New rehearsal spaces are a measure of cultural success
IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that a music student studying at one of the UK’s conservatoires must be in want of a rehearsal room. The advent of computerisation of facilities management has changed the way that the allocation of space for instrumental and singing practice happens, but it is still usually the case that there is more demand for rooms that meet the acoustic requirements of our young musicians than the supply can meet.
There is a popular bar near the Royal College of Music in London that is properly called The Queen’s Arms but known by all musicians as “The Nines”, supposedly because there are 98 rehearsal rooms at the college and it is regarded as the 99th when they are all taken.
With the completion of its Creative Campus project, shown off to friends and benefactors this week, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow can boast bespoke facilities only a small number fewer than that.
Transforming unused space, including an obsolete television studio, into two floors of workspaces, the Renfrew Street building now has a further 27 acoustically separated air-conditioned rooms for individual practice and one-toone teaching and two larger rehearsal rooms of use to theatre and dance students as well as musicians, increasing provision by 50%.
Impressively, the £2m project was funded by donations from friends of the institution and the support of trusts and foundations. Bright and airy, the new spaces were already being well used when the benefactors were being shown round, and I’m certain not just for their benefit. The prinicipal, Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, resplendent in trews in the bright tartan commissioned to celebrate the conservatoire’s 170th anniversary, sees the completion of this project as the start of the transformation of the building, with a wholesale revision of the frontage on his agenda over the next five years. It is a vision that he is hoping his cultural neighbours on Renfrew Street will happily buy into.
Only a short step away, the conservatoire’s Wallace Studios rehearsal spaces and workshops have a new neighbour in the National Theatre of Scotland’s Rockvilla home by the Forth and Clyde canal. The company is referring to its new home as an “engine room” for theatre, ever-careful to stress that the “theatre without walls” is in no need of a home as far as the dramaattending public is concerned. Opened by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop at the start of the week, Rockvilla is also about providing rehearsal space, with three vast rooms, as well as space for technical equipment and costume storage, a wardrobe workshop and an open plan office for the admin and management staff. It is a place where theatre productions – and not just those of the NTS – will be made, just as the new RCS facilities are making the next generation of performers.
Speaking at the opening of Rockvilla, councillor George Redmond, chair of the Glasgow Canal Regeneration Partnership, made the maritime link between the creative industries now based there and the heavy industry heritage of the city by asserting that the former employ more people than shipbuilding on the Clyde ever did.
It was an ear-catching claim – and one that fuzzy definitions of terms like “creative industries” and “Glasgow” make very hard to check – but its precision is less important than the broader truth that these two entirely functional new facilities indicate the continuing growth of an important part of the economic and social life of Scotland to set against gloomier news from sectors, like banking, that we once assumed were as safe as houses.