Dumb? Conservatoire gives PhD to singer ‘who made us look stupid’

Dumb? Conservatoire gives PhD to singer ‘who made us look stupid’


norman lebrecht

June 04, 2015

The next stage of degree devaluation has arrived.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has announced the award of an honorary doctorate to the Britain’s Got Talent singer Susan Boyle, of whom circusmaster Simon Cowell famously said ‘she made us look stupid’.

Ms Boyle, 54, said: ‘I am truly honoured to be receiving this doctorate. It is brilliant and I thank the RCS for even considering me, let alone actually awarding me with this great privilege.’

Let us not dwell here on issues of intelligence. Stick to commonsense: what’s the sense of the RCS lowering itself to award its highest degree to a singer with no formal education?

Surely what the RCS is signalling is that there is no point in having an education in music, and that its own existence is redundant.

Or are we missing something here?

susan boyle


  • Benjamin Bevan says:

    Perhaps she’s donating a huge amount of cash to the Institution so that people from all backgrounds can learn how to sing and don’t end up sounding like her.
    That would be rather noble and well worth a degree.

    • mark tyson says:

      No kidding !
      She is a product and that’s all she is !
      This is what happens when the audience that watches and listens to these TV shows like the Voice . Lots of good amateurs with half decent voices but no real talent to speak of will be passed off as up and comers .
      If she is the most successful,which I assume she is, then were does this put the Beatles?
      This is a big mistake and sends the wrong message to those who may have the talent but take the time to actually hone their art .

  • Kathleen McCarthy says:

    Yes, you are missing something. An honorary doctorate is NOT a PhD and is not even an academic degree and has nothing to do with anyone’s educational level. Just about everybody understands that. Why don’t you? However, I think one can reasonably question whether she deserves this honor.

    • Marg says:

      Thankyou Kathleen. I dont know why NL doesnt get it either. This very subject was discussed a week ago over Lang Lang and your point was clearly made by several. Like you, I do wonder though why she has been awarded an honorary degree.

    • Una says:

      Either way, PhD or not, she’s now Dr Susan Boyle! There has to be better ways of rewarding people without handing out doctorates.

      • Kathleen McCarthy says:

        No she isn’t. I don’t know about the UK but in the US those with honorary doctorates are not referred to or addressed as “Dr.”.

  • CDH says:

    Not sure she is not as deserving as many recipients of this type of acknowledgement. She has built a dazzlingly successful career despite quite a few obvious handicaps to such a progress. She has brought pleasure to millions. So she is not a classical artists (nor pretends to be). As a singer of popular songs, her voice is admirably suited to what she is doing, and she did indeed give those judges a wake-up call when they judged her on appearance before she had opened her mouth. Her frailties in the face of sudden and overwhelming attention after a life of obscurity, and her fightback, have been inspiring to many.

    I wish I saw less sneering on here sometimes about the lesser mortals who are not dedicated, monklike, to the classical scene, and heard a little more of the kind of rueful “kicking ourselves” reflection that Cowell et al had to go through. There is a world elsewhere, and Honorary Doctorates are not reserved for people who can sing Brunnhilde.

    • Benjamin Bevan says:

      I disagree. Her voice is not admirably suited to what she does. She may give pleasure to thousands but so does Ron Jeremy but he hasn’t been given a doctorate as far as I’m aware.

      • CDH says:

        Neither has she. I wish you people could get it clear in your minds that an honorary doctorate has NOTHING TO DO WITH DEGREES. It is a version of the New Years Honours List — an acknowledgement of some contribution to the community. It does not matter what YOU think of Susan Boyle’s voice. She is an entertainer who pleases millions, and, furthermore, she pleases them in large part because she has overcome prejudices as well as other problems on her way. She deserves it on guts alone.

        • Miranda Gilroy says:

          Yes, it does take a lot of ‘guts’ to get up off the sofa and line up with hundreds of others for a fast track to stardom.

          Many of us have been trying to work, hone and perfect our craft at huge expense and sacrifice all our lives.

