Royal College of Music becomes first London conservatoire to embrace ‘collaborative’ piano

The Royal College of Music (RCM) has a strong tradition of pianists who have established themselves on the international stage in song and chamber music. Perhaps the most famous is Benjamin Britten who is often remembered for his duo performances with Peter Pears. Other song pianists who studied at the RCM include Julius Drake and Malcolm Martineau whilst Roger Vignoles is the current Prince Consort Professor, a position that Geoffrey Parsons also held.

In recent years both Gary Matthewman and Alisdair Hogarth have distinguished themselves as song pianists of note and there is a long list of former RCM students who have excelled as chamber musicians including Katya Apekisheva, Alisdair Beatson and Danny Driver. More recently, students have had successes in national and international competitions including Ian Tindale who won the pianist prize at both the Wigmore Hall Song Competition 2017 and Ferrier Competition and Gamal Khamis who won the pianist prize at the 2017 Ferrier Competition.

For those wanting to specialise in piano accompaniment, the RCM has a robust Masters course led by pianist Simon Lepper. During the two years of training, pianists not only develop a broad knowledge of the instrumental duo, chamber and song repertoire but they are introduced to the skills of being a répetiteur, ballet pianist, continuo player, orchestral pianist and vocal coach.

Previously-named the Masters in Piano Accompaniment, those beginning the course in the 2019/20 academic year will be following the Masters in Collaborative Piano. The renaming reflects the diversity of the course and the changing perception of what it is to be a pianist who follows a predominantly ‘non-solo’ career. For many years it has been thought that the term ‘collaborative piano’ was coined by the American, Samuel Sanders. However, it appeared much earlier and closer to our shores in a paper written in 1930 by the Irish pianist and composer Hamilton Harty. Below is a quote from ‘The Art of Pianoforte Accompaniment’ which offers a compelling argument for the change of name.

‘The chief cause for the neglect of the art of accompaniment is to be found in the absurd and unfortunate title of ‘Accompanist’, with all that it implies. Whatever may have been the justification for this name in the darkest early Victorian ages, it is now nothing but a stupid and misleading misnomer for a musician who is called upon to exhibit very rare and special qualities. “Collaborator” would be more explanatory and a much more desirable description…’

He goes on to expound both the practical and artistic benefits of following such a career path.

‘It is only common sense, then, to study a branch that will not only furnish one with at least a sufficiency to live on, but which will bring to one’s life the utmost musical pleasure and interest.’

ffwuzu-ySimon Lepper, Collaborative Piano Co-ordinator at the RCM, explains: ‘The renaming of the Royal College of Music’s piano accompaniment course reflects the evolving role of the collaborative musician, recognising their breadth of skill and acknowledging the diversity of opportunities on offer to those pursuing this rewarding career.’

Applications for the Royal College of Music’s Masters programme are open now. Information on courses and how to apply can be found on the RCM website at

For further information about Collaborative Piano at the Royal College of Music please contact Simon Lepper (Collaborative Piano co-ordinator)