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The Seven Hills Project

The academic year 2022/23 marks 50 years since St Mary’s Music School opened its doors to instrumentalists.

Leading up to this landmark event, the School has devised a major new music project celebrating composition, creativity and community. Using the topography of the Seven Hills of Edinburgh as the underpinning theme, the project combines seven original poems about the hills written by Alexander McCall Smith and seven commissions, for chamber music works inspired by the hills and poetry, from seven composers with a connection to Scotland or to the school.

The seven new chamber works will be performed by our school’s senior pupils, joined by professional musicians. These seven concert premieres, spread over seven terms, provide metaphorical foothills that lead to the School's 50th birthday celebrations in June '23 at the Usher Hall where pupils and alumni will perform a major new commission, for orchestra and choir, written by school’s Vice-President, Sir James MacMillan CBE

As well as involving our pupils and alumni, The Seven Hills Project will include workshops for schoolchildren in different locations throughout Scotland, events with communities, and opportunities for emerging artists to work with our professional partners.


The Seven Hills Project logo

The Idea

In the words of Paul Stubbings, our Director of Music “The initial idea for The Seven Hills Project came about because we wanted to celebrate not only our 50th birthday but also the wonderful city of Edinburgh that we are fortunate to call our home. It was important to find a way to encourage new music making to support the exceptional talent that exists in Scotland and also to extend the project to young musicians and school children throughout the city and beyond. We were delighted when Alexander McCall Smith agreed to be involved and we are looking forward to the combination of poetry and music which will bring each of our celebrated hills to life."


The Poems

The first stage of the project has been the creation of seven poems byAlexander McCall Smith, one of Scotland’s most renowned authors and a great supporter of St Mary’s Music School. Inspired by Edinburgh’s unique landscape, each poem is dedicated to one of the landmark hills that surround the city.


The Hills

The seven hills of Edinburgh are:

  • Arthur’s Seat
  • Blackford Hill
  • Calton Hill
  • Braid Hills
  • Craiglockhart Hill
  • Corstorphine Hill
  • Castle Rock

The Composers

Seven composers with connections to Scotland and to the school have each been commissioned to write a musical work inspired by one of the seven hills and its companion poem by McCall Smith. They are:

  • Jay Capperauld
  • Tom David Wilson
  • Neil Tòmas Smith
  • Helen Grime MBE
  • Ailie Robertson
  • Simon Smith
  • David Horne

Premieres to date

Jay Capperauld - The Theory of the Earth

The first Seven Hills Project commissioned work, inspired by Arthur's Seat and Alexander McCall Smith's wonderful poem about the hill, Arthur's Seat and Geology. It received its premiere by senior pupils and professional percussionist Tom Hunter as part of the school's online Summer Concert on Friday 2nd July 2021.

Watch on Youtube

Tom David Wilson - Imagined Conversation on Blackford Hill

The second in the series of commissioned works was by our very own Tom David Wilson and was premiered at the school's live Christmas Concert at St Cuthbert's Cathedral on 13th December 2021.

Watch on Youtube

Neil Tòmas Smith - Enlightenment

The third Seven Hills Project commission was based on Alexander McCall Smith's poem, On Calton Hill. This was performed at the school's live Spring Concert on 30 March 2022.

Upcoming Premieres

Helen Grime MBE - Braid Hills

The fourth work in our Seven Hills Project is by a former pupil of St Mary's Music School, Helen Grime, leaving us in 1999. The piece entitled 'Braid Hills' is a horn duet and will be performed by Robert Johnston (S5) and his teacher Rachel Brady at the schools Summer Concert at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh on 27th June 2022.

Ailie Robertson - Craiglockhart Hill

The fifth composition is based on Craiglockhart and will premiere at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in October 2022.

Simon Smith - Corstorphine Hill

The sixth composition is based on Corstorphine and will premiere in December 2022.

David Horne - Castle Rock

The seventh composition is inspired by Castle Rock and will premiere in March 2023.

The Grand Finale

We will celebrate our 50th anniversary on June 26th 2023, with a concert at The Queens Hall and the performance of a new work, specially written for St Mary’s Music School by our Vice-President, Sir James MacMillan.





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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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