Yesterday I was at the Guildhall School of Music. The Guildhall School must have the most thoroughly urban location of any of the London music colleges, secreted as it is within a forest of City skyscrapers so closely packed and so overwhelmingly monochrome that the effect is quite intimidating. There’s nowhere in London I’m so aware of the absence of trees and greenness. Every time I go there, there seems to be a frenzy of building work going on. Office blocks that were ten stories high last time I looked are now twenty stories high. Where there was a hoarding surrounding a building site, there’s now an exclusive gym with motivational lighting and a Zen garden in the foyer. When darkness falls, hundreds of uncurtained office windows blaze coldly from concrete shells. It’s a surprising setting for a music college.
On the way from the Guildhall to the tube station, you pass all manner of City wine bars, clubs and restaurants. As I went home at around 5.30pm, the bars were already full of affluent-looking City workers perched on their high bar stools, champagne and Chablis bottles in ice buckets on their tables. The windows were already steaming up from the press of customers inside. I always feel very uneasy seeing this scene, especially so early in the evening. Everyone looks as if they work in finance. You never see anyone from the Guildhall there. Music students and teachers pass by on their way to the tube, their instruments on their backs, but you never see them going in to order bottles of champagne.
Sometimes I think that a music college in the midst of all this is a wonderful thing, an oasis of art and beauty to counterbalance the rest. But sometimes I just feel sad when I see music students hurrying past the sort of wine bars they’d never be able to afford, and hearing piped music from within.