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Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway, University of London has a versatile music department which I have often visited, but I realise now, mostly in darkness, or in a hurry to get to or from Egham, Surrey, where the college actually is. So to spend a whole day at the university in gorgeous weather was a voyage of discovery. The huge pink Victorian Founders Building can never be missed in any weathers, but it was extraordinary to view in a whole day's unbroken sunshine. In particular, the chapel interior is covered with the most ornate design, and has seriously been compared with Versailles and some great Catholic buildings, something of a surprise (as the college guide says) for an institution of no-nonsense utilitarian origins, which was founded to fill the big 19th century gap in women's tertiary education.

Holloway has a proper Chapel Choir with actual choral scholars, and we heard their ample, abundant sound (under Rupert Gould's direction) most fitting for these luxurious suroundings. On this occasion they were performing an intriguing lunchtime concert of motets by Masters of the King's and Queen's Music. I was very struck by Peter Maxwell Davies' exquisitely written St Bartholomew's Prayer, new to me. And intrigued by Sir Walter Parratt's The Whirlwind (he was Elgar's predecessor in the royal post) the sheet music of which, Rupert explained, is kept under conditions of some secrecy at St George's Chapel, Windsor. A rather strange detail, of which there are many to be found in the history of the former Masters.

In the afternoon I had the pleasure of a public conversation with RHUL composition lecturer Nathan James Dearden. We were in a fine and useful new building named after the suffragette and Royal Holloway graduate Emily Wilding Davison. Somehow, despite it being a) the end of term and b) super hot and sunny, Nathan had charmed along a most interesting group of musically minded people to join in the discussion.

The day ended with presentation of Honorary Fellowships, myself included, in a friendly event that the college nevertheless takes seriously. It is really worth reading about the history of Royal Holloway's pioneering work in women's education. (Men undergraduates have been admitted since 1965, and in 1985 the college merged with the even older Bedford College.) During the day I kept reading fascinating snippets about the 19th century foundation: "The first students included Sarah Parker Redmond, the first black woman to undertake a round Britain lecture tour about the slavery question". Of the art collection assembled by founder Thomas Holloway from 1881: "It is likely that this was the first collection gathered in Britain specifically for female viewers". Well worth visiting (in daylight) if you have the opportunity.





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