Meet the Principal
Professor Linda Merrick joined the RNCM in 2001 as Director of Performance Studies and Senior Tutor in Clarinet, before becoming Deputy Vice-Principal in 2006, Vice-Principal in 2008 then Principal in 2013.
Linda has an international profile as a clarinet soloist, recording artist and clinician. She has released over 25 solo CDs of new music by British composers and performed widely as a soloist and chamber musician across the UK, Europe, America, Asia and Australia. Here we chat to Linda to find out more about her own musical journey and her aspirations for the College.
Why did you decide to take up the clarinet?
I played the piano from the age of six and classical guitar and recorder from the age of eight. Once I progressed to secondary school – a large inner-city comprehensive school in Bristol with a small but thriving music department – I was keen to take up a wind instrument. I originally wanted to play the oboe, but the only instrument available was a clarinet. I took it home over the Christmas holidays, taught myself to play a bit, then came back in January and started to have some lessons. So, the reason I play the clarinet is that it was the only instrument my school had in the cupboard at the time!
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
I think the advice I would have given to myself at that age – and I would give to any student now – is to make the most of all the opportunities available to you as a student. Immerse yourself in music and the arts, go to as many concerts as possible, attend masterclasses in other disciplines, visit art galleries and museums, go to the theatre. You don’t want to look back and think ‘if only I had taken advantage of what was on offer.’
Do you feel it’s important for students to be involved in activities outside of music?
Yes, I think it’s absolutely vital, because if you’re not engaging with other things, then you will bring less to your work as an artist and as a musician. It is really important for students to broaden their horizons, get out and about, and ensure that they have interests outside music – they will be better musicians as a result.
Why did you want to be the Principal of RNCM, and what makes the place so special to you?
I wanted to make a difference to the experience of everyone who comes through the RNCM: our students; our staff and our many visitors and audience members. I also want to ensure that the College is recognised externally as one of the world’s leading conservatories and home to one of the most exciting arts centres in the UK.
I think what makes the RNCM so special is its unique atmosphere, which is friendly and supportive while providing a real-world experience for our students. With a number of busy public performance venues on-site, our students are able to perform in front of live audiences and to work with the many professional musicians who visit us on a daily basis. Being in the city of Manchester also makes the RNCM a very special place. It’s a city with a proud musical heritage and has fantastic cultural assets today. It is also a major university city, with great facilities for students.
How do you balance the demands of being Principal of the RNCM with a career as a professional player?
It’s very hard to balance the two, but in my role I think it’s really important to remain a professional practitioner who is engaged actively in the music business. The Principal’s job is a very busy and challenging one, involving a lot of evenings and weekends, so it would be very easy just to put the instrument down. But I don’t think I would be as effective in the role if I did that. You never have as much time to practise as when you are a student, so you have to practise in a very efficient way and find strategies to do what you need to in a shorter amount of time. As a woodwind player, regular practice is the key, so the reality is a lot of early mornings!
How do you see the RNCM developing over the next few years?
I see the RNCM going from strength to strength as a contemporary, forward-looking conservatoire. I think our new Strategic Plan sets out clearly our vision for where we want to go and how we intend to get there, including the role of the College in the City, regionally, nationally and internationally. I see the RNCM as being recognised widely as one of the world’s leading conservatoires, but with a very unique and distinctive mission in terms of preparing students for tomorrow’s profession. I see it as a place where students are treated as young professional musicians, challenged and supported to fulfil their musical potential and given the space to develop their own work and creativity. It is this that will enable them to go on to forge successful careers and to shape the music profession the future.
Finally, what’s your favourite piece of music and who’s your favourite composer?
Oh, that’s an impossible question for a musician to answer! I’m interested in all kinds of music, provided it’s good quality and performed to a high level. I’ve specialised in contemporary music, so that has very much been part of my life and career for a long time, especially music by British composers. I am fond of Schubert, who had an incredible melodic gift; Stravinsky, Bartok and Shostakovich, as well as Britten, Walton and Vaughan Williams – an unsung hero as a symphonist! It would be unfair to single out any of the many composers with whom I have collaborated over the years, but it has been a privilege to work with all of them.