If you think you have had an unusual year, think yourself into the shoes of the Royal Society of Musicians, Britain’s oldest musical charity, which has been supporting musicians in difficulty with ‘cautious generosity’ (to quote RSM) since 1738. It’s my great honour to be the Society’s President, so of course I logged on to my computer for Sunday’s AGM. This is usually a most enjoyable pre-Christmas send-off with wine and mince pies, which generally marks my own end of term.
Well of course, fast forward to our current situation. In March, a quick response was needed for a profession in sudden financial distress. RSM has so far unearthed £1.1 million in addition to its usual yearly charitable giving, forming part of an overall fund administered by Help Musicians UK. HMUK’s President, Evelyn Glennie, gave a most gracious speech of thanks during this online AGM.
Meanwhile, it was sobering to hear RSM’s officials (many of whom are working musicians) emphasising that the Society needs to guard its resources for a longterm very difficult future. RSM’s core activity is to help musicians who find themselves incapacitated for work, and it’s already clear that even when some level of normal activity resumes, mental illness will be a major feature of future dispersals. It’s good of course to hear the significance and reality of personal psychology being so widely acknowledged, for instance in news media, though frustrating that it took a worldwide pandemic to point this out.
Retiring Chairman Fiona Grant has spearheaded many forward-looking initiatives during her term of office, but it was a piece of personal advice she gave at the end of her address which particularly struck me. ‘Every day, ring up a colleague you haven’t seen for a while’. I can’t say I’ve managed to do this every day, but when I have, it’s had a dynamic effect on me, and I hope sometimes at the other end of the line.