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Museum blog: Meet the Learning & Participation Officer

Friday 19 May 2017





Museum Learning & Participation Officer

Favourite object(s) in the collection

We have some tiny, thin violins called 'pochettes' – I think they're my favourites! They're really beautifully decorated with ebony and ivory. I just love the idea of carrying one around in your coat pocket so you can make music wherever you go. I’ve since discovered that they were used by dancing masters so they could accompany themselves with music while they taught the latest choreography.

How did you get into learning?

My journey to learning has been a very organic one! I studied and taught music myself and always found the history of music/musical instruments really interesting, but it wasn't until I joined the RCM Museum as an administrator that I saw an opportunity to combine it all! I was extremely lucky because I was given the freedom to experiment with learning events and concerts in the Museum for audiences of different ages, and they were so well received that I ended up doing more and more, and eventually I couldn't do both the learning and the admin so a role was created for me! Now that we are in our Heritage Lottery Funded project I am responsible for delivering quite a sizeable programme of activities and I’m enjoying the challenge.

Do you have a musical background or play an instrument?   

I do! My parents are professional violinists so I was encouraged to play an instrument, but I chose the piano because I wanted to be different!

What are you up to today?

I have been developing some content for our new learning programmes, studying the collections and seeing what's interesting or fun – and turning it into something that people can engage with, you know, do, read, see or hear in the Museum.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do in the Museum?

Yes! I sometimes feel like I'm the one who gets to play around and have the most fun! My job is about bringing the collections to life for other people, so I help them discover new things and open people's eyes, ears and minds to music through our incredible objects and paintings, and other collections. I suppose I’m like the bridge between our audiences and the objects; I have to think about who our audience are and think about our objects and see how they can meet in the middle.

What projects do you have going on right now?

Right now I'm in the planning phase for a couple of exciting projects. One is with a brilliant group of local teachers from across the curriculum. We’re going to meet together, look at the collections and brainstorm how the objects can parts of the school curriculum to life, whether it's music, history, maths, anything! For example, we have a lot of items in our collection that could help students learn about famous composers, like Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart – whether it’s through a painting, or an original manuscript so they can actually see what Mozart's handwriting looked like and how he composed. I remember that that kind of experience made a huge difference when I was learning at school.

What’s the best bit about your job?

I love seeing people having fun, being noisy or creative and making music. I mean we've had some workshops where fun has definitely seemed to prevail over learning, for instance we had one workshop where we gave all the children glass bottles to blow into as they learned about the flute, but of course once you learn the skill of blowing into a glass bottle and making a sound then it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to do it constantly for the next half an hour! Hopefully we encouraged some budding flautists in the process! I just love watching people engage.

What are the challenges?

I guess other learning officers in small museums will testify to this, but because we are a small museum my role covers quite a lot. In a larger museum like the Natural History Museum you might find someone in charge of schools learning, someone else for family learning, someone else for community learning. My role covers all of those, and I also have to think about our students and how they can get involved, how this could be important for their career development, getting involved in music or museum education. So the challenge is juggling all those things, but at the same time it’s also one of the beauties of my job because I'm able to get experience in all of those areas.

Why are you important to the museum?

Obviously it's important that we have a collection and that these objects are preserved for the sake of history, but if you've got something great then why not show it off?! I help make the collections relevant to people living today, and hopefully 100 years down the line someone else will still be making the same objects relevant to people in a completely different time and context. My role makes a public museum seem like a better option than just storing all these objects in a large cupboard.

Can you tell us a bit about the RCM collections in your own words?

I'd say that we’ve been incredibly fortunate because we have some really important objects in terms of the history of music, which open windows into past times and places. We have a selection of instruments that an average member of the public would never have heard of or seen. If they are curious about music in the 1600s then through our collections they will come to realise that musicians in the 1600s wouldn’t have played the same instruments that we play today, the music would have sounded very different. We have some very meaningful, musical stories to tell. We also have lots of instruments that are playable, which is such a treat – to be able to introduce people to different sounds.

What are you most excited about for the future of the Museum?

I think that a new building, and particularly a space in the museum for learning, will mean that people can actually get hands on with our collection, and I'm really excited about that. Our old museum was set up for minimal interaction, people might be able to hear instruments at a concert, but otherwise it had a 'look, don't touch' vibe. Our new museum will have a look, touch, see, feel, hear vibe – which I think makes for a more complete visiting experience that is more in line with our experience of music.

Lastly, if you could be a musical instrument what would you be and why?

I'd be a violin! I love company, and there is always a large group of violins in an orchestra so I'd have lots of friends! I love how versatile they can be too: bright, cheerful or mellow, or sweet. 

Thanks Lydia, all the best!


Our Meet the Team series continues next week.