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Beautiful St. Cecilia's Hall

Now fully restored, Scotland's first concert hall, tucked away in
Edinburgh's Cowgate, is ready for the next chapter in its long life:
a gleaming music museum and performance venue of stunning beauty.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

You're beckoned up the stairs by the gaping but silent maw of a B flat jumbo sousaphone, made in 1928 by the Buescher Company of Elkhart, Indiana. Its days of harrumphing in marching band glory are long gone; instead, it stands mutely sentinel above the newly created entrance foyer of one of Edinburgh's hidden treasures, the 18th-century St Cecilia's Hall.

Scotland's oldest purpose-built concert venue, and the second oldest in the U.K. (the oldest, senior by a mere eight years, is Holywell Music Room in Oxford), St. Cecilia's Hall was opened in 1763 by the Edinburgh Music Society and named after the patron saint of music. It was only used as a concert hall for some three decades, however, before it passed through a variety of different uses. But today, owned by the University of Edinburgh and following a £6.5-million redevelopment, the building's distinctively oval music room has been returned to its original splendour while surrounding galleries house the university's historic instrument collection -- one of the most important in the world.

Significantly, moreover, the hall has been given an eye-catching entrance façade, with the aim of attracting many more people into this long-neglected gem of a building, which, for so long, was tucked away, the epitome of faded grandeur, in an unprepossessing street off the Royal Mile. Reopened in May, it is set for a new lease of life, both for performance and for education and research, making it a focal point for early music and historical instruments in Scotland.

Not only will visitors be able to see hundreds of instruments on display, the hall's keyboard collection having now been massively supplemented by broader collections previously housed in the university music department's Reid Museum, but also they'll be able to hear many of them, thanks to a mobile phone app downloadable from the collection's Web site. St. Cecilia's is the only venue in the world where it is possible to regularly hear 18th-century music played on 18th-century instruments in an 18th-century concert hall.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2017 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos courtesy University of Edinburgh