The Royal College of Music’s new museum in its refurbished Prince Consort Road building houses 60 of the institutions 1500-strong collection of instruments plus a myriad of tantalising musical artefacts from past students too. A treasure trove for those of us who love to peer at detail and let our imagination take flight.
The museum is open to the public for free – part of the Royal College of Music’s aim to make itself more open beyond its students.
The extent to which the museum itself will prove a draw for UK (or international when the rules allow) cultural tourists was difficult to grasp when I visited the museum in a press preview last week. In fairness I was, true to form, running low on energy the day I visited. This may well account for my initial perspective on the space.
That said, I found the exhibition thought-provoking.
On display are moments from history, potent examples of instruments denoting status. A bygone age when music and the technology required to create it were celebrated. When did we lose sight of that? When did music start being taken for granted? When did it assume the same status as the likes of gas, electricity or running water?
The exhibition will support RCM students in their own studies. And for those visitors to London who are up for venturing north of the Victoria and Albert or Science museums (or who in the summer might have tickets for the Proms) the Royal College will come with a valuable offer over and above learning: another public-access cafe with toilet facilities.
This observation isn’t a back-handed compliment. If memory serves me correctly, one of Harry Selfridge’s priorities when establishing his epic department store was laying on the facilities he knew his core audience needed back when the store that takes his name to this day was set up in 1908. Make yourself useful in the first instance and tempt them with the treats once they’re inside.
In that way, the Royal College has stolen a march on its nearby rivals the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. I like the approach.
Many a time I’ve sauntered past Trinity Laban in Greenwich listening to multiple musicians practising orchestral excerpts wanting to be ‘closer to the action’.
If the Royal College succeed in scheduling daytime and museum-bound performances then they’ll create a daytime destination for the likes of me. Free access to their considerable collection of musical instruments and artefacts plus a cracking a cafe will do just fine.
Access is free but visitors need to book a ticket to guarantee access. More information on the Royal College of Music Museum website.