haven’t seen it, living where I have. As an opera student, I’ve learned how to appreciate music in a formal setting, how to analyze and criticize from my seat in the audience. But this music is the only kind with the power to bring me to tears, and it’s not because of the music itself, but the presence of a community. Although this isn’t a Milan-exclusive experience, I’m thankful to be here to discover it.


III. Italy’s music industry

Although I made an effort to listen to Italian music before traveling to Italy, I struggled to find many artists that resonated with me. I was excited to immerse myself in the local music scene and discover new artists, but to my surprise, much of the music played in stores, cars, and on the streets was American. While aware of the size and reach of the American music industry, I was curious about the state of the Italian music industry. I wondered whether the areas I visited catered to American tourists for financial gain, rather than accurately reflecting the local music scene. Finally, I asked an Italian friend why I hadn't heard much Italian music since arriving. According to him, the Italian music industry has had limited success in the past, causing many Italians to gravitate towards American music. And where there’s demand, supply increases; Italian artists have shifted their focus to writing songs in English to appeal to the American music industry's audience.


My journey as a music student in Milan has been a transformational experience, revealing the deeper aspects of music that often remain hidden in the surface. The intense operatic voice lessons I undertook in Italy challenged me to face my own limitations and push beyond them, leading me to a level of skill that I didn’t think I could reach. But beyond the walls of the classroom, I discovered the soul of music in Milan's vibrant street music scene, where I witnessed firsthand the power of music to create connections and bring people together in a sense of community. And yet, even as I immersed myself in the local music scene, I was struck by the paradox of the Italian music industry, struggling to find its voice and relying on American music to capture a wider audience. My studies abroad have left me with a renewed appreciation for the power of music, a universal language that transcends language, and a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to explore its many facets in this enchanting city.

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Headshot of Abigail Stupar.

Abigail Stupar

I'm Abigail, a junior studying English and music at Macalester College, and I'll be in Milan, Italy for the spring semester. This is my first time leaving the country, and I want to share my experience as a low-income never-traveled-like-this-before student with you. My interests include writing stories, making art, writing music, learning languages, and exploring the outdoors.

2023 Spring
Home University:
Macalester College
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