Keep Music Playing / 13

Deep understanding is, I believe, the most precious gift one can give to another’ – Carl Rogers

Almost 49 years ago, I started working for Sir John Manduell on a six-month contract as his Personal Assistant, to help set up what would become the RNCM. That contract has been revised quite a few times since then, as I’ve worked across the College from room bookings and front of house management to student admissions, human resources, the Library, archives and language coaching for singers!

Since 1993, my focus has increasingly been the College Counselling Service. Our dedicated team brings together counselling, wellbeing, and student hardship support. We’re also part of a wider partnership across the five Greater Manchester Universities, working together to support student mental health and welfare.

Embedding wellbeing in the everyday takes time and culture change. I am proud that the RNCM is leading the way in this area. We were the first conservatoire to appoint a specialist Lecturer in Musicians’ Health and Wellbeing and we have fully embedded this work in our curriculum. All first-year students now engage in workshops focusing on areas such as, resilience, injury prevention and performance skills – a programme distinctive to the RNCM.

Following its launch last year, and our openness in addressing physical and mental health issues, we saw a 30 per cent increase in enquiries to the Counselling Service, as students felt more empowered to seek help.

Our students are facing many challenges. The stress of financial hardship, living on their own for the first time and the demands of conservatoire training.  Last academic year over 13 per cent of College students accessed our services. Now with issues around COVID adding to the mix, we have an increased need to provide further support and it’s thanks to the generous donations from our supporters that we are able to keep much of our service running.

The unpredictability of our current situation is hard for all of us, especially those students due to graduate and begin their professional life in such challenging times. We are providing a range of resources and last month launched ‘On Your Mind’ – online group sessions for our students, looking at their concerns over motivation, self-regulation, and effective goal setting in relation to performance. It may well be one of the positive innovations to grow out of our continuing approach to deal with the special demands of 2020 – and beyond.

Most importantly, we are harnessing the power of our community, supporting, and inspiring each other to listen, to understand and to find hope. It is a gift I would love us all to access, as we navigate these times together.

– Bryan Fox, RNCM College Counsellor

Marin Alsop

‘If anyone has the courage and power to change the world through music, it’s Marin Alsop.’ – WQXR

Our concert halls might be dark, but we are still bringing some of the most exciting names in music to our audiences. We are absolutely delighted to be presenting a masterclass with internationally acclaimed conductor, Marin Alsop on Wednesday 17 June. The live Q&A starts at 5pm and you can submit questions in advance by emailing digital@rncm.ac.uk by 4pm.

Marin made history as the first female conductor of the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms. Throughout her career she has promoted female artists, conductors and composers and now devotes much of her time to music education for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Without a doubt, she is a huge inspiration and we are honoured to present this fascinating insight into her working practice, which will be open to all.

Here is Marin conducting the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, in this stunning performance of Brahms’ Symphony No 2 in D Major Op. 73.

Graham McCusker presents…

Composer and alumnus Graham McCusker worked on last year’s BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. While in lockdown, he unearthed a previously unheard demo, an elegant piano piece intended to be used when the heroine Lyra is alone, in deep thought, or scared of what the future holds.

Graham has now shared this beautiful piece via his bandcamp page and for those who would like to download a permanent copy, all proceeds from the release will generously go to The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

Future Music Day

Since launching last year, RNCM Future Music, a festival examining developments in new music and technology, has become increasingly vital and prescient, as we all adapt to increased online communication, cultural consumption and information exchange.

Thanks to recent funding from Research England, the RNCM Centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music (PRiSM) has been able to advance their creative and collaborative work.

On Monday 15 June PRiSM Future Music #2, will feature a series of events and interactions with  composers, authors, thinkers and musicians including PRiSM Co-Director, renowned mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, acclaimed composer/performer Jennifer Walshe and composition students Ellen Sargen, Fraz Ireland and Bofan Ma.

A full schedule of events can be found here, with live updates and opportunities to interact via Twitter @RNCMPRiSM.

Join us, as we explore what possibilities lie ahead for the music creators of the future.

Healbeats –Music on the Wards

RNCM alumnae Polly Virr (cello) and Jess Tomlinson (clarinet) are professional musicians, music-for-health practitioners and the duo behind Healbeats: Music on the Wards. Normally, Polly and Jess would be visiting Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to play music for the children and staff. Sadly, due to COVID-19 restrictions this has now had to stop.

However, treatments haven’t stopped and the wards are still full of long-term hospitalised children battling serious illness, who are missing the live music which gives them such pleasure and some respite.

Passionate about keeping the music playing, they now plan to record the pieces they would usually play, to send to the hospitals for desperately ill children to enjoy, to help improve their quality of life.

‘We often decide on a new tune, have a busk and then just see what happens! The funky bit in the middle was a spontaneous moment playing in outpatients one session, and we love it!’

We absolutely love this project and hope that our wonderful community may also consider supporting Healbeats, helping them to reach as many children as possible. For more details about their work and how you can help, please click here.

BHF partnership

A moment of beauty in a difficult day’ – concert viewer.

We know how many of you are missing your weekly visit to our lunchtime concerts. Each week they offer a haven, to lose yourself in a beautiful live performance and feel part of a wider community of music lovers – open to all and always free of charge. We won’t let the current crisis stop us bringing music to you, albeit in a different way. With our concerts now streamed in partnership with BHF, we are also able to introduce a whole new audience to our work and we’re absolutely delighted to welcome them to our community. There’s a change of day for this week’s concert. Please join us here on Thursday at 1.15pm to enjoy the wonderful RNCM Chamber Choir.

Concerts are free to stream, but if you are able to show your appreciation and make a donation towards our hardship fund and the British Heart Foundation’s life-saving work, we would be hugely grateful.

Music in Isolation //Ain’t Misbehavin

A recommendation from Manus Carey, Deputy Principal (Performance and Programmes).

Lockdown has given me the opportunity to start working my way through all the long-ignored LPs in the house. One of the stand-out LPs is Fats Waller, a personality who has been part of my musical consciousness from when I started listening to music. Pianist, organist, singer, entertainer and comedian, Fats Waller was one of the great stride pianists of his time. Throughout the 1930s until his early death at the age of 39 from pneumonia – probably aided by years of debauched living – he recorded hundreds of 78s with his band.  His stunning piano-playing and musicality is perhaps overshadowed by his enormous personality, his effusive energy, cheeky charm and unquenchable wit, drawing humour from any kind of lyric thrown at him. Widely known as an entertainer, he was once reputedly kidnapped at gun-point by Al Capone’s henchmen and taken to perform at a bar where Capone’s birthday was being celebrated.  He emerged days later, exhausted and inebriated, his pockets full of wodges of cash given to him by Capone and the partygoers. The first African-American songwriter to compose a hit Broadway musical that was seen by a mostly white audience, Fats was clearly someone who squeezed every ounce out of music and life, an inspiration for the strange times we are in.

Thank you

As ever, a huge thank you to all of our wonderful supporters donating to our hardship fund. For more details please click here to find out how you can help and how your donations are making a significant difference in supporting student welfare.

12 June 2020



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