Royal Society of Musicians

After the B Minor Mass performance in Suffolk, I returned home on Sunday 1st of October 2017 via David Staff’s workshop with a beautifully-restored natural trumpet, finished with a new cord of an alternating dark blue and red pattern on the binding [- the previous all-red binding had been added by Graham Nicholson on my first visit to The Hague in January 2011]. Upon arriving at home I had just enough time to get in, unpack, get changed and get on the train to head towards Bond Street.

I arrived at the Oriental Club in Stratford Place (Marylebone) in order to sign the book of the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain and attend their meeting. I had been elected as a member on the 2nd of July 2017 and I was invited to attend this meeting to sign the book and be formally admitted as a member. It is certainly a privilege to be a member of the Royal Society of Musicians, Britain’s longest established musical charity. The society is run by musicians for musicians and it has a fascinating history with many notable members past and present.*

At the beginning of the meeting the new members signed the book and were formally admitted. We were each presented with a certificate of membership (with names in beautiful calligraphy) and asked to make a short address to the members in attendance, summarising our achievements so far and what we hoped we could bring to the society. This was a slightly nerve-wracking task. I briefly mentioned studying the trumpet at the Royal Northern College of Music and later at the Royal College of Music with Michael Laird (who I was delighted to see was present among the members in attendance). I went on to acknowledge and thank the members who had sponsored me before my election to the society. In summary, I answered the question of what I hoped I could bring to the society with the slightly risky comment of ‘a slightly lower average age’. Fortunately the comment was taken in very good humour and it raised a good laugh! I listened with interest to the other new members talking about their achievements and to the remaining business of the meeting.

Following on from the quoted paragraph below (copied from the history page on the society's website), beginning “By the end of the 19th Century it was prudent for a young musician to seek membership of the Society, to confirm status in the profession”, I do feel a certain sense of pride and achievement in being asked to become a member of the Royal Society of Musicians. Firstly, it is a hugely worthwhile and long-standing organisation to be a part of, with the most admirable aims. Significantly, the fact that your colleagues recommend you to join the society is most encouraging and heartening. Being asked to join the society has, for me at least, acted as a positive waypoint in my career - the previous waypoint was graduating from the Royal College of Music in 2012. It has given a me chance to reflect on my achievements (although I wasn’t able to succinctly convey them in my speech to the members - hopefully they took this as modest British understatement) during my time as a professional musician so far.

* "The Royal Society of Musicians was founded in 1738 as the “Fund for Decay’d Musicians”. 228 members of the profession signed its Declaration of Trust; they included Arne, Boyce, Carey, Festing, Greene, Pepusch, Edward Purcell (son of Henry), Roseingrave, Sammartini, Stanley (the blind organist and composer) and, most valuably, Handel. The Society still maintains at Drummond’s Bank the account which Michael Festing (the first Secretary) opened in November 1738. From the beginning Handel took part in the annual concerts for the Fund’s benefit, and he bequeathed it £1,000 in a 1759 codicil to his Will.

George III gave his patronage to and attended the Handel Festival concerts in 1784, with some 500 performers. This benefited the Society (as it had been called since 1780) by £6,000, and its first Royal Charter was granted in 1790. Its charitable work has unceasingly continued since its foundation. Archives, and a number of fine portraits now in its 18th Century central London house, are viewable by appointment.

Over many years money was received from benefit concerts, and gifts and honorary subscriptions from members of the nobility and the general public. Dinners or “Anniversary Festivals” were held, presided over by distinguished non-members, including Dickens, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Sullivan, and Irving. These proceedings often included performances of Marches written for the Society, by Haydn and Weber amongst others. In 1824, at the age of 12, “Master Liszt (a youth from Hungary)” gave for the Society his first concert in England, and he played for it again in 1827. Mendelssohn and Moscheles extemporised for it, and in 1848 Berlioz responded (in French) to a toast. Dvorák accompanied two of his own songs in 1885. Over the years, most of those who attended became Honorary Subscribers or gave donations, as did members of the Royal Family, Paganini, Meyerbeer, Liszt, and Clara Schumann, and the famous firm of Broadwood. The Society of Female Musicians, launched in 1840, amalgamated with the Society in 1866.

By the end of the 19th Century it was prudent for a young musician to seek membership of the Society, to confirm status in the profession, and to be able to call for help if in grave need. (By then, only very limited support could be given to non-members.) But the post-war welfare state and insurance developments led to a decline in the Society’s membership, and a renewed realisation that its aims had originally been for the relief of any professional musicians and their families in serious distress, and not primarily for the protection of Members.

Changes in the policies were reinforced by its second Royal Charter (in 1987), so that the Society can now help stricken non-members, including students, with the same cautious generosity as its Members.” - Royal Society of Musicians

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.