Alexander McCall Smith poems to inspire new musical tributes to Edinburgh's seven hills

The best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith is to spearhead a major two-year music, literary and education project inspired by Edinburgh's seven hills.

Scotland’s specialist music school, St Mary’s in Edinburgh has joined forces with the creator of the 44 Scotland Street and The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels to honour the celebrated landmarks in poetry and performance.

Seven young composers will be creating new musical works inspired by words McCall Smith has penned in tribute to the much-loved landmarks and beauty spots dotted around the city.

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They will be performed at school concerts over the next two years in the run-up to a planned gala concert for the “Seven Hills Project” at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh in June 2023.

St Mary’s, which is government funded, will also be working with primary and secondary schools across Scotland to create a series of workshops with Jay Capperauld, one of the seven composers commissioned to turn McCall Smith’s words into music, so that they can create their own tributes to their favourite local landmarks.

The first commissioned work by Capperauld, Theory of the Earth, about Arthur’s Seat, will be unveiled when it is performed by senior pupils at St Mary’s in a virtual premiere on Friday 2 July.

The other composers – Tom David Wilson, Neil Tòmas Smith, Helen Grime, Ailie Robertson, Simon Smith and David Horne – have been commissioned to create tributes to Blackford Hill, Calton Hill, the Braid Hills, Craiglockhart Hill, Corstorphine Hill and Edinburgh Castle rock respectively based on McCall Smith’s poems.

The writer said: “I’ve had some previous involvement with St Mary’s, including a composition competition, and have always been a big supporter.

Alexander McCall Smith was commissioned to write a series of new poems to inspire new pieces of music.

“It’s a wonderful institution which provides a superb musical education for kids from anywhere in Scotland if they have the talent.

“The idea is that the poems on the seven hills and their numerous associations will be the basis and inspiration for each composition, rather than each composer setting the words to music as songs. I really enjoyed writing them all.”

Dr Valerie Pearson, head of strings at St Mary’s Music School, who is leading the Seven Hills Project, said:“This is a unique project to promote new music in Scotland, to celebrate music and creativity and, ultimately, to use creativity as a way of engaging young people with new music.

“It was inspired by the school’s desire to celebrate Edinburgh as the wonderful home of our music-making through the topography of its seven hills and the way they connect culture, community and heritage.

Composer Jay Capperauld with students and staff from St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh.

"Importantly, the project is also an opportunity to commission new music, something that the school hasn’t done in a while, and for our own students to perform these new pieces.”

Capperauld said: "It’s a real honour to have been commissioned as part of the Seven Hills Project to compose Theory of the Earth for the wonderful young musicians of St Mary's Music School.

“They’ve been sounding phenomenal in rehearsals and their first-rate musicianship shines through in their performance of my new work.

"It’s been a joy to hear it come to life and I can't wait to share this new piece in celebration of the school's iconic history in Edinburgh's cultural landscape as well as celebrate Alexander McCall Smith's evocative poetry about the equally iconic Arthur's Seat."

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