St Cecilia’s takes One Last Dance

Apr 14 2014 | By More

Scotland’s oldest concert hall relives ballroom past

Pin-up and Pout! Photo © Laurence Winram Photography

Pin-up and Pout! Photo © Laurence Winram Photography

By Thom Dibdin

St Cecilia’s Hall on the Cowgate, Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert hall, is to relive its trendiest incarnation in May, ahead of being closed for a £6.5m transformation.

Swing dancers, jazz musicians and vintage hairstyles are set to return the hall to its 1940s ballroom setting as part of a three-day series of events over the weekend of May 16-18.

On Saturday 17 May, One Last Dance will be an evening of dancing with live music from the University of Edinburgh’s Jazz Orchestra.

There will be an opportunity to take a swing dance class beforehand and, earlier in the afternoon, a master class in recreating 1940s hairstyles.

Most recently used by the Edinburgh University as a museum for its bagpipes and early keyboard instruments collection – and an occasional concert venue – St Cecilia’s has had varied uses in its 250 year history.

In 1933 it was opened as the Excelsior Ballroom by Miss Magdalene Cairns, who had inherited it from her father, Andrew Cairns. It was one of many dance halls in the city during the 40s.

Sarah Deters, who is organising the weekend event said: “St Cecilia’s Hall has taken many forms over the past 250 years, and we are incredibly excited to discover and share this part of its story.

“The building is due to close for redevelopment this summer, so these events offer people the chance to visit St Cecilia’s Hall and learn a little about the history of that time, while having a lot of fun.”

Event organisers are also inviting anyone who remembers dancing at the Excelsior to share their memories at a drop-in session on 17 April from 10am-2pm. Their accounts will be recorded to ensure this aspect of the building’s history is not lost.

One Last Dance Photo © Laurence Winram Photography

One Last Dance Photo © Laurence Winram Photography

Stories and pictures gathered from this memory project may also be used for an exhibition which will be on show throughout the weekend.

Other events include a 1940s jewellery making class, a make do and mend dressmaking workshop, a vintage hair and make-up session and a swing dance class from the University of Edinburgh swing society.

Edinburgh’s medical history, the growth of popular printing and the birth of the electric guitar will also be explored in talks and there will also be a family tea party with wartime children’s games and toy making sessions.

In March, the University was awarded £823,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a £6.5million vision to turn St Cecilia’s into a centre for the study, display and enjoyment of its collection of instruments, which date back to the sixteenth century.

The HLF award will fund new ways to make the instruments more readily available to the public. The venue will be able to host live demonstrations, innovative use of sound and recordings, song-writing projects, exhibitions about instruments and their owners, provide resources for schools, and hold lunchtime concerts.

According to the University, the refurbished and extended hall will be home to more than 1000 world-class objects and be a hub for research and teaching.

It says that the plans, being developed by architects Page\Park, will reinstate the 18th century character of the venue, restoring the original historic frontage on the Cowgate and repairing the external stonework.

A new entrance with a feature door will be visible from the Royal Mile. The oval concert hall at the heart of the building will be completely restored and the original acoustics will be recreated.

Further details and tickets for May’s One Last Dance event are here:

Sarah Deters talks about the weekend – great pics of how the hall looked 50 seconds in.


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