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Tuesday October 1st, 6pm to 7.30pm 

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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Helen Macleod 1980 - 2018

helenmacleod

Helen MacLeod, who has died aged 37 in a car accident, was one of Scotland’s finest harp players. She was a passionate champion of traditional music, new music and classical repertoire; she was a spirited teacher, a warm-hearted collaborator, a talented composer and arranger. She will be profoundly missed by Scotland’s musical community.

Helen grew up in Inverinate, a small village on the north shore of Loch Duich near Kyle of Lochalsh. Her father, Roddy, is a native Gaelic speaker and Helen studied Gaelic throughout her school years. Her love of music grew out of the rich traditional culture of the area, and she first learnt the clarsach locally with Christine Martin before moving to study at St Mary’s Music School. She continued her studies here in both traditional clarsach and pedal harp with Charlotte Petersen and Isobel Mieras.

As a student, Helen was gregarious, generous, witty, full of energy. Peers remember her from those years as a bright spark and joyous trouble-maker, a glamorous role model who spoke her mind and acted with conviction. She was also a tremendously caring friend.

Between the years of 1999-2003 she continued her studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester with Eira Lynn Jones. During her undergraduate years she participated in an exchange programme with the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, USA, and presented workshops as part of their summer school programme.  After graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in 2003, she worked regularly with all the orchestras in Scotland, as well as with Manchester Camerata, the Royal Northern Sinfonia and the Hallé Orchestra, and performed on many occasions at the BBC Proms.

Above all, Helen loved playing chamber music, because smaller ensembles allowed her to flex her creative dynamism and engage in vivacious exchanges with her collaborators. She was one half of the flute and harp duo Hoot! with Emma Wilkins; they released their album Garden of Adonis (2010) at Sound Festival in Aberdeen, and premiered Helen Grime’s Fantasie, Danse, Ceremonie for flute and harp that same year. The duo was awarded an EMS (Enterprise Music Scotland) Residency Award and the Tunnell Trust for Young Musicians Award.  Helen was also a regular player with Hebrides Ensemble, most recently performing Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp as part of their May 2018 tour.

As a teacher, she brought to her students all the best qualities of her musical personality: she was fun, committed, instinctive, original, discerning and infectiously passionate. She taught at St Mary’s Music School from 2009 to 2018, with her pupils going on to win scholarships to top conservatoires including the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the RNCM and Berklee College of Music, USA. She was a regular teacher at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, and a visiting tutor at the RNCM for the past five years.

Helen loved the Highlands, which always felt like home; she went back as often as possible to visit her family and her favourite landscape. She adored animals, particularly dogs, and would seize any chance to look after other people’s pets as well as being utterly devoted to her own.  Friends, colleagues and students describe her as a warm, kind and boundlessly generous person; she was energetic, creative, vibrant and inspiring. She was wickedly funny and full of spirit, a person who would light up any room.

She is survived by her mother Dolores and her father Roddy; by her sister Tina and by her partner David Keay.

With thanks to Kate Molleson for this obituary.

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St Mary’s Music School is one of the nine specialist Music and Dance Schools the UK (and the only one in Scotland)  funded by the UK Government and providing the finest training in Britain. It is a co-educational, non-denominational specialist music school, offering a world class standard of music and academic education to musically gifted children aged 9-19 years. It is also the Choir School of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh. It attracts day and boarding pupils from across Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Europe and internationally. 

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Registered Office: Coates Hall, 25 Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh EH12 5EL.