St Mary's Music School

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St Mary's Music School
Established 1880
Type Independent day and boarding
Specialist music school
Religion Non-denominational
Headteacher Kenneth Taylor
Director of Music Paul Stubbings
Location 25 Grosvenor Crescent
EH12 5EL
Students 80 (2017)
Gender Coeducational
Ages 9–19

St Mary's Music School is a music school in Scotland in Edinburgh, for boys and girls aged 9 to 19 and is also the Choir School of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral.[1] The school, which is non-denominational, provides education for children with a special talent in music, and is Scotland's only full-time independent specialist music school.[2][3] In 2017 the school has 80 pupils from many different backgrounds and from all parts of Scotland, the rest of the UK and abroad - 49 day pupils and 31 boarders, plus one student on the school's Part-time Pathways to Specialism scheme.[4][5]

St marys music school.jpg


Entry to the school is by audition and assessment, based on musical ability and potential and regardless of personal circumstances. Scottish Government funding, up to 100%, is available through the statutory Aided Places scheme to assist with the cost of tuition and boarding fees. The school and St. Mary's Cathedral also award bursaries.[1] The school draws pupils from many different backgrounds, from all parts of Scotland and abroad. Boarding facilities are available at Coates Hall.


The school operates a large chamber orchestra, a Junior String Sinfonia and a Senior String Ensemble. Jazz and Traditional Scottish Music (including instruments like the clàrsach and bagpipes[1]) feature in specialist ensembles and in Jazz and Scottish Music Days. Students perform regularly throughout Edinburgh and beyond.[6] In addition to internal lunchtime concerts, students have also performed at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh,[7] Jam House, Kirks, Cathedral and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Students have also been requested to play at many civic occasions including Royalty, the Scottish Parliament and other public events such as NATO visit to Edinburgh.

In addition, students play regularly in external youth orchestras such as the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, National Children’s Orchestra of Scotland, National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and sing in the National Youth Choir of Scotland.

Students also have the opportunity to form their own bands such as the contemporary folk-fusion band Kilairum.


The school day is from 8.30am until 5pm (3.30 on Wednesdays and 4.30 on Fridays) - and there is no study leave.[4] The School is regularly at or near the top of Scotland’s academic league tables.[4] St Mary's Music School was named as Scottish Independent Secondary School of the Year in 2007[8] and its academic results are consistently excellent.[9] The 2016 pass rate is 100% for National 4, Higher and A level exams, 94% for National 5 and 95% for Advanced Highers.[4] A former Music Director, Nigel Murray, wrote in 1994 that the self-discipline acquired in the devotion to the mastery of an art as self-fulfilling as Music was bound to have a beneficial effect on the rest of the pupil's work and play. Murray continued that if he had a motto for St Mary's Music School it would be the words of the great Italian pianist Ferruccio Busoni,;

"He who is only a musician is no musician".[10]

All pupils proceed to higher education and most generally go on to conservatoires or universities, this is usually but not always to study music. Of 12 pupils going directly to Higher Education in 2016, all were continuing to Conservatoires or University music departments, including one attending Cambridge.[11] Many established alumni now pursue international careers, retaining contact with the School.[4]


St Mary’s Music School was founded as the Song School of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in 1880 to educate choristers for the newly built St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. At that time the school was located at Old Coates House and the adjacent Song School Building, both within the Cathedral precincts.

In 1970 Dennis Townhill and the Provost, Philip Crosfield, became the driving force of a plan not only to safeguard the future of the Choir School of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh but to transform it into a new and vibrant entity.[12] In 1972 the school was expanded into a specialist music school on the lines of the Yehudi Menuhin School, with Lord Menuhin becoming patron and referring to it as "my younger sister-school in Scotland".[13][14] The school educates young instrumentalists, composers and singers. In 1976 the Cathedral choir was opened to girls. In 1995, the music school moved out of the Cathedral grounds and into its current location at Coates Hall, Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh.[1]

St Mary's Music School is the only Scottish member of the UK Music and Dance Schools (MDS)[15] and is similar to other specialist music schools throughout Europe such as the Dresden Music Gymnasium; Sächsisches Landesgymnasium für Musik "Carl Maria von Weber". The current President is Professor John Wallace, a trumpet player and former principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Vice presidents are Dame Evelyn Glennie CH DBE, Steven Isserlis CBE, Sir James MacMillan CBE, Jerzy Maksymiuk and Steven Osborne.