          And before you mention her disability, there are MANY performers who have studied at the RCS with disabilities. They haven’t been treated the same way, despite actually studying there.

      • Robert says:

        Watching Ron Jeremy has never given me any pleasure whatsoever – just added to my inferiority complex, that’s all. Sad but true!

        • Anne says:

          I still don’t understand why the army gets off scot free in your story? With a 48/50 hypocrisy rate, it seems to be the army that has the serious ‘poseur’ problem.

        • Anne says:


          I think we’re both probably starting to run dry and this blog seems designed to limit thread length. I don’t agree with everything that NL says. Far from it. But I’m sure that there are people representing your favourite genres with whom you disagree from time to time.

          One word about Kiri Te Kanawa though. Her background was far from privileged and she worked hard through the London Opera Centre in Stepney (former cinema, now closed) to get to her present position. It’s a very competitive field and success is far from guaranteed and I can perfectly understand her irritation at people propelled into the limelight on the basis of a TV competition. Maybe she doesn’t like TV much. I don’t either. Similarly, Thomas Allen, top baritone from a mining community in Durham, nice guy and as far from being a snob as you can get, has used strong words to describe crossover singers (not SB) who pretend to be opera singers but can’t deliver the goods.

          Barely a week goes by without some celebrity making an unwise tweet or comment somewhere. Very few are opera singers. I think perhaps you could try a little harder to see it from their point of view and not put everything down to snobbery. It’s a bit more complex, but I also think you know that already.

          And next time, avoid Aida and try Opera North’s Paradise Moscow if you can find a performance. You might be surprised. Barber of Seville ain’t half bad either. Believe it or not, I enjoyed Mamma Mia, in spite of all those damn inverted snobs in the audience!

          • robert says:

            Your points are as always well made. I noticed, however there was no defending Mellor, and quite right too – he really is beyond the pale. You are correct we have probably covered just about everything we can, but before departing, can I just put in a word for the Birmingham Symphony Hall. I saw Susan there Apr 14 and she was great, but I would say that wouldn’t I. But the hall itself – WOW – just wonderful. If you can force yourself out of London – it’s only just up the road anyway, and pick something you like, I’m sure you will have a wonderful time. I do hope so – with kindest regards – Rob!!!

      • mark tyson says:

        Very funny !

    • Ellingtonia says:

      I too wish there was a lot less sneering on here about so called “lesser mortals” in the music profession. Is it any wonder that thousands stay clear of classical music and concerts with such condescending attitudes in abundance.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I personally admire Susan and it shows us that not everything you see if what is inside. Her musical gifts are beautiful, and she adds beauty to the world. The RCS presentation is a warm tip of the hat to one of their own, in my humble opinion. But I will say, one alternative to this way of honoring someone is what Orchestra Kentucky does. They award Lifetime Achievement Awards in the Arts and Humanities, to those who have contributed to their craft over many years. There is a performance featuring their music, if they are composers of pop or classical, followed by the award presentation the following evening with special video created for them about their life, and a special artist rendering compiling everything about their life and career. In most cases, if they are musicians, they also perform after they receive the award. (They have presented this to Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Peter Tork, and there will be a very special honoree in 2016 not yet revealed. Am American pop icon. For 2017–hmm–Sir Elton John, would you be interested? Just need a piano concerto from you…)

  • Ellingtonia says:

    Some of the greatest musicians have never had a “formal music education” e.g. Art Tatum, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks, Bonnie Rait, B.B. King, Richard Thompson, Danny Thompson…………so according to NL they would not be deserving of any honorary doctorate from a music academy in recognition of the contribution they have made to their profession?

    • Anne says:

      But the RCS is actually in the business of providing “formal music education”. That’s the point that NL is making and it’s a perfectly reasonable one, IMO. What does it say to those who persevere in obtaining a qualification?

      I have nothing whatsoever against Susan Boyle who, as already pointed out, does not pretend to be something she isn’t. I wish her well but, as you say, she is only one of many musicians who have had no formal music education. So why stop there? Why not hand out dozens of honorary doctorates every year?

