The Royal Academy of Music Museum
Marylebone Rd NW1 5HT
With Linda still packing boxes, Mary and I met to visit this small but interesting museum. It looks a bit like a building site at the moment, but the website had forewarned us, so we weren't worried, and avoided the wet paint as we went in.
Mary was relieved to discover that the Museum had only been in existence for about a decade; she had feared that she had ignored it for all the years when she brought her son and his trombone for music lessons every Saturday.
The ground floor has three components, of which the first you come to is the shop, which sells sheet music as well as pens/teeshirts/mugs/fridge magnets.
Then there is a timeline, illustrated with objects and documents, about this venerable institution. Founded in 1822, it has links with pretty well everyone in music that we had ever heard of. Letters from Liszt and Mendelssohn sit alongside portraits and other items that tell the story of musical education from the time of Beethoven to the present day.
Next we went into the space for temporary exhibitions which, at the moment, is about the music of the First World War. This was very interesting, perhaps especially for what you might call the 'Oh, What a Lovely War' generation. We know the songs Joan Littlewood included, and here they are: the sheet music of the songs the soldiers 'adapted' to express their feelings. Some film footage included the dashing Hetty King, who sang in masculine dress, whether a Jack Tar uniform, or a daringly brief kilt.
We were also surprised to see a couple of very pacifist songs, including a mother's declaration that she hadn't raised her son 'to kill another mother's pride and joy'.
The top floor houses the keyboard collection, and here we met Felipe, who told us about the range of instruments on display. The exhibition tells the story of the development of the modern piano, and includes a 1764 Kirkman instrument, made in London. We saw a harpsichord, clavichord, virginal, square piano, and various stages toward the kind of grand piano which needs a metal frame to prevent the vibrating springs doing damage to the wood. We were interested to see that there is a workshop on this floor which maintains the instruments.
The middle floor is where the string collection is, and we admired lutes, violins and cellos, as well as a sample of the Academy's collection of music and teaching manuals, some of them centuries old. Some of the captions discussed the extent to which early instrument makers were aware of what we would term modern scientific knowledge about the speed of sound and the way sound moves. It is certainly remarkable that a small and intricate bit of wood with added gut and hair can fill an enormous hall with beautiful noise.
All in all, we enjoyed ourselves, and feel the museum should be better known. We think there was only one other visitor in all the time we were there. It is open every weekday, from 11.30, and is free; it is also very near the shopping thrills of Marylebone High Street, so there is no need even to make a special expedition.