Coates Hall was originally designed by David Bryce for Sheriff Napier in 1850 as a small Baronial house. In 1891 the building was bought by the Scottish Episcopal Church for use as the Edinburgh Theological College and enlarged by Sydney Mitchell adding a late gothic chapel. In 1913 Robert Lorimer added a storey to the main block much improving the whole group.

In 1995 Coates Hall was sold to St Mary’s Music School and houses the (de-consecrated) chapel which is used for concerts. The Chapel contains three stained glass windows.[16] by J. Ninian Cooper which includes Scotland's first saints;. St Columba and St Ninian. The school also has two libraries, staff offices, bedrooms for boarding pupils, and around 30 music practice rooms. Academic subjects are mainly taught in two modern buildings within the school grounds.

The school is surrounded by gardens in the heart of Edinburgh's West End and has good transport connections due to its proximity to Haymarket railway station.

Model in 2016 of proposed new building for school

The Song School within the nearby Cathedral precinct is still used by the Choristers for daily practice, where they are surrounded by beautiful murals by Phoebe Anna Traquair. It was these murals (1888–92), which won Traquair national recognition.[17] Within a tunnelled ceiling interior the East Wall depicts the cathedral clergy and choir. The South depicts Traquair’s admired contemporaries such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and George Frederic Watts; the North, birds and choristers sing together. The West shows the four beasts singing the Sanctus.[18]

In 2016 the school put forward a fully funded over £25 million proposal to move its location to the old Royal High School in Edinburgh in competition with another proposal to convert the site to a hotel.[19][20] The St Mary's Music School proposal, if successful, will allow the school to increase the number of its students.[5]

Directors' Recital Prize[edit]

This annual prize, funded by the Directors of St Mary's was inaugurated with the aim of providing pupils with the experience of public solo performance in a competitive situation. In 2013 there were 27 entries, with four finalists performing in St Mary's Cathedral. Recital prize winners were;

  • 2001 Philip Higham (cello)
  • 2002 Julia Rogers (violin)
  • 2003 Kirstie Campbell (saxophone)
  • 2004 Gillian Maitland (percussion)
  • 2005 Christopher Guild (piano)
  • 2006 Esther Swift (harp)
  • 2007 David Gray (piano)
  • 2008 Taylor MacLennan (flute)
  • 2009 Emily Hoile (harp)
  • 2010 Jakub Gutkowski (piano)
  • 2011 Sarah Park (piano)
  • 2012 Bethany Crockett (piano)
  • 2013 Morag Robertson (viola)
  • 2014 David Swan (jazz piano)
  • 2015 Anna Michels (piano)[21]
  • 2016 Aaron Akugbo (trumpet)

Notable former pupils[edit]

Discography - St Mary's Cathedral Choir[edit]

