The Master’s Newsletter, February 2021

Dear Member,

After what has felt like a very grey, bleak, raw and cold January and February, it was wonderful last weekend to spend a (relatively!) warm and dry couple of days in the garden and see that there is indeed life after winter lockdown. The spring flowers are all out, and they give a very welcome splash of colour after such a long period of pretty unremitting dreariness.

It seems as if, with the Prime Minister’s announcement on the 22nd, there may also be some lightening of the mood and the beginning of the end of the repeated lockdowns that we have all been suffering over the last year. As usual, there is little in the way of definition and clarity, and much obviously remains to be decided, but at least we are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. We can only hope that it continues to be so. In the medium term, though, all our meetings continue on Zoom, and I expect the Livery Dinner after the April Court to be cancelled, following the cancellation of The Masters Weekend at Ironbridge and the Royal Garden Parties at the Palace. Whether we shall be able to hold the Midsummer Banquet must, I am afraid, still be a very open question.
I have been asked by the organisers of the 2021 Becket celebrations to mention their Becket Pageant for London and Livery Crafts Fair, which, they say, is still on track for a grand opening on June 18 and 19. They are looking for musicians who might “enjoy taking an unpaid role in the scratch ensemble”. If you feel inspired to do so, please contact Emmeline Winterbotham (, who is organising auditions.

Since I last wrote, we have hosted two very successful online events: the evening with the Turners Company in January, and the Webinar Building a New Musical Utopia in February. Both were very well attended (85 for the Turners, and around 100 for the webinar) and both demonstrated that while online events generally cannot compete with their live equivalents, they bring new perspectives, from a wider range of speakers and enable us to share them with a very much wider audience than we would otherwise be able to. The event with the Turners was memorable for the wonderful displays of wood turning skill (and its transfer to carrots, to make very convincing recorders!) and the Webinar for the overall sense of optimism and conviction in the future which was so different to the prevailing mood music. There were many very positive reactions from Members, and the comment “We should do more such events!” Well, the next is the virtual visit to the Handel House Museum in March: already advertised. Please do attend: it will alleviate lockdown blues.

On the subject of online events, we are drawing near to the end of our very successful #MiddayMusic series on YouTube, which I am sure you will agree has provided us with a fascinating survey of the sheer talent that the Company is so fortunate to have within its ranks. Again, what has been remarkable has been the reach to audiences we could only have dreamed of in normal times: nearly 16,000, and counting. With the Wigmore Hall holding 552 people, we would have had to have held 29 sold out concerts there to reach the same numbers. We are already considering what might replace that series later in the year: watch this space.

Another example of the Company’s work reaching a larger audience digitally was the NEA Award Holders’ Wigmore Hall concert featuring Michael Butten the 2020 winner; the concert was livestreamed by the Wigmore Hall at the beginning of February and reached 541 viewers.

The concert series for Merton dementia hub also goes from strength to strength: the last two events attracted an audience of nearly 40 for each: the series will be continued throughout the year.

Elsewhere online, interestingly, on Instagram, judging from our ‘likes’ and comments on the content we are sharing (mainly #MiddayMusic) our followers do seem to be mostly musicians in training other than our Yeomen Young Artists. It implies that our Instagram posts are beginning to act as a kind of hub for young artists in the music industry in general – a useful place to check out the competition and read news and information. It will also mean that these musicians will see other posts about things such as awards, and perhaps encourage a wider audience to apply. Nothing shows better the need to keep abreast of developments in the digital world and to keep posting our own News: our thanks to Christine Twite for doing so on our behalf.

Events in the broader world have, as always, been a mixed bag of good and bad news. The departure of Sir Simon Rattle for greener pastures in Germany, and the subsequent decision not to proceed with the Centre for Music, were probably not surprising, but they struck a decidedly downbeat note. That was only partially alleviated by the prospect of a “centre for cultural exports” or whatever the final name might be: a proposal for a Government body to help musicians and others confront the difficulties of touring abroad after the complete failure of the Brexit negotiations to even acknowledge that culture existed, that it is one of our principal forms of influence and “soft power” and that, incidentally, we make a fair amount of cash from it too. When I was a diplomat, which was, admittedly, centuries ago, we had the British Council to do that: plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose.

You will also have seen that the broader Livery Movement has been making a very significant contribution to alleviating the difficulties brought by the pandemic: the Livery Kitchens initiative. 45 Livery companies, individuals and other organisations have raised over £423,000 toward delivering individually prepared meals for both the NHS, in four Barts Health NHS Trust hospitals, and 13 communities in East London in partnership with City Harvest. By the New Year, over 60,000 meals had been prepared since mid-April by the kitchens at the Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Merchant Taylors and Party Ingredients.
In 2021, 2,100 meals a week are being provided to three hospitals in east London, and funds remain in place to continue to provide 2000 LKI meals a week to communities in East London, in support of City Harvest. The Musicians’ Company has been delighted to be able to contribute towards this magnificent effort, with donations totalling £1,000. This again demonstrated the overwhelming importance of the charity work undertaken by the Livery: taken overall, the Livery Movement is now the fifth largest source of charitable funding in this country, which is a very impressive achievement.

On the subject of our own funding, more later this year. In the meantime, we were most grateful to receive several substantial legacies in recent months, which will be recorded in a first of a new regular feature on legacies in Preserve Harmony. Our most profound thanks to those who made provision in their wills to help our charitable work continue on the level that it does. If you, too, would like to support the Company’s work with a bequest, please contact the Clerk who will be only too pleased to assist.
Finally, it was my great pleasure, at the last Court meeting, to be able to announce that the Company’s Gold Medal has been awarded to Pastmaster Leslie East. Leslie has made an invaluable, and continuing, major contribution to the Company since his Mastership in 2007: it was entirely fitting that this should be recognised by the Award. A fuller description of the work he has done will appear in the next Preserve Harmony.

Who knows? This may even be the last Lockdown Newsletter. Let us hope that it is so, and that we can meet personally sooner, not later.


John Nichols
22 February 2021