The Master’s Newsletter, July 2020

Dear Member,

I do hope that you are all keeping well and that normal life is beginning to return – however slowly and hesitantly. A great deal has happened since last I wrote, so please bear with me if this letter is rather longer than previous ones!

The Government’s £1.5 billion rescue package for the arts was splendid news, well above expectations. It should be very helpful in maintaining the framework for the arts and the creative industries, which is a huge relief. The picture is less good, however, for freelance artists, including our Yeomen, many of whom will not be able to benefit from the funds (some of you may have seen the recent interview with tenor Allan Clayton: he was saying that unless he can get back onto a stage by October, he will effectively run out of money). This lends real urgency to sorting out the inconsistent and arbitrary social distancing rules and getting our concert halls and theatres open as soon as possible. On a Zoom call with the Lord Mayor and the Masters of a dozen other Companies, I asked for the Lord Mayor’s and the Corporation’s support in lobbying on this, giving the example that it is now apparently fine to travel in an overcrowded train for 3 hours, but sitting in a concert hall for the same time is banned. Let us hope that there will be moves to lifting the restrictions sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, the Court has been considering the impact of the pandemic on the Company, and the Court succession for 2021 and 2022. I attach a letter from the Immediate Pastmaster, Michael Lewin, which details the steps which have been taken and the decisions which have been reached.

I as Master, Jeff Kelly as Senior Warden and Graeme Knowles as Junior Warden would like to express our most sincere thanks to the Clerk, the Immediate Pastmaster and the Members of the Court Interview Committee for the organisation and handling of this delicate and difficult issue, and for the complete impartiality with which they have discharged their task. We look forward to playing our part in helping the Company weather the storms of this particularly challenging period in its long history.

Another issue which was raised during the Lord Mayor’s Zoom call was diversity, particularly in the aftermath of recent events in the US, and the protests by Black Lives Matter. The Pan Livery Committee had circulated a draft Diversity Charter for Companies to consider: this draft was reworded by the Senior Warden, and his version, our own Musicians’ Company Diversity Charter, was approved by the Court on 8 July. A copy is attached. I would like to record the gratitude of the Court to the Senior Warden for a most skilful and effective rewording of the original paper. Pastmaster Brewer has passed our redraft to the Pan Livery Committee for their consideration (and, we hope, adoption by others).

I also attach the latest letter from the Lord Mayor to all Members of Livery Companies for your information.

Future events

I am very sorry to say that we have had to cancel the following future events:

September 24 Bach Cantata and Lunch (St Bartholomew will only allow events with 60 people: last year we had 170, and a lunch will not be possible under current requirements)

October 7 Musicians Company Evensong, St Paul’s Cathedral (Under the latest rules we could only have held the service with a maximum of 250 people, no singing allowed, no choir and no orchestra. Of course we could not have processed, nor held a reception afterwards)

While the pandemic continues, we have all become aware of the often considerable hardship being borne by so many people. May I take this opportunity of reminding you of the letter from the Almoner in April (a copy is attached). Please let him know if you are aware of any particular needs, or if the Company might be able to help in any way.

Since I last wrote, we have also lost a number of our Members, including two eminent Pastmasters, Sir Alan Traill and Francis Carnwath CBE. I am sure that I speak for all of you when I express my most sincere sympathy and condolences to all families and friends who have suffered loss in recent months.

In my last Newsletter, I mentioned that the Outreach in the Merton Dementia Hub was about to restart, using Zoom. We have now held two such Outreaches with Merton: in each case with an audience of around 25 people living with early stage dementia attending remotely. It is a very personal reaction, but I must say how very immediate, emotional and moving the Outreaches were. The effect was of a private concert, with the Yeomen playing just for you. The reaction from attendees, and from Merton, has been wonderfully positive. I shall let one bit of feedback, from Tuesday 7 July, stand for all:

“Thank you and everyone else who made this afternoon possible—it was just lovely, the first time in many weeks that Bob has sat for any length of time without going to sleep and at the finish talking about what we had seen and heard —a bit of the old Bob! So thank you.” – Myrtle

Given the uncertainty of face to face Outreach in the Autumn term, Jan Yerbury, Director of Outreach, is exploring with Music Hubs whether interactive sessions might be delivered using Zoom. More about this in my next Newsletter. In the meantime, I am also looking at the possibility of bringing live music into care homes through Zoom, following an initiative by Yeoman Leo Geyer. Again, more details to follow.

The #Midday Music Series on Monday and Wednesday has been a great success, with almost 3,000 views to date. Please do make a point of watching them if you can: the Yeomen are, as usual, wonderful players, and their presentation can be very imaginative and creative. A full playlist, updated each week, can be seen here: We have over 60 Yeomen committed to the series, with concerts planned well into the New Year. The scheme has been such a success that our funding from the Prince’s Prize has now been used up and we are now relying on donations. Find out more here .

To finish with, another very positive story:

Three years ago, Musicians’ Company Young Artist, bassoonist Catriona McDermid, gave an outreach session at a primary school in Aldgate. One pupil, Iris Bampton, who was then 7 years old, was so inspired by Catriona’s session that she asked her headmaster to help her begin learning the bassoon. The headmaster rented an instrument from Howarths and found a teacher. Iris, now aged ten, has been studying at Trinity Laban, is now at grade four and has been offered a place at the Junior Guildhall School of Music & Drama to start in September. Iris loves her bassoon and has named it Steve!

In other words, despite the lockdown and the extremely difficult environment in which we find ourselves, we remain dedicated to our charitable activities, and highly proactive in seeking new ways of delivering world class music to as many as possible. Let us hope that we can continue to build on that into the post-Covid future: and that that future comes soon.

Please keep well – and enjoy the summer, now that it seems to have returned.

Warmest best wishes


John Nichols