What is the RSCM?

The Royal School of Church Music is the heart and home of church music.

We are an educational charity committed to promoting the study, practice and improvement of music in Christian worship.

The RSCM supports thousands of Affiliated churches across the UK and worldwide through our international partners. In addition, we also support many schools and Individual members. Our work is sustained by thousands of Friends, Regular Givers and other donors.

We are an open, life-long learning organisation, offering face-to-face and distance education and training through our programmes, published resources, courses and activities.

Founded by Sir Sydney Nicholson in 1927, the RSCM’s original emphases were English and choral. Now, in a diverse international context, the RSCM’s work is far broader and more diverse, and we aim to make all our work ecumenical in purpose, nature and content.

What does the RSCM do?

We celebrate church music and help to shape its future through:

  • practical and applied programmes of education and training
  • music-making at festivals and courses
  • music and training resources
  • information, advice and guidance

We serve the wider church by:

  • encouraging music-making in general, and singing in particular
  • providing training in essential skills for church music
  • developing understanding of music in the church’s ministry and worship
  • encouraging good music everywhere through fostering outreach from the churches into the community
  • engaging with young people in singing

RSCM Around The World

The RSCM is proud to be an international organisation, supporting the best in church music and the church’s ministry right across the globe.

We have five International Partners, who are constitutionally separate from UK, and therefore have separate membership arrangements – please see the links below for more details. We do, however, work in close co-operation, and all the Partners share in the same missional goals as RSCM UK. We also have a European presence, administered from our UK offices in Salisbury. The RSCM has recently concluded agreements with each of the five key RSCM partner organisations around the world. Details of the successful negotiations can be found here.

To find out how joining the RSCM can support you with practical advice, resources and tips on how to choose music and materials for worship click here.

Ireland, North-West Europe and France

Membership for these areas is administered centrally in the UK.

For information on local events and educational courses for these areas please visit the below links:

AustraliaCanadaNew ZealandSouth Africa and USA

If you live in any of the above countries, you can join the RSCM through your national office.  The below links will take you directly to the website of these branches where you will be able to apply for membership and view educational courses and events:

How is the RSCM governed?

The Royal School of Church Music is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England, no 00250031. It is also a registered charity, no 312828.

The charity is overseen by a Council of trustees. Decisions are taken by Council or by staff on such delegated terms as Council approves. Generally, strategic decisions are taken by Council, and the day-to-day management of the charity is delegated by Council to the Director and two Deputy Directors.

History of the RSCM

Sir Sydney Nicholson and the School of English Church Music

On the initiative of Sir Sydney Nicholson, then organist of Westminster Abbey, the School of English Church Music (SECM) was inaugurated at a meeting in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey held on 6 December 1927, the feast of St Nicolas. It was to consist of a training college for church musicians (the College of St Nicolas), and an association of affiliated churches who committed themselves to attaining high standards.

The School was housed at Buller’s Wood in Chislehurst, Kent. The college opened there in 1929 and continued until closure was forced at the outbreak of war in 1939 when most students were called up for military service. During those first ten years, major choral festivals were held triennially in London (1930 at the Royal Albert Hall, 1933 and 1936 at the Crystal Palace) and the number of affiliated churches rose to 1300 worldwide. Throughout the war Sir Sydney continued his itinerant teaching at diocesan and parish level from a base at St Michael’s College, Tenbury, and then from Leamington Spa.

The Royal School of Church Music 

In 1945, by command of King George VI, the SECM became the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM). Canterbury Cathedral allowed the school to function within the precincts of the cathedral, and the College of St Nicolas re-opened there in January 1946. By 1952 over 3000 churches were affiliated.

Addington Palace

In 1954 the RSCM and the College of St Nicolas moved to Addington Palace near Croydon, the former ‘country residence’ of the Archbishops of Canterbury, with Gerald Knight as Director and the Revd Cyril Taylor as Warden responsible for the RSCM’s educational work.

In 1973 Gerald Knight was succeeded as Director by Lionel Dakers, and he in turn by Harry Bramma in 1989. The College of St Nicolas was closed in 1974, and the RSCM then concentrated on short courses, and on work in the regions with new structures of voluntary committees. The membership increased, with a peak of almost 10,000 affiliates in 1980.

