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Change the academy’s name, but not its soul

So that's it then.

It’s farewell to the Royal Scottish Academy Of Music And Drama, the RSAMD, the academy, or whatever your pet name might be for the orange-brick institution at the junction of Hope and Renfrew Streets.

With the final Summerfest performance yesterday from the academy’s Song Studio, the RSAMD’s academic year came to a formal close, and the next time we see it in action, so to speak, will be after September 1, when everything will have changed. Now, before I say any more, that’s not literally true: I’m quite sure there will be activities of one sort or another running in the building through the summer.

But on September 1, it’s goodbye RSAMD and hello (and welcome?) to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, or the RCS, as I suppose we must learn to say; mind you there’s even money on this side of the wire which of us in the scribbling business will be the first to get those initials mixed up with Shakespearean ramifications.

Why is it changing? Oh dear; I hope never to be asked that question. Being Neanderthal in my outlook, as opposed to futurist, I’m afraid I’m terminally based in the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” enclave. I suppose the change is reflective of a number of things, literal and philosophical. The range of academy operations is now way beyond the catch-all titles of music and drama. There is dance, too, and musical theatre, and all aspects of technical production, as well as the new technologies: everything is there to be studied.

Arguably, the word “music” is itself now inadequate. It always meant classical music. But now there’s a well-established and acclaimed traditional music department. And there’s a relatively new jazz faculty as well. Personally, whatever I come to think of the name change in due course, I don’t buy this bit of it: “Music” is a good, strong, identifying word to have in your professional moniker, and I will always believe that.

I imagine the name change also reflects the visionary aspirations of the academy, which has been driving hard towards internationalism; and that has been represented on numerous levels, including the creation of international fellowships, which have successfully brought great musicians, including the Brodsky Quartet, pianist Steven Osborne and conductor Donald Runnicles into the academy family.

And there is absolutely no question that the establishment of the prosaically named Memorandum of Understanding between the RSAMD and the BBC is one of the most critical achievements of the academy in many a year. I literally pinched myself last session as I sat in the academy concert hall and watched Donald Runnicles conducting the Academy Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Elgar’s In the South. It was an extraordinary experience.

There is probably some link too with the wave of change about to sweep through the academy and the buzz phrase of last session which has echoed in the corridors: curriculum reform. Don’t ask me what that is, for goodness sake, but it is controversial: it has already cost the academy one good man with the resignation of Bryan Allen, head of brass and instrumental performance, and an academy top gun if ever there was one.

I will say this, having witnessed the effects of reform and restructuring in other industries, including my own: I have noticed that reformers, pushing icons around a screen in order to rebuild and save the world, always forget one thing – people. It’s people that make things work, not gizmos and gadgets which are tools, no more; very clever tools, but brainless and soul-less.

The academy is about great thinking, great teaching, great musicianship and great performance, from students and staff alike. It has had all of these in abundance in the last academic session, and we heard the results, wrapped up in one basket, in that incredible symphony orchestra concert two weeks ago, with an amazing performance of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and the astonishing new student composition, Ridge A, by Richard Greer. Reform that lot at your peril.

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