Keep Music Playing / 14

Since lockdown, online teaching and communication has become a way of life.

When I started my PhD in 2010, examining how student-tutor interaction changed when instrumental lessons took place remotely, I never could have imagined how relevant it would become.

At the RNCM we are working incredibly hard to support this new way of working and teaching, helping people understand what the interactional differences are between same-room and remote teaching, what can and can’t be achieved. That it can be exhausting and to be patient and kind to yourselves and each other.

It’s ironic that people often refer to same room interactions as ‘face-to-face’, since direct gaze is actually very rare.  People working together monitor each other peripherally, whilst their main focus is on an object of collaboration.  In an instrumental lesson, this is the shared music, or score. The student and tutor can monitor non-verbal signals, whilst looking at the music. These signals are a significant part of interaction and are lost in the enforced face-to-face orientation in online communication.

Playing music together online also causes significant challenges with time delay, known as latency.  People in a conversation can adjust to this, but musicians playing together cannot coordinate their playing with delays of this magnitude.

So how can instrumental lessons still take place remotely and work well? Luckily, large parts of a music lesson share the characteristics of a conversation. For example, the student responds to a tutor request by playing, then the tutor delivers feedback.

How can we make music together? PRiSM, the Centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music at the RNCM is rising to this challenge! Our work is all about collaborations between music, maths and science. In some ways this unprecedented situation has been the perfect test of our core strengths. For more detailed analysis please do take a look at my website here and keep reading for more information about our recent Festival and links to the projects we’re commissioning to help answer these questions. We hope it provides inspiration, innovation and excitement about the wonderful possibilities in our digital future.

– Sam Duffy, PRiSM Centre Manager

Future Music #2

This week the PRiSM team delivered our first fully online festival, Future Music #2. The challenge, to creatively engage with technology across disparate locations.

Together we produced an exciting array of new work, including specially commissioned pieces by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and composer/performer Jennifer Walshe and collaborations bringing together RNCM students and musicians from the BBC Philharmonic. Click here to watch, consider and enjoy. 

Errolyn Wallen

Earlier this year we had the huge pleasure of welcoming composer and singer songwriter Errolyn Wallen MBE to the RNCM for an inspiring In Focus day of music and conversation. Described by The Observer as ‘a renaissance woman of contemporary British music…’ Errolyn’s eclectic and broad range of work, from pop-influenced songs, to orchestral works, operas and chamber music, is reflected in Ensemble X, the group she formed to represent all nationalities of the world, with the motto: ‘We don’t break down barriers in music…we don’t see any…’. 

This fascinating short documentary, featuring Errolyn and Ensemble X performing her piece Mighty River, is an exploration of slavery and freedom, combining spirituals with contemporary classical techniques:

Lunchtime Concert RNCM Jazz Collective // 22 June // 1.15pm – Listen here

Next week’s lunchtime concert, streamed in partnership with the British Heart Foundation, is an absolute treat – a fabulous performance from the RNCM Jazz Collective, featuring tracks by John Carisi and RNCM’s very own Jazz Tutor, Steve Berry.

Coming up: RNCM Radio Alumni special!

As part of our Online Open Day activities, many of our wonderful alumni will be featured in a special RNCM Radio show on Tuesday 23 June at 1pm. Tune in to hear their stories, experiences and advice!

Constella OperaBallet // Connecting Stars

Constella Opera-Ballet company, founded by alumnus, Leo Geyer, have launched a wonderful new initiative, Connecting Stars, aimed at alleviating two urgent problems presented by the current pandemic; loneliness amongst care home residents isolated from their support network, and the financial difficulties faced by musicians, due to Covid’s devastating effect on the arts. Connecting Stars will deliver free, one-to-one, personalised virtual concerts to care home residents, brought to them by some of the UK’s most exciting creatives, all of whom will be paid for their work.

‘I’m excited to be part of Constella’s commendable work taking world class music to people who are usually unable to access it and hope that everyone will join me in pledging their support.’ Sir Willard White CBE

Some of our recent graduates, who are facing a hugely challenging start to their professional lives, will be joining this group of fabulous musicians, bringing music to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. If you know of someone who would love to perform, have a family member or friend whose quality of life could be transformed by music, or feel that you could help this important work, then please do click here.

Here is a glorious film of one of Constella’s recent productions, Ballet for Nancy, set to Aaron Copland’s magnificent Appalachian Spring:


Mark Simpson Composition Masterclass and Q&A

Wednesday 24 June // 5pm

Although we were sadly unable to host our scheduled In Focus with acclaimed composer and clarinet virtuoso Mark Simpson, we are absolutely delighted that Mark will be joining us virtually for another one of our masterclasses with internationally celebrated artists.

During the masterclass, two RNCM student composers, will have the opportunity to discuss one of their works with Mark.  Athanasia Kontou’s piece was written for the Hallé and James Chan’s piece would have been performed at our popular end of year concert at The Bridgewater Hall. In addition, student clarinettist Sebastian Marshall will workshop Mark’s beautiful Echoes and Embers.

Watch Mark perform the piece, with pianist Vikingur Olafsson, for Radio 3 in 2012:

As usual, there’ll be a chance to ask questions, which can be emailed in advance to [email protected]  Please do join us for a fascinating insight into the composition process.

Music Quiz round 2!

For those of you who missed our recent music quiz, this recording is available for you to watch and enjoy. Although the prizes may have been won, you can still play along, and enjoy some wonderful live music and enthralling anecdotes from Pete Waterman’s long career. 

Art Sounds

‘The bold gestures and vivid imagery symbolize the power and courage we need to exist at this time.’ Leila Josefowicz

Throughout lockdown the need for people to engage with and create art has become a vital source of solace and expression. We love this project developed by Hauser and Wirth galleries, who, while their doors were shut, partnered with New Generation Festival to reach out to musicians to interpret art through music, to lift spirits and raise funds for organisations on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.

In this short film, celebrated violinist and partner of artist George Condo, Leila Josefowicz, performs an excerpt from Lachen Verlernt by Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. The piece responds to Condo’s Parallel Lives’, part of the Drawings for Distanced Figures series, evocative of the experience of isolation during this period of social distance.


And finally…a summer treat from our Popular Music students, a lockdown video of the début single from four-piece band Porij. I Like That is a gorgeous blend of funk, experimental jazz and pop, we hope will bring a smile to your face!

Thank you

Throughout the pandemic we are continuing to run the RNCM, Junior RNCM and our vital pre-tertiary education programme – ensuring we keep teaching, supporting and inspiring the next generation of musicians, leaving no-one behind. Many of our students come from families who struggle to meet both tuition fees and daily living costs. With the added pressure of Covid-related issues, support for these students via hardship funding, bursaries and scholarships is quite simply transformative.

A one-off hardship grant can offer an emergency safety net, while an annual bursary or scholarship gives a student longer term financial security and stability, enabling them to focus on their training and making it less likely that the safety net has to be offered at all. If you feel that you could support one of our students with a life changing scholarship opportunity then please click here for more information about how you can help.

For all of our wonderful supporters, for all of your help, thank you.


19 June 2020