      This is nothing more than an apologetic, shallow attempt to signal how ‘cool’, ‘relevant’ or ‘in touch’ (take your pick) the RCS is.

      • Robert says:

        Anne – you are almost correct but not quite. You see I do know where Covent Garden is and I have been to an opera, though I admit, only one. Whilst serving in Germany in the 80’s, my girlfriend at the time, a music teacher in a British Army school in Dortmund decided to organise a trip to Dusseldorf to see Verdi’s Aida. She got the Garrison’s CO’s wife on board (vital) and about 50 mess members, partners etc duly turned up for the big event. After 5 hours, returning on the coach, people were raving about how good it all was and my girlfriend was elated. Some months later she sought to repeat this exercise – different opera, of course. You can guess what happened. There were only two takers. She was crest fallen. This did not surprise me because on an individual basis after Aida all the field officers I spoke to confessed it was dreadful and they would rather be on the front line than sit through that again. Their partners were of the same opinion and could not wait to get back ,slip off their shoes and relax to Dolly Parton, Chris D’Burgh and ABBA all in vogue at the time. Why did they all lie on the coach? The need to conform in a PC sort of way? This experience has coloured my views on opera ever since. Hypocrisy surrounds Opera, I’m afraid to say – so do not belief rave revues – they are probably false! Don’t know anything about Opera North – being a Scot living on the South Coast!

        • Anne says:

          “Hypocrisy surrounds Opera”

          Interesting but, if I’m reading this correctly, the hypocrites were not opera fans. Quite the opposite in fact.

          As it happens I don’t like Aida. Two hit wonder.

          • Robert says:

            What I’m saying is that many of these social climbing ‘suits’ and their partners attending ROH to be seen and to impress their corporate bosses do not enjoy the opera – but they won’t say on the night for fear of appearing to be ‘philistines’ Back home over a glass of wine – it’s another matter “Never again and if you’re asked – the mother in laws ill – is a common excuse! In reality, many of the CEO’s and their spouses feel the same but will return to ROH again – just to keep up appearances. Sorry, but same applies to the ballet!

          • Anne says:

            Robert (no ‘reply’ button in the right place):

            You see this is what I find so strange, but sadly not unusual. You went to an opera, once, in Germany, 30 years ago, and are using this as the main basis for your dismissal of opera audiences, and the ROH in particular even though you have not actually been.

            You appear to be extremely familiar with the professions and attitudes of a sizeable portion of the ROH audience (I say ‘sizeable’ because a tiny minority would be entirely meaningless) but you say you don’t know anything about Opera North (and, presumably, Scottish Opera). Why the difference? Yorkshire has posh people too, I can vouch for that if we must look at it that way. It seems to me that, since you haven’t been to a single opera house in the UK, and taking other comments into account, you seem to be motivated entirely by class.

            Lastly, the army doesn’t come out of your story at all well. Since sweeping generalisations seem to be acceptable, I think I am probably justified in dismissing the British Army as a bunch of ‘poseurs’ and ‘hypocrites’. No wonder you left, must have been hell.

          • Robert says:

            There is a lot of truth in what you say and I assume you realise that some of what I say is a little ‘tongue in cheek’ and I hope tinged with humour. However, I think you should accept that most ordinary folk do suspect a degree of snobbery coming from the classical fraternity. Do you really believe Norman is NOT a music snob? – given his barb over ‘intelligence’. Also, others associated with classical music do you no favours at all. The ghastly ‘know your place ‘- David Mellor and that ultrasnob Dame Kiri herself, who dismissed Susan as Whizz Bang – be gone in a minute. Not so, but she has never apologised, has she. Can’t imagine she has ever admitted to getting anything wrong in her entire life. With these people as your spokesmen is it any surprise us ordinary mortals hold you in anything but low esteem?

