"I like good strong words that mean something."- Louisa May Alcott

I still get goose bumps entering the building, my heart races when I hear music escaping from the walls as if it’s my turn again to wait for an examiner outside one of its tall doors. The Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) on Bloor Street may look like a refurbished building on the inside now, with a spanking new entrance with modern elevators, but underneath, the scary Victorian “hall” remains the place where music students take their RCM exams. A trip this week with our son bought it all back again as if it were yesterday.

Although Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music has been around since 1886 many don’t recognize that it remains one of the respected and long standing independent music educator in North America. Although there are various music credentials one may obtain these days, no one debates the quality of education delivered by the RCM. If you’ve taken exams there, there’s no doubt that you know how to play (or sing), and most importantly, you’ve learned an even greater lesson—that there’s no substitute for discipline, focus and hard work when learning a something as complex as music.

The RCM may not seem such a big deal to Torontonians, but it attracts students from around the world because it is recognized for outstanding service to students, teachers, and parents, as well as its strict adherence to high academic standards. Through the years, it’s remained one of a few academic institutions that has consistently maintained its high standards; in fact, over the years, it has raised them.

An estimated 3 million plus Canadians have studied there—piano, voice, and instruments—and about 100,000 candidates have taken an annual exam with the RCM. Each year, it serves about half a million active participants across the country (that is, you don’t have to live in Toronto to study and take exams with the RCM).

Apart from its recent massive building restoration, the most perceptible change at the RCM in 2011 is its “customer” attitude. Today, those taking exams are greeted by extremely friendly and relaxed volunteers who make the students feel special for taking an exam instead a captive on their way to their execution. Okay, so I exaggerate a bit. But thank you to the wonderful volunteer this morning for making all of us feel good about being there. For this former RCM student, that difference is the most noticeable part of the renovation!

Next time you pass between Varsity Stadium and the ROM just west of Bloor Street, gaze up at the RCM’s red turrets and arches and think of the debt we owe to places like it that continue to teach, test, encourage, and reward musical achievement to the very highest degree.


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