Autumn Term – Tessa Tang

Digital Ambassador Tessa Tang chronicles life as an RNCM student in a series of monthly blog posts.

Being back in Manchester after the most unpredictable and uncertain six months have highlighted what it means to be a musician in this fast-paced and ever-changing world – proving that using technology on various platforms or software for online recordings/materials/streams are going to become (or, are already becoming) a big part of our lives as living artists.

With social distancing and thorough security measures in the building, a highlight of October at the RNCM was having the amazing opportunity to finally have live rehearsals leading up to a performance of opera scenes in the opera theatre (for the first time in seven months!!) – all while observing social distancing, wiping music stands down after every use and wearing masks when not singing. It was such a surreal feeling because singing to a camera with a backing track (the ‘new normal’) is not quite the same as interacting, listening, reacting and bouncing off other surrounding energies, and singing with breathing musicians around.

Rehearsals with social distancing made it quite challenging for some groups to express the nature of the scene – regardless if it was a love scene, a pursuing scene or a squabble. Singing at each other or close to each other was not an option to even consider, so we had to work around and make space our friend instead of our enemy – this meant stagecraft of gestures (only when necessary), physical angles, levels and lots of text! It wasn’t easy at first but it became more natural with more run-throughs and after setting aside time to think about what could or couldn’t work.

Performance day arrived and I’d say that people were looking forward to performing live on stage again. Although the performance was not open to the general public, it was encouraging to know that the audience members that day were also the performers that afternoon. Each scene was performed so well and it was a pleasure watching everyone sing again – to see their final work after weeks of practice, how they delivered the scene, interacted amongst themselves, and how they took ownership of the stage and space. It was an eye-opening and extremely heart-warming experience having watched my fellow peers from first-year grow into the confident and elegant singers that they are today, and the post-graduate singers who engaged us, filled the space and brought what’s written on the page to life.

An extra note:

Due to social distancing, classes for SVSO students have been in the opera theatre. This has offered us a fantastic opportunity because it’s rare to get the chance to practise singing in such a big space with minimum audience. It’s not every day that you can simply stroll in and sing to your heart’s content. Daunting at first, but stepping up to sing in performance/repertoire classes in the theatre can only train our minds to focus on what’s more important at that time. It’s difficult but with practice, it can only get easier.

What now?

We truly don’t realise the worth of some things until they’re gone. Having talked to other musicians, the consensus is that it feels good to be back in this familiar but somewhat new environment – a much emptier refectory, less busy practice rooms with 30 min. ventilation periods between slots, sanitising stands at every corner, masks to faces etc.

Despite many unknowns, we can choose to use this time to better ourselves, listen to our hearts, know what’s best for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and come out of this stronger as an individual and as a musician.

I shall now inject a cheesy quote: “It might be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever”.

(Maybe in Manchester, but that’s not the point.)

With what we’ve got, we can only make the most of the present, encourage each other to look on the brighter side of things and look forward to better times.

Stay safe, stay healthy and good luck to every single one of you.


24 November 2020