Where’s the strategy for making classical music content findable?

Stumbled on something of a surprise late on Friday night: the Royal College of Music’s Symphony Orchestra performing Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto live.

That’s a live concert, streamed on YouTube, free to access, and free of commentary. Perfect. My kind of thing.

Watched a little bit of it on catch-up via my connected TV late on Friday night. Watched the entire concert on Saturday morning.

A few thoughts arise (the first two specific to otherwise RCM’s marvellous YouTube channel) as I sit and write this blog post:

1. In a busy social media world, I’d really like free (live) stuff like this advertised more. That’s more than just telling me minutes before its going to start. That’s letting me know earlier in the week. Digital is in itself fuelled by distractions and displacement activities. Knowing that there’s an event I can enjoy free of charge on my TV would be a real boon.

2. Why when I return to the RCM’s YouTube channel isn’t the video easily accessible? I can’t search for it. I don’t see it listed anywhere. I want to embed it in this blog post for example, but I can’t do that if I can’t find it. My assumption is that the YouTube video is marked as ‘Unlisted’. But, if you’re looking for the biggest number of eyeballs, wouldn’t you mark it ‘public’? Grrr.

3. I come from a working environment where a consistent user experience (whether that be links, social, or the reliability and consistency of search results) are paramount to keeping the user happy (on some level). With more time on my hands I notice that the classical music world isn’t applying the same standards to their most potent of marketing assets: their core content. Grrr.

4. Therefore if reach is as important as impact – perhaps even more so, why aren’t classical music organisations (venues and ensembles) committing to a simplified strategy around findability of their content? This goes beyond just running a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account. This is about making sure that your core audience – the ones who will advocate on your behalf – can find your stuff easily and quickly. It’s about returning to the standards that fuelled the world wide web in the first place: making sure the user journey yields something of value.

Royal College of Music seeks £16 million to complete £40 million building, innovation and talent development fund

The Royal College of Music has used the symbolic start of building works for its improvements to facilities, to highlight reaching 60% of its £40 million fundraising target.

The RCM’s More Music is searching for an additional £16 million from private donors which, when combined with the college’s investment of £40m, will see a tidy total of £80m used for scholarships and bursaries, improved teaching and digital innovation, and – most tangibly – for enhanced buildings and facilities.

The architect’s 3D-modelling appears to transform a building which is at present quite pokey into something more befitting a world-renowned learning centre.

Yesterday’s announcement reveals a future plan which strikes me as so sensible I’m amazed no-one has thought of it before now: ‘acoustically treated bedrooms’.

Why fork out money to create additional practise rooms to meet demand of the college’s 840-strong student population, when a more valuable investment might be transforming some of the student’s living accommodation to make it multi-purpose?

I also really like the introduction of two additional performance spaces at the RCM, giving the public access to a greater number of concerts, recitals, masterclasses and rehearsals. As a classical music consumer the prospect of having greater access is something that really entices me – the opportunity to observe more talent-creation up-close.

The reality of music education is underlined by a fact printed in the RCM’s fundraising pack. “Over 50% of students benefit from financial support from an array of scholarships”. That surprises me a bit. It saddens me too, reminding me of the extent to which the higher music education (and music education as a whole) has been squeezed by austerity.

That the RCM are fundraising to support its investment in bursaries and scholarships demonstrates how difficult it is for future young UK talent to have their potential protected.

Read more about the Royal College of Music More Music Campaign. 




First Lady of China visits the Royal College of Music

Today, the RCM played host to the First Lady of China, Madame Peng Liyuan who also happens to be a renowned singer of Chinese folk music. During her visit RCM students met and performed for the First Lady, including soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield (Kathleen Ferrier Award 2015) and pianist Martin James Bartlett (BBC Young Musician 2014). 

The RCM has developed partnerships with conservatoires across China and a strong connection with world-famous pianist, Lang Lang, who received an Honorary Doctorate in 2011. In addition, Professor Vanessa Latarche, Head of Keyboard at the RCM, is Vice Chairman of Lang Lang Music World – his school for gifted pianists in Shenzhen.

But the most surprising thing I discovered today (as a result of this visit) was the presentation the RCM made to the First Lady before she left the college:  a facsimile of the original manuscript of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Minor, K 491, housed at the RCM for over a century. I had no idea that the original manuscript to my most favourite concerto is just a twenty minute walk away from where I work in central London.

There are other items in the RCM’s special collection, it turns out.  Director’s Choice – an 80-page book detailing the items – includes portraits, manuscripts and historical instruments.


Proved: singing is relaxing

Classical music marketeers need worry no more. The Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science has worked on a study that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that attending a live classical music concert physically reduces stress. So too, it seems, singing.

The study was carried out by composer and conductor Eric Whitacre who worked with 15 singers and 49 audience members – some seasoned concert-goers and musicians and some classical music novices. All submitted saliva samples, wore ECG monitors and completed a questionnaire.

The findings revealed that audience members experienced decreases in levels of stress hormones cortisol and cortisone. Singing also reduced stress hormones in the body and relaxed performers in rehearsal. Stress levels increased during performance.

Specifically, the study concluded:

:: Watching a concert also led to decreases in negative mood states (afraid, tense, confused, sad, anxious and stressed) and increases in positive mood states (relaxed and connected)

:: Singing in a low-stress rehearsal reduced levels of stress hormones (cortisol and cortisone) and didn’t affect psychological anxiety, but singing in a high-stress concert increased stress hormone levels and psychological anxiety

:: The overall act of singing reduced the cortisol-cortisone ratio, suggesting that singing has an inherently relaxing effect regardless of how stressed people feel

There’s a chance to see the study conducted again at a concert of music by Eric Whitacre at Cheltenham Festival on 7 July. There’s also a talk discussing the findings of both studies on 11 July called ‘Is singing Good for you?’

Book tickets at www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/whats-on/.

£25m building development plans to transform Royal College of Music announced today

New building plans for London’s Royal College of Music – £25million pounds worth – have been announced today. Architect John Simpson appointed to ‘reimagine’ the building.

First artist impressions of the new courtyard development accompany plans to create two new performance areas with digital capture and distribution facilities, practice rooms and a new permanent home for the college’s Museum of Music.

It’s hoped the performance spaces with a capacity of 150+ and 90+ seats will be used for rehearsals, masterclasses, performances, and community workshops – a move which sees the college further open up the destination to members of the public.

The development of recording and broadcasting facilities are particularly interesting, echoing those unveiled by Wigmore Hall a few months ago. It’s hoped that the RCM will be able to broadcast more live concerts, enabling people across the world to listen to music-making at the college.

The £25million needed to fund the transformation will be funded by the RCM’s More Music fundraising campaign, of which HRH Prince Charles has agreed to be the patron.

Royal College 2