The Master’s Newsletter, October 2020
The schools and universities have returned, so has the rain and the days are getting noticeably shorter. I had hoped that by now we would be looking at some return at least of what we used to call a normal life, with music, concerts and opera at its centre: but sadly that has yet to happen, and it now seems unlikely that it will until the Spring. That will make a lost year, and I cannot be the only one to feel that at my age that is rather too much time to sacrifice.
The real sacrifices, though, are being made by young freelance musicians. In a Zoom meeting recently between the Lord Mayor and Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Simon referred to a “lost decade” with freelancers “looking into the abyss”, as fewer than 40% of then qualify for any sort of Government assistance. He also strongly contrasted the situation in Germany with that in Britain: the sense, in Berlin, that with a clear lead from the politicians everyone knew what to do and how to do it: he noted that the contrast with the fear and chaos of the atmosphere in London was “staggering”. We have, I suspect, all known for most of our lives that British politicians have never had and will never have any sort of interest in, relationship with, or affinity for, the arts, particularly the performing arts, but if we needed any more proof, the attitudes shown in recent months have certainly provided it.
What can the Company do? We have continued as normally as we can, and we have taken several new initiatives to try and support our Yeomen Young Artists as best as we are able in these appallingly difficult times. Our charitable work continues unimpeded. Over the summer, the team in the Office has been working on maintaining the steady stream of Awards and Prizes, despite the difficulties caused by being unable to hold any sort of live audition or competition. Getting half-adequate videos of performances, bringing together virtual panels of adjudicators, have all presented their own variety of tangled logistical problems, which, happily, Hugh and the team have been able to resolve, though often spending far more time and effort doing so than they would in normal circumstances. Since last I wrote, we have been able to award the following:
Musicians’ Company Awards
Singers: Roisin Lavery soprano Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (£10,000)
Wind: Petr Sedlak bassoon Royal College of Music (£10,000)
Goldman Award: Monica McGhee soprano National Opera Studio (£2,000)
Additional awards of £2,000 to Esther Beyer harp Royal Academy of Music and José Matias violin Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
Carnwath Piano Scholarship
Maurizio Arroyo Reyes, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (£10,000)
New Elizabethan Award
Michael Butten, guitar (£15,000 and a Wigmore Hall Recital)
Musical Direction in Music Theatre Award
Sam Young, Royal Academy of Music (£4,500)
With our Monday and Wednesday #Midday Music concerts now firmly and successfully established, we have also tried to help our Yeomen Young Artists by providing them with a bit of income, but also, more importantly, with a public platform to showcase their talents. Our first video was released on 8th June 2020, and as of Friday 11th September we have released 28, with a further 38 planned (taking us to February, with a short break over Christmas). Half of our Young Artists (94 out of 200) have signed up for the programme.
Our average video receives over 100 views in the first week of its release, and the total overall is almost 7,000 views (Videos continue to receive new views the longer they are on our YouTube channel).
This has had a major beneficial impact on our social media footprint: follower numbers and website hits have risen significantly. In particular, our Instagram (mostly the under 35s) following is now almost 1,000, our Twitter following is over 1,800 (most used by Music Industry figures) and our Facebook following is 786.
Each video costs £100 for each Young Artist involved and £50 for editing. There is a significant amount of work for the Young Artists’ Programme Co-ordinator: it takes two days a week of her time. We also have a digital co-ordinator, who at the moment is free of charge via AStarPR, who works between 4 hours a week on social media. I am most grateful to Christine Twite and Ian Roberts of A Star for their invaluable contributions to this very successful programme.
Originally it was agreed that the Prince’s Prize fund of £10,000 would be redistributed to fund the #MiddayMusic project (through payments for the Young Artists and the editors of the videos). The videos are shown with a link to Just Giving, and we have been able so far to secure donations of around £5,000 through that channel. The Prince’s Prize and Just Giving have been able to cover all costs to date and all projected costs up to February. We are now considering how to take the scheme forward, and in what format, into the rest of 2021 and maybe beyond.
While on the Yeomen Young Artists Programme, the Zoom Outreach sessions with Merton Dementia Hub have continued, to great acclaim, and will now go on every month into 2021. I have also been negotiating with CHD Care Homes, a chain with 13 Care Homes across the South East, serving over 800 residents. A pilot study Zoom concert involving three Yeomen, funded from the Master’s discretionary fund, took place on 5 October. 5 of the care homes listened in: a total of around 100 residents. The organiser for CHD said after the event: “I’ve already received such positive feedback from many of the homes that participated. CHD Living has asked me to pass on their heartfelt thanks to you and the musicians”. I attach a copy of the Press Release issued by CHD after the event.
I have also been able to arrange for a one-hour online concert by Yeomen for the Royal Hospital Chelsea (The Chelsea Pensioners). This concert will be held on Monday 12 October, with a second session at a time yet to be agreed in November. I am funding these concerts from the Master’s Discretionary Fund as well.
By continuing to find new venues for our Yeomen, even if they are online, we hope we are both helping them to survive in these very difficult times: and, of course, we are in the process developing our own very distinctive digital Company profile.
You will have seen from a message sent by the Clerk on 4th September that the Lord Mayor acknowledged our efforts, singling us out for our innovative approach to the daunting problems caused by the pandemic. This was splendid and well-earned recognition for our team. I attach the Lord Mayor’s September Message for your information. The current Lord Mayor, William Russell, will of course now continue in office until November 2021, but it was nonetheless planned to hold a truncated Lord Mayor’s Show in November, That has now been cancelled.
In the meantime, the Yeomen Young Artists, too, have spoken of their admiration for our work: appearing on In Tune on Radio 3, Prince’s Prize winner clarinettist Elliot Gresty mentioned his gratitude to the Company for the opportunities it offers, both in Outreach and in Performance Opportunity. It was excellent publicity for us, and I wrote to Elliot to thank him.
We will not, unfortunately, be able to meet in person until the new restrictions are lifted, whenever that might be. But we are hoping to present a virtual Carol Service – more details later. All meetings will continue to be by Zoom, and there will be no lunches or dinners for the rest of 2020 and probably for the first few months of 2021.
Please stay well.