John Nixon

John Nickson

Appointed to RCM Council in March 2012 and a member of the RCM Development Steering Group, John Nickson has been head of fundraising at the British Council, English National Opera, The Royal Academy of Arts and the Tate, and a board member for a number of charities. He currently acts as an advisor, mentor and volunteer with a number of education and arts organisations.

In 2013 he published Giving is Good For You, a book encouraging more people to give money and time to good causes, and you can follow him on Twitter @johndnickson

John supports a scholarship at the RCM.

You're a very busy man! Why is music special to you?

I’ve loved music since I was seven. I watched Solomon playing Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor concerto on the television. Those opening chords… I’d no idea what was going on, but they triggered a journey of personal exploration.

At about 12, I became a record buyer. I recall an LP sleeve with a renaissance painting – stormy sky with shafts of God like sunlight. It was Klemperer’s recording of Bruckner 4. I lowered the needle and there it was – all those tremolando strings! I was hooked.

I realised at that point that music, like reading, walking and the natural world, provided me with energy, hope and sustenance. It still does, possibly more so. It’s what drives me.

I longed to leave my home in the north of England, so when at 18 I came down to London to study at UCL, I began to go to concerts. I’d sit in the Choir at the Festival Hall staring straight at the conductors. It was a transformative experience and confirmed my obsession – or should that be my compulsive need – for music!

Where has your musical journey taken you?

I started narrowly – but well! – with Mozart and other classical composers. I had a ten-year exploration of contemporary music, but I find much of it lacks a distinctive personality. There are exceptions, of course: Birtwistle has an extraordinary, unmistakeable voice, for instance, and Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Gubaidulina’s In Tempus Praesens was unforgettable.

Why the RCM?

Education and opportunities for the young are also important to me. I was introduced to the work of United World Colleges in 1990. It’s an organisation that educates young people aged 16–18 from all over the world, teaching them to live, learn and serve together. Without children of my own, I decided later to support a young man from Rwanda, Innocent, who is now at university in the USA.

The RCM unites the elements of music and young people so I began to realise the time was approaching for me to support a scholarship there.

I attended the Murray Perahia masterclass in 2009 at the invitation of Dasha Shenkman. A student played a Brahms Intermezzo and Perahia asked the student: "What’s the story?" The master suggested that every piece needs to have a story, and that this one might be Brahms as an old man looking back at his younger self, and not liking what he saw.

I was enthralled. I made a first, small donation to the RCM in recognition of this life-changing glimpse I had been allowed. Things developed from there.

What motivates you to offer support in this way?

As a donor, you provide practical help which is obviously needed and appreciated, while at the same time adding a new dimension of intellectual and emotional satisfaction to your own life.

The sense of personal fulfilment is incalculable. I’ve been astonished to learn just how much the RCM enriches the lives of those who study here. As an amateur in the proper sense of the word, I can’t think of anything more satisfying than supporting the work of this wonderful place.

What's your view of the recent negative media coverage of philanthropy?

Too few people understand what giving can achieve, not just for the recipient, but for the donor. It can make life feel more complete, somehow. It has certainly helped me to make sense of my own childhood and has provided me with joy and inspiration in equal measure. I really want to promote the positives about giving more widely, so much so, indeed, that I am writing abook on the subject!

The rewards of supporting a student at the RCM are difficult to express in words, but ask any of us who gives what we get out of it. The satisfaction has nothing to do with the size of the support. It’s the principle. Try it! You’ll get hooked, I’m sure, as I did.

This interview first appeared in Upbeat (Summer 2012), the RCM Magazine

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