Monthly Archives: August 2014

Making new (3D) plans II

Yesterday I blogged about our exciting plans for the display and interpretation of nearly 1000 historic musical instruments in the new St Cecilia’s Hall, including how we are able to work on-screen on 3D walkthroughs.

Going through the photos taken from various meetings shows that 3D modelling isn’t always high-tech however. Here are Sarah Deters, Audience Development Assistant and Jenny Nex, Curator, deciding on the placement of two fabulous 17th century archlutes from our Collections by taking the place of the musical instruments.


Should we display them facing in or out?

For those who might be interested, here are the instruments in question.  On the left is one made by Harz in 1665, and on the right the example by Rotundus, dated 1699.


Making new (3D) plans

Although we are very much focused on our ever-closer decant from St Cecilia’s Hall, it by no means takes all of our thinking time in relation to the St Cecilia’s Hall Redevelopment Project. Despite not even having closed the building yet, all staff are busy making plans for the displays that will go into the building once it re-opens.

This is, of course, one of the most enjoyable parts of our jobs.

What we are doing now will very much decide the “feel” of the new museum.  There are all sorts of questions we need to consider – how many instruments are we wanting (how dense will the display be), how do we want to arrange the instruments to tell various stories, how do we keep the visitor interested from start to finish, and (we very much hope) still wanting to come back for return visits, how do we appeal to all types of visitor from professional musicians to those who have no detailed knowledge but want to see the old (and in some cases not quite-so-old) objects.

This is not a one-step process by any means – at present it is the layout of the galleries and showcases, this will be followed by designing stands so the instruments can be clearly and unobtrusively seen, backdrops, creating labels, text for guides, publications and so on.

What is it all actually like, and how does it happen in practice, are common questions.  Here are a couple of “behind-the-scenes” photos of the team at work.  In front of the computer is Iain Coates of our museum design team Studio SP, who has a programme which allows scaled images of each of the objects to be move into 3D showcase “space”, which is projected onto the screen for us all to see.  The software also allows us to view showcases from various viewpoints in the gallery, and even have a complete walkthrough!


We are nearing the end of all of the open displays, after which our displayed objects will have all been selected (we have, of course, the possibility of tweaking a little as we progress). The chance for a whole-museum walkthrough is being increasingly anticipated.

Big Week

Edinburgh has changed from being its normal – albeit busy and excited – summertime to in Festival mode. It is always a sudden change, and always very exciting. Both the Reid Concert Hall and St Cecilia’s Hall will be open on each weekday as of August 4 – St Cecilia’s in the mornings from10.30 – 12.30, and the Reid Concert Hall from 2pm – 5pm.

The week has also been significant in that it marked the retirement of long-time Assistant Curator John Raymond who started at the Collection in 1984. It was a very different collection and time then – our two museums were under separate management, and the keyboard instruments numbered less than half of what we have at present. Unlike the busy galleries of today, they were then somewhat sparse – there was room to set up drawing boards in the galleries at a time when technical drawings were done by pen rather than computer. Much of John’s work – like much museum work in general – is not the stuff of highlights. If things go according to plan the visitor or audience member should be virtually unaware of his presence. We attend concerts, and the hope (and expectation) is that the instrument behaves perfectly and the tuning holds. It is a mark of John’s skill that only very rarely was he ever called to intervene during an event.

John Raymond working on the 1668 Stephen Keene spinet.

John Raymond working on the 1668 Stephen Keene spinet.

But many things have happened at the Hall and Collection over the intervening years that are highlights. There were several major restorations – the Hitchcock spinet and John Broadwood harpsichord being great examples. There were also two superb technical drawings – the Hitchcock spinet and the Francis Coston harpsichord. The Coston drawing even led to John being an exhibited artist when it was included in an exhibition held at the University’s Talbot Rice Gallery. There were also a number of recordings – three compilation CDs of Collection instruments each with 9 examples, and others using one or two collection objects. There were a number of important performances – perhaps none more so that during the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival when the Goermans/Taskin harpsichord was used at the Queens Hall and two further concerts took place at St Cecilia’s itself, all by the French harpsichordist Christoph Rousset. These were so widely regarded that the instrument was given a “Herald Angel” award – again where much of the credit should go to John’s preparation and tuning.

During the last dozen years the two museums have been taken under the wing of Library and University Collections, combined into a single collection structure, expanded in number by individual acquisition plus the Shackleton Collection bequest and the Rodger Mirrey keyboard collection gift. All these (and other) things have led us to the position we are at now with the St Cecilia’s Hall Redevelopment Project. We wish John well in his retirement, and are presently advertising for a Conservator to cover the whole collection (as well as for a Learning and Engagement Curator) – another example of how things have changed greatly over the past three decades.