  • 2000 Great Cathedral anthems, Vol.8 (with Peter Backhouse)
  • 2000 Langlais & Vierne: Vocal and Choral Music (with Matthew Owens and three others)
  • 2001 Faure - Requiem (with Matthew Owens)
  • 2001 My Beloved Spake (with Dennis Townhill)
  • 2002 A Gaelic Blessing (with Matthew Owens) - Delphian Records
  • 2003 Ascension (with Matthew Owens) - Delphian Records
  • 2005 Gabriel Jackson: Sacred Choral Works (with Matthew Owens) - Delphian Records
  • 2006 Peter Maxwell Davies: Sacred Choral Works (with Matthew Owens, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Ensemble, Michael Bonaventure and Simon Nieminski) - Delphian Records
  • 2008 Part: Stabat Mater; Magnificat & Nunc dimittis; Es sang vor langen Jahren (with Matthew Owens and two others)
  • 2010 Taverner: Sacred Choral Music (with Duncan Ferguson) - Delphian Records
  • 2011 Bruckner: Motets (with Duncan Ferguson) - Delphian Records
  • 2012 Gabriel Jackson: Beyond the Stars - Sacred Choral Works Vol II (with Duncan Ferguson) - Delphian Records
  • 2014 Sheppard: Sacred Choral Music (with Duncan Ferguson) - Delphian Records
  • 2016 Stravinsky: Choral Works (with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and soloists Ruby Hughes and Nicholas Mulroy) - Delphian Records

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g MacFarlane, Felicity (Summer 2016). McKinnon, Gillian, ed. "On Song at St Mary's". The Edge. The Diocese of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church. 20 (4). 
  2. ^ Overview of the musical pre-college phase in the United Kingdom, retrieved 2009-10-20
  3. ^ History of the Music and Dance Scheme, retrieved 2009-10-20
  4. ^ a b c d e Post of Headteacher, retrieved 2012-08-20
  5. ^ a b Miller, Phillip (2016-02-08). "Music school reveals expansion plans for old Royal High School building". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  6. ^ St Mary's Music School Prospectus retrieved 2009-11-19[dead link]
  7. ^ Concert at the Queens Hall retrieved 2009-11-19
  8. ^ Scottish Independent Secondary School of the Year 2007 retrieved 2009-11-03
  9. ^ Glasgow Herald, School League Tables 2009 Retrieved 2010-01-20
  10. ^ Nigel Murray & Neil Cox; The Musical Times Vol 135 No 1814, April 1994 pp247-248
  11. ^ St Mary's Music School; Leavers' Recital 2013
  12. ^ Obituary (Times) of Dr Dennis Townhill retrieved 2009-11-02
  13. ^ Obituary of Dr Dennis Townhill retrieved 2009-11-02
  14. ^ Carol Main, Musical Heirs show such a perfect tribute to Menuhin, Evening News, June 29, 1999
  15. ^ Music and Dance Excellence Schools, retrieved 2009-10-20
  16. ^ Gifford et al. The Public Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh(1984) p368
  17. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Retrieved 2009-11-04
  18. ^ Gifford et al. The Public Buildings of Scotland: Edinburgh(1984) p366
  19. ^ Grant, Alistair (2016-08-10). "Plans to turn Royal High into music school backed by planners". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  20. ^ Braidwood, Ella (2016-08-18). "Planners back Richard Murphy's alternative Calton Hill plans". Architects Journal. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  21. ^ "Pianist hits the high notes". Stirling News. 2015-06-25. Retrieved 2016-09-21. 
  22. ^ "Alexander Armstrong on bringing variety back to Saturday night TV". The Scotsman. 26 July 2011. 
  23. ^ Craig Brown (2010-11-03). "Young Scots pianist joins jazz greats with US college honour". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  24. ^ Susan Swarbrick (2003-11-29). "Portrait Name: Monica Brett-Crowther CV: Opera singer". The Herald. Retrieved 2010-11-05. 
  25. ^ a b "Face to Face interview: Hitting right note in producing tomorrow's top musicians". Herald Scotland. 2015-09-07. Retrieved 2016-09-21. 
  26. ^ Cornwell, Tim (2010-03-31). "How this 28-year-old Scot wrote some of best classical music of 21st century". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  27. ^ BBC Radio Scotland. Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2009, retrieved 2010-11-4
  28. ^ Wilson, Conrad (2007-06-27). "Music". The Herald. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°56′50″N 3°13′14″W / 55.94722°N 3.22056°W / 55.94722; -3.22056