Head to the upper level of this museum, and you’ll walk a path lined with ornate, centuries-old keyboards. The instruments are as historically intriguing as the building that houses them.
St Cecilia’s Hall is the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland. The Edinburgh Musical Society constructed the hall in 1762 and would spend the next four decades filling the oval concert space with their sounds.
But the creation of the South Bridge and the development of the New Town put an end to the hall’s musical merriment by the dawn of the 19th century. Concertgoers instead opted to pop into the newer, more accessible Assembly Rooms. As such, the Edinburgh Musical Society sold the hall to a Baptist congregation in the early 1800s, which remodeled the rounded concert room.
The University of Edinburgh bought the building in 1959, dropping £6.5 million on renovations. Today, the concert hall is back to its original rounded shape, its walls painted a rosy hue, its floor striped with rows of pink chairs.
The rosy room isn’t the only reason to drop into this historic structure. The building’s other rooms are filled with a medley of musical instruments, including displays of brass instruments, woodwind instruments, and of course, some bagpipes.
But the real gem is the Raymond Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments, which is spread throughout two rooms on the upper level. Here, you’ll find keyboard instruments—harpsichords, clavichords, spinets, virginals, and a pianoforte—that date from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The keyboards, with their colorful exteriors and paintings of scenic places, were clearly meant to be seen as well as heard.
Incredibly, some of these centuries-old instruments are still fit to play—though they’re on display to be looked at, not touched. They bear visible marks of their past lives, the paint on a few fronts chipped and faded, rubbed away by the dresses of the ladies who once stood before them and struck a tune.
Know Before You Go
St Cecilia’s Hall is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Last admission is at 4:30 p.m. Visiting is free.