Keep Music Playing / 16

It’s my responsibility to keep the flame alive…

Since taking on the role of the RNCM’s Head of Jazz and Improvisation last year, I’ve been leading practical opportunities for College-wide improvisation, supporting the creative development of student-led ensembles and taking responsibility for jazz performance, including programming and directing the RNCM Big Band.

My background is in performance, playing as a jazz bassist, with improvisation and collaboration at the heart of what I do. Losing the ability to play live, to be able to interact and play with my fellow musicians and being forced to put our exciting programme of work on ice, has been a truly bitter pill to swallow.

My work is all about listening, responding, playing together, being in the moment. So how could I adapt this to support my students in our new world of online lessons? We’ve had to change in a profound way with inherent time delays hampering the feasibility of virtually all online ensemble playing. This of course includes the impossibility of accompanying a student in a lesson.

In one-to-one lessons many of my students are learning to accompany themselves; they’re developing skills in multitrack recording and, for some, they’re hearing themselves play and understand their time sense as a peer would, perhaps for the very first time.

As time goes on, we experiment more. For my final Friday Feeling session with the School of Wind Brass and Percussion, we found a way to play together that didn’t rely on metrical, synchronised time, by utilising a musical ping pong technique, one student plays, another plays in response and a two-part invention unfolds. Just as when playing live, each musician must respond to the other and deal with the consequences of a mistaken note, that can often, beautifully, lead to an inspired one.

Finding that inspiration to stay focused and engaged is vital through these summer months and beyond, as we continue our mix of blended teaching into the new academic year.

We must and we will, keep the flame alive, nurturing and stimulating the love of music, through it all.

– Steve Berry, Head of Jazz and Improvisation

Jazz Collective

One of the most fulfilling projects I’ve worked on in lockdown, has been the creation of a brilliant new film of the RNCM Jazz Collective in action.

Of course, we couldn’t rehearse or perform in an orthodox way, but we found new ways of making it happen. We set up inspiring workshops with jazz professionals; saxophone supremo, and RNCM alumnus, Iain Dixon, Andy Greenwood, one of the UK’s top session trumpet players, Jiggs Whigham, internationally acclaimed trombonist and Barnaby Dickinson, an alumnus of Junior RNCM and now one of the top trombonists and in-demand freelance musicians in Europe. They delivered ensemble coaching to students via Zoom and then laid down the lead tracks.  Students learnt the techniques to film and record themselves professionally, they played on the two tracks and sent in their recordings. Tuning and phrasing discrepancies, usually fixed quickly and easily when playing live, took many hours of painstaking editing to bring it all together, but we are hugely proud of the final result. We hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.

Joyce DiDonato Q&A

On 1 July we were absolutely thrilled to host a Q&A with superstar mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato. Winner of multiple Grammys and an Olivier Award, Joyce is an advocate for the transformative power of the arts, taking music from the world’s great stages to educational institutions, refugee camps and maximum-security prisons.

‘Music heals…and it can fire people up with purpose and courage to change the world.’

Joyce has been finding ways to share music throughout lockdown. Here’s a charming short video of her performing at home, with a little help from Sir Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Joyce and Tony: From Our House to Yours.

Let the Sunshine In

Stephen Lloyd, a flute alumnus from the class of 1981, now works as a successful conductor, composer, arranger and language lecturer in Italy.

He put together this uplifting video after a spur-of-the-moment call for contributions made to the cast of the musical Hair, performed at the Vereinigte Bühnen Bozen theatre in Bolzano in 2011. The video was produced and edited by a cross-European team and features performers from more than 10 countries. It pays homage to professional musical theatre and to all those who work in it, sadly still locked down, threatening the livelihood of many gifted artists.

With Professor Linda Merrick

Last week, RNCM Principal, Professor Linda Merrick, held an online session with some of our supporters and friends, answering questions about the College’s future plans, as we navigate through the ongoing Covid crisis. The session illuminated the challenges, detailed planning and new opportunities the College is currently managing . If you are interested in finding out more then please email the Development team at [email protected]. We will be delighted to email you a link to a recording of the session.

Chad LB Virtual Big Band

Chad LB is an American jazz superstar. One of the youngest jazz headliners performing today, he’s appeared at venues including Carnegie Hall, the Super Bowl and Madison Square Garden. Here Chad and his virtual band perform a magnificent version of Steve Wonder’s Superstition.

Twelfth Day

Catriona Price (violin) and Esther Swift (harp) are RNCM alumni who perform together as Twelfth Day. Touring musicians, they now find themselves off the road and decided to create a podcast for musicians to share how they’re dealing with so much time at home. In each episode they discuss a topic within the context of the pandemic, and hear from different musicians from around the world, including other RNCM alumni. Click here to listen to Figuring Out How to be at Home.

Supporting our students through the summer

Although we have now finished our formal teaching for the academic year, we are still working closely with our students, continuing our wellbeing activities throughout the summer; from yoga and online social activities, to more intensive counselling for students that require in-depth support. For many of those students, financial worries are a significant factor affecting their mental health and wellbeing. We would not usually need to continue these activities through the summer vacation, but of course these are unprecedented, complicated times. If you are able to consider a gift to enable us to continue our wellbeing and hardship fund support throughout the summer, we would be hugely grateful. Thank you to everyone in our wonderful, generous community, helping us right now. We couldn’t do it without you.

10 July 2020