  • Calmisso says:

    Echo the comment of Ellingtonia. Occasionally there are highly talented singers and musicians who did not follow the ‘formal music education’ path, but through sheer talent deserve their place.
    Susan Boyle may or may not be one of those – but the fact is that there are many singers in the opera world alone who have a fantastic ‘formal music education’ and all the right certificates, but lack true and authentic vocal talent. I see it all the time in auditions. We should be looking at the over-all package and not just the certificates. I’ve seen very passionate privately trained ‘amateurs’ knock spots off a Cambridge post-graduate – yet panels don’t like to take the risk, sadly to the detriment of opera.

  • Alexander says:

    This in no way devalues actual academic awards such as PhDs. The most that could be argued, and note that I only say argued, is that it devalues honorary doctorates awarded by the RCS. Bobby Short, the superlative performer of the Great American Songbook, had no higher education and, in fact, little academic or musical education at all. However, I do not suppose that any graduates of Bloomfield College felt that their degrees were devalued when the college awarded Mr Short the degree of Doctor of Arts honoris causa.

    • Benjamin Bevan says:

      Bobby Short was a fantastic artist and performer. I had the honour of meeting him a couple of times. Susan Boyle is not of that standard and talent. I agree that formal training is not always necessary, however the end result has to be of quality. I have nothing against SB as a person, but this award or whatever it is from a conservatoire, merely rubber stamps mediocrity.

      • Alexander says:

        I don’t actually disagree with that. As I say, this does arguably devalue the Hon DMus degree, as Ms Boyle is clearly not a musician of the first (or even second) rank. What it does not devalue is an earned doctorate, which is an entirely different thing. Interestingly, it occurs to me that Ms Boyle could very well be seen as a deserving recipient of a doctorate which recognises her enormous commercial and media success, from an institution not primarily concerned with music in the purest sense.

  • T-ARAFANBOY says:

    Well, at least maybe makes Lang Langs’ look a little bit more deserving…
    … all we are missing is to hear them together now 😉

  • robert says:

    What a predictable response from the music snobs out there when a mere mortal is given a much deserved award for achieving amazing results, so much against the odds. This little middle aged, working class lady has the voice of an angel and has won the hearts of millions of people throughout the world. I bet the ‘haters’ so evident here all predicted she would be a 15 minutes of fame merchant. Well they were wrong – six years later she’s doing just fine. Susan, accept your award with your head held high and never listen to the jealous mainly metropolitan music critics and pretentious BBC presenters and their cronies, who have been against you from DAY one!

    • Anne says:

      Disagreement is not ‘hate’, but it’s a useful accusation if you want to silence opinions you disagree with. Same applies to the predictable accusation of snobbery.

      Plenty of hugely talented, hard working students who can’t rely on sentiment for their big break.

      • robert says:

        I have no wish to silence you. You are as entitled to your opinion as I am. More the merrier, I say. Sadly, I have a poor opinion of ROH, Convent Garden poseurs and their ilk. House of Lords hangers on in the main who really should be behind bars for fiddling their expenses, don’t you think? Kindest Regards!

        • Anne says:

          Quite a few expense fiddlers in the House of Commons, as I recall, but perhaps they don’t occupy Covent Garden en masse.

          Frankly, I wish members of both Houses would turn up at Covent Garden, and a few other places besides, a little more often. Contrary to what you seem to think, they are conspicuous by their absence.

          • Robert says:

            I disagree, Perhaps it would be better, if the damn lot of them got out of London entirely, and witness the mess they have made in the rest of the country. Sorry but that’s the way us provincials feel.

    • Kathleen McCarthy says:

      Am I the only one who thinks that the phrase “voice of an angel” applied to any singer,(Boyle, Jenkins, Evancho, etc) is the most trite, idiotic, descriptive ever conceived?

      • robert says:

        You could be right – I apologise – Lets just say she has a beautiful voice. Just noted the Queen has just granted Prince Harry a knighthood – nice of her, don’t you think? Perhaps, Susan will be next – I do hope so – if only to see the frown on Norman’s face [redacted].

