St Mary’s Music School: A fitting tribute to Edinburgh’s Seven Hills Project draws to a close

The seven hills of Edinburgh have inspired new musical compositions and poetry in the lead up to Scotland’s only specialist music school’s 50th anniversary celebrations
Pupils rehearsing Castle Rock by renowned composer David HornePupils rehearsing Castle Rock by renowned composer David Horne
Pupils rehearsing Castle Rock by renowned composer David Horne

St Mary’s Music School created the Seven Hills Project to celebrate not only the school’s upcoming 50th anniversary, but also the city of Edinburgh, the city the school proudly calls home.

The school commissioned seven composers with a connection to the school or to Scotland to compose a piece of music for pupils and professional musicians to perform; each composition inspired by one of the seven hills and the poetry of Alexander McCall Smith. Each term, for the past seven terms, the school focussed on one of the hills – bringing it to life through music.

Head of strings Dr Valerie Pearson explained: “There is a long history of St Mary’s Music School commissioning new music. We cherish our position here in Edinburgh and in Scotland and this was a way to try to celebrate our surroundings, social history and community.”

What is the Seven Hills Project?

It was the brainchild of the former director of music and began with collaboration with one of Edinburgh’s most renowned writers, Alexander McCall Smith, who devised a poem dedicated to each hill. Seven different composers, with links to St Mary’s Music School, were then assigned a hill and were commissioned to write a 10 minute chamber work inspired by the hill and the associated poem.

The project has also been woven into the curriculum at the school, and the idea used as the basis of some outreach work in the wider community.

“Each term we have taken on board one of the works and performed them live,” Dr Pearson explained. “In the new music world even professional ensembles cannot devote a lot of time to new works, but we’ve been able to embed the project into the programme of study for the pupils.”

She said it had also given pupils the opportunity to work with professional composers and performers during rehearsals.

Widening the project out further there have been composition workshops held with pupils in Inverness and in Renfrewshire schools where students have composed pieces inspired by their surroundings in a series of workshops and tutorials with professional composer Jay Capperauld and the pupils of St Mary’s Music School.

“Every young person can get involved in composition – you don’t have to be able to play an instrument – so this is a great way to engage as many young people as possible across Scotland in the project and encourage their creativity.”

Watch them on YouTube

All of the premiere performances have been professionally filmed. This footage has been put together with films shot by young Scottish filmmaker Ryan Rutherford. Ryan shot film of each of the seven hills and over-laid that with a voiceover from Alexander McCall Smith reading the poem related to that hill. All seven films are available to watch on YouTube.

The Seven Hills Project started in 2021 with the final composition premiering during the School’s Spring Concert at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral at the end of March 2023.

About the 50th Anniversary Concert

The seven hill events provide foot hills leading to the main peak - marking half a century, St Mary’s Music School is hosting a concert at the Queen’s Hall on 26 June, which will bring together pupils and alumni ranging from internationally famous concert pianists to professional bagpipe players. They will perform pieces by Beethoven, Sir Maxwell Davies and Copland. At the heart of the concert will the world premiere of a new commission composed especially for the anniversary concert by the School’s Vice President Sir James MacMillan and an arrangement by Dame Judith Weir.

Tickets will be available from the Queen’s Hall or School website.

About the School

It is one of the nine specialist Music and Dance Schools in the UK (and the only one in Scotland) funded by the UK Government and is a co-educational non-denominational specialist music school or gifted children aged 9-19 years. It is also the Choir School of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral School in Edinburgh.

It also offers Saturday classes for children aged four to 12.

Discover more on their website.