Scholar Dominika Maszcynska in one-to-one fortepiano lesson at the RCM

Feature Summer 2020

A legacy of support

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Like many Royal College of Music supporters, Betty Sutherland was enthralled by the College from her very first visit.

Betty has been a supporter since 1976 when she attended an RCM production of Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto. 'From that time, I was hooked and saw it as a great privilege to be able to assist the students and their ambitions', she says. Betty wants to encourage students to pursue their artistic abilities even in the face of significant challenges because, she says, 'students are our future'.

The Royal College of Music has a long history of philanthropic support. It was founded in 1883 on the principle that access to world-class music education should be available to talented musicians regardless of financial means.

Support comes from a variety of sources, ranging from donations by large organisations to gifts from dedicated individuals. In the 2018–19 academic year, the RCM gave over £3 million in scholarships to over half of the student body. Through the More Music: Reimagining the Royal College of Music Campaign and other initiatives, the College aims to increase the amount of support on offer each year.

Friends of the RCM

Like Betty Sutherland, Gordon Cooper was inspired to give after witnessing the talent of RCM students at events, describing the experience of seeing the 'stars of the future' perform as 'inspiring and heart-warming. The College itself has a glorious past and I'd like to play some small part in seeing it continuing its great work', he says.

Gordon has been a supporter for over 20 years and – along with his wife Penny – donates annually through the RCM Friends programme. Although they had no prior connection to the RCM before becoming RCM Friends, Gordon and Penny now feel very connected to the College. 'This is in no small part due to the Friends programme, which works assiduously to engage supporters in the RCM’s many activities and foster an RCM family.'


The Royal College of Music has nearly 400 RCM Friends who contribute to students' training and education through a yearly membership. Offering a range of benefits including priority booking, exclusive events and a subscription to Upbeat magazine, RCM Friends are cherished by students and staff alike. 'Sign up as a Friend and go to as many events as possible with family and friends', advises Gordon. 'The RCM will benefit from your support and you’ll derive much pleasure from the work it does. It’s a win-win.'

Some supporters choose to leave gifts in their wills, a gesture that can have a profound impact no matter the size of the donation. It is an option that RCM alumnus and violinist Grant Newman has pursued. 'My intended legacy – and that of my partner, Neville – is that our entire estate will be used to fund scholarships for talented string players', Grant explains. 'I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship to study at the RCM and it seemed natural that I should mark that in some way, hopefully giving a new generation of students many of the benefits I enjoyed.'

Giving back

Many RCM supporters are alumni of the College who benefitted from support themselves. Catherine Crisp is one such alumna, having been supported during her doctoral studies by a scholarship.

'I received such kindness from the RCM during my studies that I feel very connected to the College. Since I finished my doctorate in 2017, it has been my pleasure to support the RCM.' Catherine believes that 'by supporting the RCM, you are not just supporting individual musicians, you are encouraging music and the arts to flourish as a vital part of our society.' Her preferred method of donating is to give to specific appeals when they arise, the most recent being the RCM COVID-19 Hardship Fund.


'It is crucial to support musicians through this unprecedented situation', says Catherine. 'Many musicians have lost income, support and professional engagements because of COVID-19. Music is essential in offering comfort, solace, hope and joy and at such a time it is even more important to support the next generation of musicians.'

Dasha Shenkman, who follows in the footsteps of her mother Belle Shenkman as a long-time supporter of the RCM, agrees: 'All musicians are suffering very much during this crisis period, many with no means of making a living, particularly if they are not in a position to do any teaching. If we can help them in any way, we must.'

Responding to COVID-19

The Royal College of Music launched its COVID-19 Hardship Fund in April 2020 to raise funds for students worst affected financially by the coronavirus pandemic. Many students rely on gigs, teaching and other work to pay their tuition fees and cover their living costs.

Although the College already had a hardship fund in place for students in greatest need, as lockdown measures took hold the number of students in need rose sharply. The College responded quickly to set up the RCM COVID-19 Hardship Fund and appeal to supporters for help. At the time of publishing, £431,059 has been raised and 126 students have benefited from the fund.

