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.
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.