      • Yes Addison says:

        Hear, hear, Kathleen. It’s overused, and not only about crossover singers. Renata Tebaldi’s cult worked that angle so hard, that Toscanini had told her she had the voice of an angel, that they didn’t stop even when she tried to set the record straight in print (“They say I was the voice of an angel — that Toscanini said that. He didn’t. He said at that section in Verdi’s Requiem I had to *sound* like an angel, and maybe with God’s help I could.”).

  • Iain Scott says:

    [redacted] Others have pointed out the difference between a PhD and an honorary doctorate so I would like to draw attention to the RCS ,formerly RSAMD. This is no elitist institution ,perhaps that is why Slipped Disc is so disappointed,it has produced fine actors and singers from many backgrounds and the award to Susan Boyle is one way of reaching out and saying “enjoy music, enjoy singing, enjoy acting-you could do this too.” That kind of attitude breaks down the kind of barriers being erected by this post and the thinking,and i use that word advisably, behind it.
    We live in a new world where people are more than ever willing to experience something new and will use social media to try that new experience. I don’t care what they wear,where they come from as long as they have a good time and also have explained the need for concentration and respect for the music.
    I love the fact that when the RSNO does the music of John Williams it’s standing room only. That people living in Scotland can hear a great orchestra and great sound and will go on to try something else.
    I also know that if Susan Boyle gets an award it sends a signal that the RCS is a place for ‘people like us” people everywhere, and that in turn means the RCS is a place for people like us.

    • Benjamin Bevan says:

      From my knowledge of the students at this institution, I would hazard a guess that indeed, in selection it is certainly not elitist and never has been, however, once the students are there the whole point of it IS to create the elite of the music profession and now acting as well. A conservatoire is there to raise talented people to the highest level they can attain. The profession is brutal, if there is someone better, they will get the job.
      When it comes to singing, the major thing which the media often forget, that an opera or concert singer has to do, is fill the hall without the aid of amplification. This is very hard to do whilst maintaining the beauty of the voice. Each year, the RCS turns out fabulous singers who can do this, from all backgrounds.
      The skill which these students exemplify, and those from the other colleges, is on a different level entirely from the performances of SuBo. I don’t begrudge her her success one bit, good for her, but a conservatoire is lying to people if it gives out the message that you expound in your post.

    • Allen says:

      Perhaps the best way to send a signal to ‘people like us’ is to draw attention to stars from unprivileged backgrounds like Thomas Allen and John Tomlinson.

      Trying to associate Susan Boyle with the RCS in this way is totally artificial and will achieve nothing. I also think it’s unfortunate that the lazy implication of snobbery is attached to any dissenting view.

      • robert says:

        Oh I think you protest too much. You’ll be telling us next – snobbery does not exist in the metropolitan chattering classes. Really ? In reality, Susan was dismissed by the music critics not because of her voice, but rather that she came via a Talent Contest and worse still a Talent Contest run by the devil incarnate Simon Cowell. Hence the BBC have ignored her ever since, whist wasting millions on their own pathetic efforts on the VOICE. Meanwhile, Simon and Susan pocket their ill gotten gains. But at least unlike Aunty we do not subsidise them.

        • Benjamin Bevan says:

          I’m pretty sure it was because of her voice. There are thousands of fine singers from humble backgrounds.

          • robert says:

            Apart from IDAD have you ever listened to Susan Boyle? No offence, but perhaps your inate prejudices have put you off. Truth please.

  • Roy Lisker says:

    As they say “If you don’t know that swing, you ain’t got a thing”! There are plenty of people with PhD’s in music with little or no musicality. There are also very gifted musicians (and famous composers!:Elgar, Satie, even Schoenberg, who were essentially self-taught. I certainly wouldn’t deny these figures a PhD in composition.

  • David says:

    As far as ‘degree devaluation’ goes you may be picking on the wrong person/institution.When Layfield’s case is over perhaps you will have rather more to say on the matter,even earlier if you have the fortitude.(as you rightly say-presumption of innocence applies) At least in print.

  • robcat2075 says:

    Again about the honorary degrees? They are just honors, not licenses.

    She sings well and that is more than many performers with earned degrees can do.