One of those students is pianist Dominika Maszczynska, who relies on teaching to cover her living expenses. 'I planned everything so carefully so that I could afford living in London. The pandemic just made everything much more difficult. I couldn't focus on anything else.' Dominika was not eligible for UK government support and was worried about being able to afford to pay rent during the crisis. 'It was such a relief when I found out that my application to the fund been successful! I’m truly grateful; it has helped me to be more optimistic about the future.'

It is a similar story for Masters oboe student David Hedley, who lost his zero-hour contract restaurant job and saw all his upcoming gigs cancelled. 'It was a substantial loss of the income I rely on to keep me afloat', he says. With the help of the RCM COVID-19 Hardship Fund, David was able to re-focus on his studies without worrying about finding immediate work to pay his tuition fees.

For conductor Avi Taler, who receives support from the Polonsky Foundation, the extra help was welcome news, as it assisted with his accommodation costs and gave him 'more air to breathe' in the immediate future. However, as David points out: 'this is an ongoing battle, as although I am currently stable financially thanks to the generous support of the RCM, I have not been able to get any work yet for the summer, which I am reliant on.'

Fortunately, RCM supporters are acutely aware of the challenges facing students at this time and donations are still being received for the fund. Supporter and member of the RCM Council Ruth Keattch is 'very conscious that student musicians do not have the earnings required to gain access to government support.' Having joined the RCM Investment Committee in 2014, Ruth says the College 'now feels like family.' When asked what she would say to someone interested in supporting the RCM, she says: 'If you love music, try it. Philanthropy gives back more than you put in.'

More music and more support

The Royal College of Music’s most significant philanthropic project of recent years is the More Music Campaign. With a fundraising target of £40 million to cover the transformation of the RCM campus, expansion of scholarships and outreach programmes and investment in various academic initiatives, More Music represents an important investment in RCM students for generations to come.

Geoff Richards HonRCM is Chairman of the More Music Campaign, a More Music Founding Patron, a member of the RCM Council and a supporter for over 20 years. His first introduction came from cellist Amaryllis Fleming, after whom the College’s main concert hall is named. As her trustee and advisor, Geoff witnessed Amaryllis delivering masterclasses to RCM students and was 'astonished' by their hard work and dedication.


'I literally fell in love with the RCM and its dedicated approach to educating musicians', he says. 'The unforeseen disaster of COVID-19 had an immediate effect on our fundraising strategy to complete the More Music Campaign, which had been going very well with £3 million left to raise', Geoff explains.

'The final effect on philanthropic giving is yet to be seen but we remain optimistic and push on with our plans to raise the full amount. The work of the RCM Development & Alumni Engagement team continues apace and there is much we have learned from the situation, not least enhanced communication skills in order to remain in touch with our supporters.'

This communication is cited by many of the RCM’s dedicated supporters as one of the main benefits of supporting the College. 'The RCM Alumni Network provides a sense of belonging', says Catherine Crisp. 'I enjoy receiving Upbeat and reading all the latest news and developments. It is lovely to feel connected to the RCM even after you have graduated.'

Ruth Keattch remembers 'so many' favourite memories of RCM events, particularly highlighting 'behind-the-scenes events' such as masterclasses. 'It’s such a privilege to witness students being taught in this way.'

Dasha Shenkman agrees, saying: 'It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to watch young talent grow and to see the enjoyment of people making music together. I would encourage everyone to support the RCM and remind them how much you get back when you give in any way, no matter the amount. You can transform someone's life in so many ways.'

For Grant Newman, being an RCM Best Friend means helping to secure the future of music. 'There is something very special about seeing young people perform. The levels of enthusiasm and commitment are always evident. I am sometimes astonished by what young people are capable of when they come together to make music which, after all, is what it’s all about.'


Tash Payne

Tash is Communications Officer at the Royal College of Music.


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