Cleveland Lodge

In 1996 the RSCM moved its administrative centre to Cleveland Lodge, near Dorking in Surrey, the former home of the organist Lady Susi Jeans. A major programme of refurbishment and new building was completed in 2000. Professor John Harper was appointed as Director in 1998.


The RSCM moved its administrative centre to Salisbury in Summer 2006. Its office is located within Sarum College, a Christian ecumenical college in Salisbury’s cathedral close. RSCM Music Direct was relocated to Norwich, where Norwich Books and Music now operate our sales functions. The organ presented to the College of St Nicolas in 1931, is now loaned to St Alkmund’s Church in Shrewsbury, which is also using the RSCM vestments and woven kneelers. The organ made by Peter Collins is now in the chapel of Salisbury Cathedral School. The organ from Susi Jeans’s music room at Cleveland Lodge is now located in the Recital Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University.

Professor Harper retired as Director of the RSCM at the end of December 2007, and was appointed ‘Emeritus Director’. He continues as RSCM Research Professor at Bangor University and as a Visiting Scholar at Sarum College. Lindsay Gray was Director of the RSCM from May 2008 until September 2012, Andrew Reid was Director from October 2012 until October 2017.  Hugh Morris took up the role of Director with the RSCM in August 2018.

The future

The RSCM is seeking to enlarge its ecumenical mission, to serve the needs of its affiliated members and the wider Church, to develop first-class resources, and to continue to train and educate musicians and clergy to make best use of music in worship.

Honorary Awards

The RSCM has the power to confer diplomas and awards. Some are honorary; others are awarded as a result of academic study or other training. Details of criteria, nominations and presentation of the honorary awards can be found on this page.

Awards Criteria

The RSCM Council has agreed the following broad criteria as a normative guide when making nominations for awards. Council will continue to exercise its discretion in making awards.

FRSCM – Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music
is an award for achievements in church music and/or liturgy of international significance, or for exceptional musical and/or liturgical work within the RSCM. Normally up to five awards each year.

ARSCM – Associate of the Royal School of Church Music
is an award for achievements in church music and/or liturgy of national significance, or for important musical and/or liturgical work within the RSCM. Normally up to five awards each year.

HonRSCM – Honorary member of the RSCM
is an award for exceptional or very significant work that has contributed to the cause of church music and/or liturgy at international or national levels, or within the RSCM, but which is not primarily musical or liturgical. Normally up to three awards each year.

Certificate of Special Service
is an award for significant administrative work as a voluntary officer or member of staff within the RSCM; or an award for a significant contribution to church music and/or liturgy at a local level. Normally up to ten awards each year.


Nominations may be submitted by:

Members of RSCM Council
Senior RSCM Staff / Regional Managers
Chair or Secretary of RSCM Area Committee
President or Secretary of an RSCM National Governing Body
Chair or Secretary of RSCM Overseas Branch

Nominations submitted by any other person must be seconded by one of the above.

Nominations will be considered by a scrutiny group for presentation to RSCM Council for approval. There is no certainty that the RSCM will be able to act on every nomination, and all nominations should therefore be treated with total confidentiality.

Nominations must be received by 1 September each year. All nominations will be acknowledged. If acknowledgement has not been received by the end of the first working day after 1 September, please contact the RSCM Centre to check whether the nomination has been safely received.

Download the nomination form

Download a copy of these criteria

Presentation of Awards

FRSCM, ARSCM, HonRSCM and Certificates of Special Service will normally be awarded at a national RSCM celebration in the UK.

Some RSCM Areas may, if desired, award Certificates of Special Service at an Area or overseas national or overseas branch festival, or at a comparable occasion.

The honorary awards conferred in 2021 are listed here.

Download list of all honorary awards conferred by the RSCM since 1936

Further reading

Dr John Henderson and Trevor Jarvis, the current Honorary Librarian and Honorary Assistant Librarian of the RSCM, have published a history of the College of St Nicolas during its years at Chislehurst, along with materials from the RSCM archives and a review of the life and achievements of Sir Sydney Nicholson. It is available from RSCM Music Direct here.

The same authors have also published Sir Sydney’s autobiography ‘Musings of a Musician’, accompanied by a wealth of hitherto unpublished photographs and some of Nicholson’s own watercolour paintings. Also available from RSCM Music Direct here.

Watkins Shaw’s fascinating and informative booklet Vocation and Endeavour about Sir Sydney Nicholson and the early years of the Royal School of Church Music is available from RSCM Music Direct here.