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Professor Linda Merrick: Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music

Professor Linda Merrick has an impressive array of academic qualifications to her name. Added to her current role as Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music, she has also been appointed Chair of Conservatoires UK 

Linda’s exhausting schedule makes fascinating reading.   

“As a clarinet soloist I have to be up at 6am to practise before my day at the college even begins,” Linda laughingly explains. "As a woodwind player, regular practice is key, so the reality is a lot of early mornings! I enjoy performing but I also love teaching. However if we also have a concert in the evening, that can be a long day – although I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

One of the few women in the country to become Principal of such a prestigious college, Linda’s keen to point out that the RNCM (The Royal Northern College for Music) is one of the world’s leading conservatoires, with a unique and distinctive mission in preparing students for a profession in music – past alumni include Amanda Roocroft, Rosalind Plowright, Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe and Alison Cox OBE. 

"We are really fortunate,” Linda adds, “that so many of our past students return to give masterclasses to our current students.”

Bristol-born Linda studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where she met her husband, the composer Martin Ellerby, and moved to Manchester when she joined the RNCM in 2001. Arriving as Director of performance studies and senior tutor in clarinet, she became Vice Principal in 2006. Linda has been acting Principal since July 2012 and was made Principal officially in 2013, when the college celebrated its 40th Anniversary.

“Fortunately my husband is a composer, so he understands how important it is for me to rehearse regularly. It’s only during my holidays from college when I can tour and record my albums.”

To date Linda has recorded more than 20 solo CD recordings, including new concertos by, among others, Gary Carpenter, Nigel Clarke, Kit Turnbull and Guy Woolfenden. Her chamber music output includes premiere recordings of four new clarinet quintets with the Navarra Quartet, a new clarinet quintet by John McCabe with the Kreutzer Quartet and Clarinet Quintets by Wilfred Joseph and Robert Crawford.

With such a flourishing musical career, I wondered why Linda also wanted to take on board the challenging role of Principal. 

“I just love teaching,” was the enthusiastic response. “As a working musician, I can also give our students the benefit of my first-hand experience in coping with the performing side alongside the strict discipline of rehearsals. I also want our students to have a rounded life which will help them to be more fulfilled. ”

Linda’s love of music started along with her natural aptitude. 

“To the slight bewilderment of my parents, who were always totally supportive, I played the piano at six and classical guitar and recorder at eight. At secondary school – a large inner-city comprehensive – I wanted to play a wind instrument, but the only one available was a clarinet. I took it home, taught myself to play a bit, and started lessons. But we’d no idea I would end up as a soloist on the concert platform.

“The Principal’s role is a very busy and challenging one, involving a lot of evenings and weekends, but I think it’s really important to remain a professional practitioner who is engaged actively in the music business.”

Looking back over her time at the RNCM, is Linda proud of what she’s achieved so far? 

“The last three years have flown by, and hopefully I’ve further cemented the college as one of the world's leading conservatoires. Each year more than 400 students leave with work in place, and the college holds a unique position in the cultural life of the City of Manchester, which has such a rich tradition of popular music.

“I’ve widened our musical range to encompass more populist music, not only with our brass band showcases, but also our masterclasses. This year, along with our operas, we also presented the musical Singing In The Rain, directed by Caroline Clegg, which demonstrated that not only do we teach music, but movement and theatre studies, too.”

Linda operates an open-door policy at the college. “I think what makes the RNCM so special is its unique atmosphere, which is friendly and supportive, while providing a real-world experience for our students. With busy public performance venues on-site, they’re able to perform in front of live audiences and work with many professional musicians who visit us on a daily basis. Sir John Tomlinson, a past student, has even followed Sir Willard White as our President.”

“My hopes for the rest of this year are that the RNCM will continue to be a contemporary, forward-looking conservatoire,” Linda concludes. “I see it as a place where students are treated as young professional musicians, challenged and supported to fulfil their musical potential. We provide the space to develop their work and creativity enabling them to forge successful careers in the music profession.”

Never one to rest on her laurels, Linda is quick to praise her students. “I am proud of all our students, including the award-winners, and the college has recently been awarded our second Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding International Student Strategy. Now we’ll try to make it a hat-trick!”