  • Alexander says:

    It’s strange that some people seem to wish to turn this into a debate about class and snobbery. I do not think that anyone would be complaining if this award had been made to Willard White or, half a century earlier, Louis Armstrong.

    • robert says:

      I guess you’re aiming your fire as regards snobbery at me. We’ll can I suggest you get your tanks of my lawn and direct them elsewhere ie at the auihor himself. I quote “Let us not dwell on issues of intelligence’ What a snobby and mean spirited remark. Would he have said this if Susan had been educated and Roedean and spoke with a plummy accent? I think not, even if her academic record was below par? I may have read this remark wrong. If so, Norman can maybe defend himself – but for now, I accuse him of introducing snobbery into this debate.

      • Alexander says:

        Well, you are the one who described people associated with the Royal Opera House (I am not sure whether you mean soloists, conductors, chorus, orchestra, dancers, actors, staff, critics, audience) as “poseurs” and suggested that most of them (whoever they are supposed to be) are peers of the realm who by rights should be in prison for offences connected with expenses claims! You do also seem, from your comments, to have something of a problem with people from London.

        • robert says:

          You’re not far wrong. You see I hate the pomposity of the BBC and associate it with London and all that is wrong with this country. Radio 3 and even more so Radio 6 in my view should be closed immediately. You see these stations think they are above anything that is popular and because of this, think they are the BEES KNEES. The worst of all are Radcliffe and Monconie. They played Susan’s version of Wild Horses once and admitted it was rather good but then said they could never play it again because she was popular. What planet are these people on? I once thought highly of the BBC but really today it is just a bunch of self serving cronies with little regard for their listeners. Forgive me for my prejudice, but London does seem to be a different country these days. The recent election showed this to be true. I meant the audience at the ROH. I’m sure there are true opera lovers there, but they’re are also a lot of poseurs and social climbers, just to seen in the hope of impressing their bosses and seeking preferment.

          • Alexander says:

            All sorts of people go to the Royal Opera House. I would guess that the vast majority of them go because they actually like opera and ballet. I cannot really imagine many people sitting through all six hours of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to impress the boss or gain preferment. Indeed, I am not even sure that there’s any reason to think that a feigned interest in opera is much of a way to get on in life. I have almost certainly been to more operas than anybody I know of my own age, yet I am definitely much poorer than any of my friends. I know people with very successful careers in law, medicine, banking, and consulting who have never once heard a performance of an opera. I also know quite a number of people who have a serious interest in opera who are in low paid public sector jobs.

            I think you are not entirely correct about Radio 3. It is true that Radio 3 focuses on more challenging repertoire than that typically covered by Classic FM, but you need only to look at the Proms season to see that all kinds of music are now included, such as pop, jazz, musical theatre, and film music. The BBC operates a range of different radio stations precisely in order to cater for different audiences. If lighter and more popular music is provided on 1, 1Xtra, 2, and 6 Music, it would seem pointless to provide more of the same on 3. Then there is also commercial radio. If content is already available on Classic FM, Jazz FM, Capital, Heart, Magic, Xfm, etc, why should it be replicated by the BBC? Radio 3 meets a demand which is not otherwise met by the commercial sector, and that, to its listeners, is a very precious asset. The same argument could be made about Radio 4. If people want to listen to phone-ins there are plenty of radio stations that cater to that interest, such as LBC or BBC London. If people want to listen to In Our Time, The Moral Maze, Beyond Belief, Thinking Allowed, Word of Mouth, More or Less, etc, that is a kind of broadcasting provided by Radio 4, and it is what Radio 4 listeners want. Different people have different tastes. For as long as there exist people who want to listen to Melvyn Bragg discussing phenomenology with three professors there will be a role for a radio station that provides this material. Most people are probably not interested in phenomenology and were therefore probably not listening to Radio 4 when that episode was broadcast. This is not, however, an argument for shutting down Radio 4 and replacing it with yet another phone-in show about immigration or smacking children. Likewise, if there are people who want to listen to Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis on Radio 3 I do not see why they should be deprived of that opportunity and made instead to listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber or Karl Jenkins.

          • Anne says:

            Interesting that the biggest experts on opera audiences always seem to be those who are never part of one. I’ve been to a wide variety if live events but couldn’t claim to know what the people around me were thinking but I could, if I felt so inclined, make crude assumptions based on their accents and dress. A couple of years ago a work colleague was making almost exactly the same comments as you. I asked him if he even knew where the ROH was. He said “Everybody does. You can see that silly globe all over Trafalgar Square”.

            There are many options for those who “want to be seen” these days that don’t involve sitting through something you don’t enjoy. Furthermore, thanks to the sort of prejudice displayed here, been “seen” at the ROH can be a distinct disadvantage, as Michael Gove and George Osborne discovered.

            Do you feel the same way about Opera North audiences, I wonder?

  • Stereo says:

    As Allen says Thomas Allen and John Tomlinson were both from underprivileged backgrounds,the difference is they can both sing and be heard without the use of microphones.

  • Christy says:

    Perhaps it was because she has been taking classes there, has invited the students to many of her engagements, has recorded with them, and has been one of the most vocal supporters of the school – and Scottish music and theater – of anyone in recent years.

    • Atlanta says:

      Well said, Christy- that is all true. Also the singing students at the RCS are not only training in classical or opera: there is a very fine music theatre course and I assumed it was for this side of things that SB has been awarded the honorary doctorate. She certainly has and never will have any dealings with the opera school, so most of these comments are irrelevant. As an alumnus of the Alexander Gibson Opera School, and someone who now works in the industry, it doesn’t bother me one bit that SuBo has this award as a) it’s not a real doctorate, b) it has nothing to do with classical singing and c) I don’t watch BGT or whatever talent show she came from so don’t really care. I’m sure the general public who do know and enjoy her output don’t realise what the RCS is or that some opera singers have had their heckles raised about this unnecessarily.

    • Robert says:

      Hear,hear – at last, some sense from across the pond. I wonder if any of these ‘naysayers’ have heard Susan singing ‘In the bleak midwinter’ with Libera at the Royal Albert Hall. Absolutely flawless. If they take a look – who knows they may just change their minds.

      • Christy says:

        Yes. I sometimes wonder if a small contingent of classical “fans” would rather schools closed than got any publicity related to non-classical singers. How dare Susan Boyle take classes to improve her voice, give the RCS students jobs and talk up the school everywhere she goes! Shame on her! 😉

  • Tim says:

    Has noone commented yet as to how misleading this headline is?
    The quote is by Simon Cowell, not the conservatoire.

    Yes, the quotes are in the right place, but it’s clearly very misleading. The implication is that she made the conservatoire look stupid.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      No such implication. The ‘us’ is all of us. Stop picking nits.

      • Robert says:

        I note on your other topics on this site you average 3 comments only. Introduce Susan and you’ve got 42 comments already – and you aint finished yet. This must be a revelation to you Susan you see is’ Marmite ‘ – Love or Hate – god bless her cotton socks.

        • Allen says:

          No doubt when the RCS awards an honorary doctorate to Justin Bieber, it will get far more than 42. But then the score is just a measure of controversy generated, not singing talent or anything else.

          I don’t think many people actually hate Susan Boyle but she’s only of interest if you like that style of singing. It’s just a shame that inverted snobbery seems to rear its ugly head whenever anybody has the audacity to suggest that maybe Susan Boyle, or Katherine Jenkins or Russell Watson for that matter, might not be everybody’s first choice.

          Credit where credit’s due however, unlike certain others, I’m not aware of SB making outlandish claims or giving tacit approval to claims made in her behalf.

          There. That’s 45 now.

          • robert says:

            Are you an apologist for Norman or what ?
            Let him answer for himself.
            I can’t stand Katherine Jenkins OBE – all that sucking up to the dreadful royals.
            Other than that a good reply of some merit.
            50 plus looks possible with or without Justin’s help.

  • Deborah Wilbanks (@pidsleyscackle) says:

    I’ve been a fan of Annie Lennox since the Eurythmics, and any role Tilda Swinton plays will move to the top of my ‘must see’ list. Susan Boyle? I expected her to sing well, never gave a thought to her dress. What I didn’t expect was the quality of her voice. Maybe she didn’t study the mechanics of what she does until after BGT, but although I own all of Annie Lennox’s CDs, and watch everything in which Swinton plays even a minor role, Susan Boyle’s progress has delighted me so much that I traveled abroad several times, to Japan even, just to hear her sing. Anyone intimate with her progress would understand her dedication to being the person we had hoped she would be. She has exceeded those expectations.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Next thing you know, she will be giving masterclasses!

    • Robert says:

      Yes! Bring it on!

    • Christy says:

      I would be interested in an in-depth interview about dealing with the positives and negatives of coming of a talent show. I saw her years ago say that things are backwards for talent show winners. They get fame before they really understand how to do their craft and if they’re not smart they never learn it. She’s also talked about diminishing publicity and the pressures to buy new homes and cars, etc., from others. I found this insightful and think it would be an interesting conversation.

  • Christy says:

    How dare Susan Boyle take classes to improve her voice, give the RCS musical theatre students jobs and talk up the school everywhere she goes! Shame on her! 😉

  • Steve Armourae says:

    A PhD is excessive!
    An honorary degree is understandable if they choose, she is as good as many who receive honorary bachelors. But a doctorate is supposed to be awarded for substantial and long term work. Others have received these without just cause

    Someone mentioned Katherine Jenkins. She was on a musical theatre degree as opposed to opera singing. She has said that she can’t do opera yet, her voice isn’t strong enough.
    But she’s pretty and blonde so that’s propelled her to the front ahead of the actual opera singers in her age group and experience

  • Eric Koenig says:

    Honorary was the key word here regarding her Ph.D. from RCS. They’re entitled to award someone something like that and it makes much more sense than giving an actual degree to someone who didn’t have a formal education. Regarding composition and orchestration I am an autodidact. That did not stop the Music Director of the New York Chamber Players from naming me the ensemble’s Composer-in-Residence and performing 4 of my works with the orchestra and arranging the first 2 to be recorded. I don’t have any degrees or honorary ones but still I can understand why the RCS did what it did.

  • V. Vendetta says:

    Remember, remember the 30th of June
    The RCS honorary degree plot
    I know of no reason the honorary degree decision
    Should have ever been a NOT!

  • Mike Z. says:

    Yes, you are missing something here.

    “Stick to commonsense: what’s the sense of the RCS lowering itself to award its highest degree to a singer with no formal education?”

    A) There was that hack Haydn who got one from Oxford in 1781 without “formal” education, just a practical apprenticeship.

    B) No one views an honorary degree as the same as the “real” one, non-practical one.

    The whole attitude stinks of snobbery, one of the reasons Classical Music suffers in our modern day.

    • Maria Brewin says:

      I believe Haydn had composed 90+ symphonies by then. Just a small detail.

      Some people can identify a stunt when they see one; patronising gestures are not going to get people into concert halls.

      You can find snobbery anywhere. It’s certainly rife within the hard rock fraternity.

      • Robert says:

        Absolutely correct. No one hates Susan more than the hard rock fraternity especially when she has the temerity to cover songs made famous by The Rolling Stones, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, Lou Reed and worst of all Pink Floyd. Boy did she take stick from fans of the latter – they’re even more devout than ‘Susafans’ themselves.

  • SVM says:

    When you consider how many hard-working singers who, to speak quite frankly and objectively, sound better than Boyle (probably including most or all of RCS’s own graduates in singing/opera), it is clear that the RCS decision is a gross injustice. Of course, honorary degrees are about distinguished contribution to a field over a sustained period of time as opposed to academic achievement, but I can think of plenty of singers who have done more to advance the art and science of the voice than Boyle. What happened to the days when academic institutions would bestow honorary degrees on merit, as opposed to on the basis of commercial success (and possibly donations?) — the latter just makes for a catch-22 that locks all but the wealthy and influential out of the system.