Report by Judy Wheeler
On Wednesday 13th June, ELISA hosted a visit to St Cecilia’s Hall, in Edinburgh’s Cowgate. We were lucky enough to be given a guided tour of The Music Museum’s Collections by our very knowledgeable guide Sarah!
Entrance to the museum is from Niddry Street in the Cowgate – since undergoing a £6.5 million renovation, St Cecilia’s Hall and Music Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, and is free to visit: https://www.ed.ac.uk/visit/museums-galleries/st-cecilias
St Cecilia’s Hall itself is Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall, built by the Edinburgh Musical Society in 1762. We heard a little of the hall’s history – it has been put to many different uses over the years, including a church, a Masonic Lodge, and a Dr Bell’s School, as well as a Cobbler’s and swing dance club to name a few. Luckily now it is a concert hall again, hosting a range of concerts and public events – and it is claimed that it is the only place in the world, it is claimed, that you can hear 18th-century music being played on 18th-century instruments in an 18th- century setting!
The Music Museum houses the university’s collection of musical instruments from all over the world – a huge collection of 6000 instruments, with around 500 on display. We were treated to a tour of the keyboard instruments first of all – 36 in total, including harpsichords, virginals, spinets, clavichords and pianofortes – if you don’t know the difference, I would encourage you to visit the museum 🙂
Most of the early keyboard instruments were designed for domestic settings, to be played in the home – usually by ladies. Due to this, a lot of the time they needed to be on a fairly high stand, to make room for the skirts and corset of the musicians! The materials used also hinted at the social standing of the owner – instruments belonging to the middle classes would be less lavishly decorated, or made of materials that were cheaper at the time. The shape of some of the instruments was even designed so that the lady playing the keys could continue to flirt as she did so.
We also saw a Chamber organ dating from 1775 – the air had to be pumped manually through the instrument, so a ‘Blower’ was required to operate the pump – a tiring job.
We moved on to the rest of the collection – instruments on display included a Hurdy Gurdy – a kind of mechanical violin where a wheel is turned to make the sound.
Can you spot it in this display case?
The museum traces the development of the instruments, with early examples through to more modern instruments – below you can see from the recorder, wooden and ivory flutes – and even one made of crystal – through to the modern metal flute.
I’d happily tell you more, but will let the pictures speak for themselves – I’d definitely recommend a visit and you can have a sneak preview on the website too: http://www.stcecilias.ed.ac.uk/
Report by Judy Wheeler
ELISA Training & Development Group