Connections

Hugh Masekela began playing the trumpet at the age of 14. His first instrument was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, then a parish priest in Sophiatown, later a stalwart of the anti-apartheid movement. Masekela joined the clergyman’s eponymous Jazz Band. “Huddleston’s greatest strength was that he stood against injustice against anybody. It wasn’t about black or white, he was just shocked that the people of Sophiatown were going through the shit they were going through,” explains Masekela.

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There are many other South Africans whose lives were changed by Huddleston, including Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sally Motlana, (activist and vice-chair of the South African Council of Churches during the 1970s); Emeritus Archbishop Khotso Makhulu …

I’m delighted to have a family connection with Walter Khotso Makhulu. He married my father’s cousin, Rosemary. As well as getting political refugees out of South Africa, ‘Uncle Walter’ played a crucial role smuggling anti-apartheid funds into the country, at great risk to himself and his family.

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‘Uncle Walter’ was kind enough to attend my inaugural lecture on the occasion of being awarded a personal chair at the Royal College of Music in 2007. Here are the conclusions of my talk, titled The Conservatoire in the Age of Diversity, the subtext being segregation takes many forms.

… we need to assert the importance of western art music, not apart from cultural diversity, but as a significant part of it. We also need to deal with the fact that other forms of music are less vulnerable and transient than in the past, largely because of a more egalitarian access to technology and communications. Quite rightly, automatic and unearned privileges are no longer afforded to those forms of expression that some continue to call high art. The old idea of musical study ‘rooted in a specific body of works’ is no longer tenable, as Nicholas Cook has reminded us; and this has significant implications for the ways that musical skills and knowledge are passed on, as well as for the organisation and funding of music education.

There are, of course, many ways that [the RCM] already promotes more intelligent attitudes. We do this through curriculum development, outreach and community projects; through the professional activities of our alumni and teaching staff; through performance of orchestral repertoire within and outside the mainstream; as well as through rigorous engagement with the creative opportunities offered by new technologies and media.

And since western art music is already so diverse, then conservatoires such as the RCM need not expect, or be expected to become ever more so, to the point of losing their cultural identity. That would serve no purpose at a time when diversity is an overarching aim.

But equally, the lessons of the last century cannot be ignored, so musicians and musical institutions can no longer expect any special favours just because they do classical music. In this environment, where do we draw the lines of demarcation? Some conservatoires are branching out into the study of oral music traditions. Jazz is already well established amongst the conservatoires; and applied courses such as composition for film, television and multimedia have come to be considered important disciplines.

Whatever else we do, liberating western art music from its doubly unhelpful and unnecessary image, as both cultural culprit and victim, is a fundamental educational project for the Royal College of Music as it embarks on its next exciting, but also challenging, one hundred and twenty-five years.

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