EXPERT COMMENT LAST UPDATED : 17 DECEMBER 2020
The approach of Christmas and the dawning of 2021 make this a good moment to reflect on the year just passed at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. And what an extraordinary year it has been for us all!
Certainly, if we cast our minds back, we will recall that it got off to a great start, with a typically full schedule of exciting activity of which the following can provide only a flavour. For our musicians, the first months of the year included a stunning performance of Messaien’s 'Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum' in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, a Beethoven anniversary piano marathon, a collaboration with Birmingham Royal Ballet (which found our orchestral players in the pit at Birmingham Hippodrome), and a run of performances of the delightful pasticcio opera 'The Enchanted Island'.
We were privileged to host visits by Nicola Benedetti, Evelyn Glennie, Jonathan Kelly and Sarah Willis, among others. Our actors were in theatre with 'Trelawny of the Wells', 'Born Bad' and 'Nosferatu', and our Applied Theatre students’ work included some ‘invisible theatre’ in the context of a cross-disciplinary installation project entitled 'I:DNA'. That our students across both Music and Acting continue to be very happy with their experience at RBC was reflected in the 2020 National Student Survey, in which we gained scores of 92 per cent and 90 per cent respectively for overall satisfaction. For Music, this placed us above all other music colleges for the third successive year.
The national lockdown in March brought with it the obvious challenges. But RBC’s students and staff not only demonstrated huge resilience in completing the year’s work remotely, but also impressive creativity, resulting in numerous highly successful ‘lockdown’ projects which we were able to share online. These included ‘Lockdown Miniatures’ – works by our (student) composers for groups of remotely located (student) performers; ‘Legend of the Lockdown Leavers’ – a specially-commissioned piece by Ryan Linham comprising 26 parts written specifically for our graduating Brass students; and ’31 Portraits’ – two-minute solo dance films created by our second year Acting students based on their own autobiographical stories.
In September we were delighted to return to campus and to engage once again in live music and theatre performance – in the safest possible way, of course. Although our students are grouped in ‘bubbles’, we’re continuing to find creative ways to work, thanks in no small part to the dedication and expertise of our technical team. Recently, for instance, we gave a live performance of Tchaikovsky’s 'Romeo and Juliet' involving three bubbles of students playing in three different spaces in the RBC building. And our actors have been back in theatre, with productions of 'Naked', 'Macbeth' and 'Lady Windermere’s Fan' streamed to online audiences.
Applied Theatre students, who are normally out and about doing drama in schools and community venues, have been in studios inventing original online content to replace live workshops, and helping support all our partner theatre companies by working with them on new ways of using technology to create drama. Our composers and researchers have continued to be as productive and as successful as ever across a diverse range of endeavours. Our Junior Department is once again engaged in face-to-face work and, despite the obvious challenges, we have continued to sustain an active and exciting Music outreach programme.
I am extremely grateful to my RBC colleagues for all that they have done, in whatever capacity, to enable Semester 1 to run so smoothly and so successfully, and I am incredibly proud of the really positive way in which our students have responded to such a unique set of circumstances. And I am very thankful to everyone outside RBC who has continued to show both interest in and support for us over the course of this unusual year. It goes without saying that our very special RBC community is much looking forward to what we hope will be a gradual return to normality in 2021, and to celebrating that return with a stimulating and varied menu of activity which will provide yet more memorable experiences for us all.
Meantime, I send you all my best wishes for a happy and enjoyable festive season, and – of course – a happy and healthy new year!
Dr Shirley Thompson
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire