This memo got a Royal Academy staffer fired this week

This memo got a Royal Academy staffer fired this week


norman lebrecht

November 04, 2017

Internal  statement from the principal of the Royal Academy of Music (London) and the president of the Students Union:

You may be aware that a new member of staff circulated and unauthorised document and a followup email to all students earlier this week. It contained one individual’s observations on professional practice which do not represent the views of the Royal Academy of Music.

The contents of these communications were unacceptable and the member of staff has been dismissed from post with immediate effect.



See if you can identify exactly which parts of this helpful document got the staffer summarily dismissed. It does contain some rather good professional tips, especially in the final paragraph, and not everyone is happy with the staffer’s abrupt dismissal. For those who can’t find the tripwires, we’ll publish the students’ objections tomorrow UPDATE: it’s here). Meantime, here’s the offending memo, lightly redacted to remove identifying names:


Networking Pathway Notes 

Just some ideas….

Generally, when musicians are asked to describe a musician with a good reputation, a typical response is:

‘Great musicianship coupled with reliability’

‘Modesty connected with good playing’.

The implication is that building your reputation is about fitting-in and be adaptable. Considering the way you look, the way you behave, how you respond to one another musically, what you say, and what you do not say.

Everyone knows that having a good reputation is important. But how do you get one?

At the very least you need to consider the following tips

  • Have secure excellent musical skills, being seen to easily deal with a wide range of musical styles.
  • Hide personal stress and tensions, and give the appearance on and off the concert platform of absolute poise and control.
  • Choose your deputy wisely. Pick someone almost as good as you so you are considered better.
  • Be highly proficient, display outstanding confidence when performing in front of an audience.
  • Thank the fixer, or whoever hires you for the work, at every opportunity.
  • For you instrumentalists, when sight-reading, look as if you have played it a hundred times before.
  • Be polite-Be friendly.
  • Avoid emotional displays.
  • Be punctual.
  • Be reliable.
  • Be good company.
  • Be collegial.
  • Build teamwork skills.
  • Join in with the sectional humour. Brass is pubs and pond life is tea queues.
  • Be positive.
  • Build so much trust that you are invited back.
  • Be loyal, and stick with the original date you are offered.
  • Be resilient. If it is an outside date try not to complain about the weather.
  • Be discreet; what’s on tour stays on tour.
  • Be easy going.
  • Do not look like they are trying too hard to be charming as this gets you the reputation of being obsequious.
  • Know how hierarchies work. For example, how principal players, players ‘down-the-line’ and ‘extras’ are expected to behave. For example, never talk to the carver if you are not playing principal.
  • Become familiar with shared understanding of anecdote, caricature, stereotype and jokes. Google them and look on you tube if this is not your culture. For examole, you may hear terms like this:


Fixer = (orchestral manager)

The boys = (other orchestral musicians)

Snow blindness = (no work in the diary)

Kiss of death = (talking to the conductor)

Plan Z = (practise)

Snow blindness = (when a musician has no work in the diary)

B-team = (extra and deputy players who are perceived as second best)

Squeaky = (referring to contemporary music which may sound like a squeaking gate)

Pond life = (string players)

Down-the-line = (playing 2nd, 3rd or 4th rather than playing principal)

Heavy metal = (brass players)

Carver = (the conductor)

Muddy fields = (performing in an open-air venue, such as park or stately home)

Gypos (short for gypsies) = violinists specifically


  • Be known as someone with the self-discipline to work alone. If there are cliques at tea-time, wander off by yourself rather than clinging-on.
  • Sometimes be willing to take the responsibility of the tuning problem for the whole section, to be friendly and to give the impression of high integrity to colleagues.
  • Constantly adjust your sound and pitch to the ever-changing environments of each occasion. And never be belligerent about tuning.
  • Accept criticism and rejection and forget about it the next time you meet the offender.
  • Consider the clothes you choose to wear off the concert platform, as well as on.
  • Look young, up-together and cool in rehearsals, and smart in concerts; this is a superficial and ageist world.
  • Give work back to those who have offered you work. Give a leg-up to youngsters and they may remember to pay you back one day.
  • Build social skills to enable many friendships and alliances.
  • Establish an image of organization and efficiency.
  • Avoid drugs like beta blockers and over-drinking.
  • Non-conformity is frowned upon nowadays. The days of the hooligan have gone.
  • There is an expression: ‘Loyalty won’t get you anywhere’. Expect nothing from others but be loyal yourself.
  • If you want to be a leader you have to look the right character; to stick your neck out and to be thick-skinned.
  • Remember, nothing succeeds like success. Never tell people you have no work.
  • Go to the pub, golf, play bridge, join facebook, Linkd in, twitter, and be clubbable.
  • Bring the corkscrew on tour.
  • Have the ability to read a map despite satnav when you are sharing a lift.
  • Wear earplugs and avoid complaining about the noise.
  • Don’t complain if all the necessary players haven’t been booked.
  • Play your part, do your thing, head down, don’t complain and keep quiet.
  • Keep a list of dressing room and Wi-Fi codes. Everybody will love you.
  • Slink discreetly out of double bookings.
  • Let the people know when you are running late. Don’t use the starter-motor excuse.
  • Be generous with petrol money when car sharing.
  • Always dress as smartly as the principal in the section.
  • Aim not to have cases or bags on stage.


For those of you who say:

I’m Shy/I’m uncomfortable/ I’m introvert/I’m quiet/I feel awkward networking

Here are some Key tips:

  1. Focus on ‘giving’ rather than ‘getting’. Offer to help in some way
  2. Be present.
  3. Networking is over life-time. Think long-term. Go slow.
  4. Listen more than you talk. Conversation balance-think of tennis
  5. Be honest
  6. Take action immediately. Send email as quickly as you can
  7. Build friendships
  8. Go to an event with a small goal
  9. Take the first step
  10. Don’t be negative
  11. Once you’ve connected, move on
  12. Connect people with each other. Both will be grateful
  13. Be curious about what is the mutual benefit
  14. Keep moving
  15. Asking advice, for example, ‘That’s interesting, tell me more’.


Prestige could,arguably, be seen as completely different. It is about the context. For example

A physical possession (such as a Stradivarius)

An accomplishment (such as being a prize winner or an award winner)

A role holder (such as a principal of a university or an orchestral leader)

Having attended a prestigious school, university or conservatoire

Having being taught by a world-class teacher

Family connections

Involvement in the in the recording industry and pop culture if one is a classical musician, and vice versa

Prestige is clearly influential, and the possession of it brings advantages. Prestige is a currency; having prestige attracts more prestige.

Prestige is derived from what people think of you. Prestige is about being perceived to excel. Some people seem to be more important than others, and prestige is at the heart.

Prestige brings cliques-and in groups, and everybody else is seen to be, or feels an outsider.

Prestige comes in a wide variety of forms:

It may be reflected in money, titles, by one’s own achievements, by inherited status, salaries, status, dialect and accents, masonic handshakes, having been to elitist public schools, such as Eton, Menuhin or Purcell school, having a fine instrument, such as a Stradivarius.

  • Achieving an accomplishment, such as being a prize winner or an award winner.
  • Being in a position to hire or fire, such a fixer
  • Running your own successful group or festival
  • Be adjudicators for professional competitions or eminent awards.
  • Learned at a prestigious conservatoire and studied with an eminent player.
  • Brass players who come from British brass band tradition and Salvation Army backgrounds are well thought of.
  • Being an orchestral leader or principal player.
  • Be really well known for having been around for years as a prestigious player. Or be well-known for being recommended by someone who has.

So how do you build prestige?

Discussion points…is this a good or bad idea…?…


  • Seek out important people to eat with between the rehearsal and the show. Be seen to be part of the in-crowd.
  • Use your ready-built family connections.
  • Be recommended by a world-class teacher or player.
  • Drink with the right people and become ‘one-of-us’.
  • Be involved in the high-end recording, film sessions and pop industry.
  • Signal that you are a high quality product. Brand yourselves and namedrop.
  • Make a list of eminent people you know, or who you have studied or worked with and find ways to attach yourselves to them. Be in touch with them often.
  • Join network groups and connect with your particular niche.
  • Appear in a photograph with an important member of the music world, or on social media.
  • Apply for as many prizes and competitions as possible. Be seen around the high-end competition arena.
  • Be generally seen to be around anyone important.
  • Make a list of eminent people you know, or who you have studied or worked with, and find ways to attach yourselves to them. i.e. contact them to ask advice, or arrange a lesson or better still, arrange meet to buy them coffee and ask their advice,
  • Find out about network groups. Find and connect with one’s particular niche
  • An appearance of prestige can be overtly gained through a public display of one’s expertise through social media
  • Apply for as many prizes and competitions as possible
  • Use visible sign of membership, such as named orchestra stickers on your instrument cases, club and association ties, conservatoire scarves, lapel badges and cufflinks, etc. Wear them with pride.
  • Know the right people. Play golf and fit the role of a person who excels.



Prestige is not always necessarily about actual excellence.  It is sometimes about luck. This can be seen in Ginsburgh and Van Ours’ study of the ranking process in competitions. The research was carried out between 1952 and 1991 in the Queen Elizabeth Piano Competition. This international music competition is considered one of the best and most demanding in the world. The research findings showed that musicians who performed at the beginning of the competition were less likely to be ranked in the top group. So the findings of this extensive research indicate that although it pays to do well in competitions, the order and timing of the appearance of the participants in the competition also has an influence.  



  • John Borstlap says:

    Extraordinary list with most of the instructions advocating developing into a bland, conformist hypocrite. No wonder the RAM would not accept such nonsense.

    A really good instrumentalist is very good in playing, and is, for the rest, a civilized person balancing both a natural confidence about him/herself, and good-humoured contact skills.

    • David R Osborne says:

      On the contrary, this is certainly appalling, but also paints a very accurate picture. The memo describes very much how things are in my experience and as such represents sound advice. Ridiculous that the Royal Academy of Music should fire a staff member over this when all she is doing is exposing the world that they helped create.

      • Garth Monahan says:

        Hi David, do you know who wrote the memo? Seems like it was probably a few people’s collected advice based on experience and this individual just circulated it.

        Would be interested to know how senior they were or if it was just a temporary member of staff who forwarded it unwittingly.



  • Una says:

    Memo? It’s like one of the letters of St Paul to.the Romans, and then he gets killed! Will read it later, Norman.

  • Anon says:

    ‘Gypsies’ got him/her fired?

    The verbiage sounds a bit demented. Like someone from the social media generation.

  • Mike says:

    Good advice. It might have been mentioned but what infuriates me about rehearsals these days is watching young folk on their iphones and not paying attention to the conductor. I blame MPs who do the same thing in the chamber of the House of Commons.

  • Sue says:

    The very fact of somebody wanting to or having to offer this kind of advice is sad intrinsically. It means there must be an awful lot of ill-equipped individuals out there – socially I mean.

    I don’t see anything here which would be a ‘sacking’ offense, but with Gen Snowflake almost everything is possible and nothing shocks me anymore.

    And I think there’s plenty of scope for a musician to display individuality despite the ‘recommendations’. After all, that individuality occurs in the performance not on who you sit with during the break. The rest is called “networking” and most successful people get all that already.

  • Peter Roos says:

    Hm … I’m curious as to exactly why he (or she?) was fired. I wonder if the memo was intended to be taken full seriously – all this talk about “prestige”, isn’t that just a little bit silly? Family connection, possessions, inherited titles, Eton education … what on earth does that have to do with being a good professional musician.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      I rather think it’s a mixture of sincere beliefs, simple truths (some unfortunate), outright send-up, and merely suggestions for consideration. It contains much truth, unpalatable to some as it may be. The sobriquet ‘gypo’ is indeed used in orchestral circles and the author just says so — he/she does not endorse its use, but I suspect that is what led to the complaint and the firing. That and any other unsavoury truths in the document are not the fault of the writer, and I can’t discern any justification for dismissal.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Wall-of-text. I gave up before I got to objectionable parts.

  • Hernando Marquez says:

    Send an email = get fired

    Be a sex pest to students while being employed by the RAM (see old post about a composition department employee) = internal suspension with no further action

    The institution is a disgrace

    • Sue says:

      Where does this stop, though? Three driving offenses when you’re an important person and ‘this is your last warning; there will be consequences next time” (said over and over and over at each subsequent court appearance).

  • Bruce says:

    I don’t think I managed to read the whole thing, but I will guess that the reference to gypsies was one of the tripwires, and “look young etc. – this is a superficial and ageist world” is another.

    The “avoid drugs like over-drinking and beta blockers” advice is strange. Drinking could definitely get a person in trouble; I don’t see how using beta blockers could.

    The “advice for introverts” section looks like good advice for everyone, actually: how to make progress without being/seeming pushy.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      “Drinking could definitely get a person in trouble;”

      And yet, elsewhere is the advice to “Bring the corkscrew on tour.”

      ¯\_( ¨ )_/¯

      • Bruce says:

        Hmmmm… well…

        Maybe a person could put those two pieces of advice together and combine them to create something like “show your colleagues that you are open to a good time, but have the self-control to avoid being a problem.”

        ¯\_( ¨ )_/¯

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Beta-blockers are widely used to counter performance anxiety. Take one and have a drink as well and your blood pressure may plummet; indeed, you may faint.

  • Suzanne says:

    “Be discreet. What goes on tour stays on tour” must certainly be one of the objectionable lines.

  • what's in a name says:

    The author should definitely be fired. He or she let the cat out of the bag about how disgusting the free-lance world is — obsequious slimmers. If students truly understood what they are getting into with a musical career, it could greatly reduce enrollment. I wish I were completely kidding….

    There is one small problem, the comment about brass players and pubs and some of the coarseness the brass community’s drinking culture can sometimes entail. There’s a newer generation that doesn’t like brass being the special ed class of the music world….

  • Anon says:

    Whoever wrote this, knows the business. Bravo. But now the “secrets” are out….

  • Alex Davies says:

    Memo? I think I’ve read papal encyclicals more succinct than this.

    There are several obvious problems:

    1. It’s not acceptable to talk about gypos, no matter the context. Antiziganism appears to be the last acceptable form of racism in Europe (including the UK). The Nazis succeeded in systematically exterminating between a quarter and half of all European Roma, who continue to endure appalling discrimination throughout much of Europe to this day. No doubt the term is intended to be used in a jocular manner here, but it’s about as funny as a rendition of Dashing Through the Reich.

    2. Advising people not to take beta-blockers. Beta-blockers are prescription-only medicines used to treat conditions including angina, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, high blood pressure, migraine, hyperthyroidism, anxiety, and tremor. Advising people not to take essential medication prescribed by a doctor is simply dangerous and about as sensible as telling a diabetic not to use insulin or somebody who suffers from anaphylaxis not to use their EpiPen.

    3. “what’s on tour stays on tour”: it very much depends what’s “on tour”. Harmless holiday romance is one thing, but if we’re talking about coercive sexual behaviour or illegal drug use that’s not something about which to keep quiet, even if it costs you your career.

    4. Much of this advice is pompous and naive. Having gone to a specialist music school is perhaps valuable as an indicator of exceptional talent identified early in childhood, but bragging that you went to Eton is, frankly, likely to be counterproductive. I remember talking to a very talented young man who mentioned that we had a mutual acquaintance, a very distinguished musician. I asked how he knew him and he just said, “Oh, he went to my school”, so I said, “Ah, so you went to Eton”. The funny thing is that I only knew that our mutual acquaintance had himself gone to Eton because I once got chatting to a woman on a train journey who remarked, when the said gentleman came up in conversation, “Oh, I knew him when he was at Eton”. He’d kept so quiet about having gone to Eton that I actually checked with a colleague as I was sure that this woman must have been mistaken. I am wondering whether the author of this memo is perhaps not British, as this indulgence in bragging seems to be very un-British. E.g., “club and association ties, conservatoire scarves, lapel badges and cufflinks, etc. Wear them with pride.” When I first went up to Oxford I kitted myself out with the scarf, cufflinks, tie, hoodie, boat club t-shirt, etc., but a few years after graduating I sold most of it on eBay because I realised that wearing an Oxford college hoodie around London looked ridiculous, and on the odd occasion that somebody asked about my tie or cufflinks I was made to feel guilty of bragging. I have an acquaintance who wears his Harvard class ring and it really looks ostentatious and does not impress anyone. As for dialect or accent, George Bernard Shaw nailed it when he observed, “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”

  • Terence says:

    If you note the RAM’s comment at the top, the offence is circulating material to all students, without authority or at least clearing it with management, as if it represents the official position.

    This is a no-no in most organisations. I suspect the employee was temporary and has demonstrated unsuitability.

  • mr oakmountain says:

    I can see how the Royal Academy of Music does not want such a thing out as if it were its official position. I don’t even think a teacher in a small school could send material to all pupils or students without clearing it with the head teacher. There would be repercussions.

    It’s also rather badly written; some of it sounds like a copy-and-paste job from different sources, hence the strange mix of useful, unhelpful (beta-blockers????), satirical and deeply frustrated “advice”.

    However, a lot of it reflects the truth of thousands of good-to-excellent orchestral musicians who did not get into a top orchestra or ensemble and have to live on odd gigs on a week-to-week basis. I remember playing Mozart’s Requiem some time ago with an amateur church choir. The three trombone guys next to me played fantastically and would have done any top ensemble proud – indeed they had often play as extras and substitutes in those – but here they were in a local church out in the sticks, being happy about that bit of money for a rehearsal and gig. A lot of the email in question – unfortunately – is what this crowd of musicians desperate for the next gig experiences on a daily basis.

  • Craig says:

    This person sounds like they have never worked as a freelancer for major orchestras for any significant length of time, and is therefore obsessed with what they term ‘orchestral etiquette’ and resentful of those who are doing better. There are a couple of unfortunate truths in there, but they aren’t things that only apply to the working world of music. This is apparently PhD research material. What a farce.

  • mike payne says:

    A few passages that might have raised an eye brow or two but certainly nothing to warrant a dismissal

  • Gianrico says:

    Only now I get where most of my mates got their talent and fortune!
    They read something like that…
    It reminds me of Sun Tsu.
    A book which should never have ben written.
    Inner certain should guide us in every choiche.
    I completely lost my personal my orchestra
    But my collegues love me anyway.

  • peter says:

    Oh dear Brits !! most with IQs over 120 .. most sore and sorry for not having gone to Eaton or Oxford ..
    but there are “senior”courses at both and if nothing works sign up for Music fest Perugia … we have courses for seniors you may even play with the orchestra if you pass the audition !!


    Peter Hermes executive director Music fest Perugia (