A-Z of Higher Education Colleges: Royal Academy of Music

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Age: 177

History: Founded by Lord Burgersh in 1822. An early student was Arthur Sullivan, the other half of Gilbert. Moved to present home in 1911. Henry Wood and John Barbirolli were students, then staff. It was the first conservatoire to introduce a BMus course (four-year degree) with King's College London in 1991.

Address: Marylebone Road, next to Madame Tussaud's and Regent's Park.

Ambience: Purpose-built brick and sandstone building containing grand concert hall. Marble everywhere. Also boasts an opera theatre, concert and rehearsal rooms, library, electronic studios, restaurant and bar. Has recently acquired the Nash building next door, 1-5 York Gate, with pounds 7m of lottery money. Buildings may be grand but students are as hard up as anywhere. And they have to work extremely hard and practise their instruments every day.

Vital statistics: One of two top music schools in London, it is one of the premier places to learn how to play classical music - though it has jazz, too. Small: 550 students, including 200 postgraduates, many from overseas. All undergraduates do the BMus course. Teaching staff are top professionals, including conductor Sir Colin Davis, early music specialist Christopher Hogwood and composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle. Male/female ratio is 45:55.

Added value: Big new extension in the Nash building will bring a new concert hall, extra performance and rehearsal space and a "living" museum of music, open to the public. Here you will be able to see the Academy's stunning collection of musical instruments, including more than 200 stringed instruments (seven by Stradivari) and the Broadwood Grand piano that Chopin used on his last visit to London. If you're lucky, you may also catch a luthier (violin-maker) at work.

Easy to get into? You need two A-levels, A or B in music and B or C in one other subject. Entrance audition is tough and counts most.

Glittering alumni: Elton John; conductor Sir Simon Rattle; composers Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Michael Nyman; singers Dame Felicity Lott and Jean Rigby; pianist Joanna MacGregor; percussionist Evelyn Glennie; violinist Christopher Warren-Green.

Transport links: It's between Baker Street and Regent's Park tube stations, and on a major bus route.

Who's the boss? Curtis Price, expert on Henry Purcell, previously a professor at King's College London. Came to Britain from the US in 1970 and stayed.

Teaching: Received an "excellent" score in its teaching quality assessment under the old system.

Research: Awarded a 5 (top mark) in the research assessment exercise.

Financial health: In the black.

Nightlife: The Ram bar is small and comfy and stays open until 9pm in the evenings, later for concerts. Much of the entertainment is classical music. But the students' union lays on discos, termly balls and international nights.

Cheap to live in: Students live out. Rent is pounds 65-80 a week for a room.

Buzzword: bobbing (term of approbation).

Next week: Royal College of Music