We shall rise again

THEIR voices last rang out when Leith was besieged by the French and Mary, Queen of Scots ruled the nation.

Now a school of song, or sang schule in old Scots, will return to the city district for the first time in more than 450 years.

The congregation of Pilrig St Paul’s Church hope to revive the once-renowned junior choir. Its home at Restalrig Collegiate was razed to the ground by zealous Reformers in 1560.

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The Pilrig Choristers will comprise 12 of the most promising students, who will be trained from the age of eight and paid for their roles in working to return the school to its once respected status.

The original group received significant funding from Holyrood Abbey to train the finest singers of their day and its music master was amongst the church’s highest-paid figures.

Pilrig St Paul’s musical director Martin Ritchie, who will begin auditions tomorrow, discovered the history of the Restalrig sang schule in the PhD thesis of a friend at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

He said: “I had a little knowledge of the links to Leith’s sang schule but I found out more thanks to Gordon Munro at the academy, who did his PhD on church music in Scotland around that time.

“I delved into the thesis and discovered there was a substantial music heritage in Leith and Restalrig, which disappeared after the Reformation.

“In its time, Restalrig choir would really have been premier league in music. It had access to an endowment from Holyrood Abbey to foster church music and they had the finest teachers available.

“The person in charge would have been a very sought-after post and one of the highest-paid in the church.

“But in the Reformation the church was razed to the grounds by the Reformers in their zeal to cleanse the place of the old ways, and that was the rather dramatic end to the choir.”

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Mr Ritchie, who already teaches adult and youth choirs, said the new group would be comprised of the finest talents and expect to progress quickly.

He said: “This is a great chance for a small group of 12 to really get into singing. They would come in and rehearse after school then sing on Sunday morning with the church choir.

“We have already have quite a lot of community music outreach, an adult choral and two youth choirs for pupils as part of our contribution to the community.”

Parish minister Rev John Tait added: “Over the last few years we’ve been building up our contribution to the community through offering people opportunities to participate in singing and develop their potential.”