With seemingly 99% of news stories focusing on the unlikely election of a new US President this year, I would like to announce that I too have become President of something in 2016. The Royal Society of Musicians graciously invited me to serve in this capacity following the death of the previous office holder, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The RSM is Britain’s oldest musical charity, founded in 1738 by a roster of London musicians, a great many of whom (it was pointedly mentioned during the recent AGM) were European by birth and training but made very welcome in the capital city of the time because of their indispensable contribution to British cultural life. Now where have I heard that before? Most famous amongst them was that utterly generous personality George Frideric Handel.
Out of many splendid historical facts about the society, I was most impressed to learn that, since the 18th century, they’ve always maintained the same bank account (at Drummond’s Bank) opened by their first Secretary, Michael Festing. Since I'd just spent the festive week changing a lot of direct debits, forgetting my security question( ‘what was the name of your first pet?’) and so on, this seemed like good advice I’d heard too late. And in fact I found it generally striking that this ancient charity, which has been extraordinarily successful and prudent in its financial care (the current balance sheet shows around £30m in assets) is run by a very minimal number of professional administrators and a large army of volunteers, most of whom are, or were, musicians themselves.
So, with much to be thankful for, in that ubiquitous modern phrase, ‘what is the elephant in the room ?' (Fortunately the AGM took place in the Oriental Club, Stratford Place, where there are indeed elephants in most of the rooms, one of which I snapped for this post). In fact, there didn’t seem to be any elephant. Officials of the Society simply explained that since they appeared to have more money this year, they would be able to give even more of it away to people in need next year. More of this please, around the world in 2017.