Music in St Andrews: more than meets the ear?

Emily Fielder discusses the wide variety of musical opportunities around town.

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One of my friends, who lives in Gannochy, told me recently that one of their favourite things about coming home from class is walking past Younger Hall and hearing the sounds of both individuals and ensembles practising. This, to me, symbolises the rich and diverse musical life at St Andrews. It would be easy to assume, considering the university doesn’t actually offer music as a degree, that there aren’t that many musical opportunities here, which is far from the truth.

So here we have it: a journey through the music of the town’s concert halls and theatres:

One of the most popular musical activities here is choral singing. Students have the opportunity to take up choral scholarships in St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, the flagship choir of the university, which entitles them to both free singing lessons and a place on the annual tour (this year to Paris). The director, Tom Wilkinson, also directs an all-female choir, St Katharine’s, which sings about six services a semester. As well as working in professionally-directed choirs, students can also sing in a variety of student-led choirs: St Leonard’s Chapel Choir, which is conducted by the Douglas Gifford scholar; the Madrigal Group; and the University Chamber Choir. Many students also participate in local choirs, for example Holy Trinity, and the St Andrews Chorus – a town-and-gown community choir, which is currently rehearsing for Haydn’s The Seasons. Eleanor Gillespie, a second year, says that one of the benefits of singing in a community choir is having the opportunity to sing alongside older, more experienced singers, and learn from them.Classical styles of singing have also made their way out of the chapel and onto the stage in St Andrews.

Each summer, the music centre puts a production with their semi-professional opera company, Byre Opera. Students perform an opera led by professional directorial, production and costuming teams, and a professional orchestra. The university’s student-run Opera Society also performs a fully-staged opera each year at the Byre Theatre, amongst other shows, including this year’s production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. Other musical groups have also taken to the stage, including Just So, the university’s modern musical society, which is putting on Sweeney Todd this semester, and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, which is currently rehearsing for Princess Ida.

St Andrews is also home to no less than six contemporary a capella groups, one of which, The Other Guys, has recently returned from a tour to North America. Andrew Mundy, a member of the Alleycats, explained why he thought that singing a capella was so different to other musical activities here, saying that it has allowed them to offer unique rhythmic and harmonic interpretations of popular music from the last fifty years, whilst also getting to enjoy the ‘most energetic style of vocal music’.

If instrumental music is more your thing, however, it is not hard to get involved in that either. The Music Society is comprised of six ensembles which play a variety of different styles. They include the Big Band, billed as St Andrews’ premier swing band, which plays both music from the swing era, as well as modern jazz and contemporary funk; Ukelear Fusion, a group of ten auditioned members, who even have their own YouTube channel; and the Symphony Orchestra, the largest orchestra in town, which is professionally conducted by Chris George. Outside of the Music Society, stu-dents have other chances to be taught and conducted by professionals. The St Andrews Chamber Orchestra brings together some of the most talented instrumentalists under the direction of Michael Downes and Bede Williams,  Workshops are also often given by the Music Centre for those interested in conducting and musical directing.The Music is Love group also dedicates itself to fostering musical talent within St Andrews, both by holding regular open mic nights, during which students can play cover or even showcase their own music.

If the number of ensembles in this town is in any way indicative of the musical talent amongst the student body, so too is the talent that the town manages to attract from outside the Bubble. For example, just in the last year, Andrea Baker performed excerpts from her upcoming show Sing Sistah Sing, whilst March Christian Tetzlaft will perform Dvorák’s Violin Concerto with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

It is nearly impossible to list every ensemble or musical opportunity in this town. So whether you play, or merely enjoy music, it’s never been easier to get involved, even if you simply occasionally take time out of your day to sit in in one of the free lunchtime concerts in Younger Hall, or stop to appreciate one of the acapella groups or live bands at your next St Andrews ball.

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