Ferde Grofé, composer, arranger and musician

Portrait of composer Ferde Grofe sat at a piano.
Portrait of Ferde Grofé
Bain News Service, publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfairly Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé – Ferde Grofé is perhaps only known for two things Rhapsody in Blue which he didn’t write and the Grand Canyon Suite which he did. 

Ferde as he became known was born in 1892 in New York to a highly musical, German immigrant family. Emil, his father, was an opera singer mostly known for singing operetta and Elsa, his mother a cellist and teacher. Elsa’s father and brother were both established orchestral musicians based in New York and Los Angeles. 

Ferde’s mother was his first music teacher and she started him on the piano and violin. Shortly after the sad death of his father in 1899 his mother took him to Europe, to Leipzig to study viola and composition. Over the next few years he became proficient in many instruments and on his return to America went through a succession of jobs before leaving home and joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a viola player.  

From 1909 to about 1919 his day job as violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic was supplemented by jobs with local dance bands and jazz orchestras. In 1920 he joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra initially as pianist but he soon became Paul Whiteman’s chief arranger responsible with his arrangements for the Whiteman sound. 

Signed portrait photograph of George Gerschwin
Signed photograph of George Gershwin
Mishkin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1924, Paul Whiteman had approached George Gershwin to produce a Jazz Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The story, according to Ira Gershwin, George’s brother, was that George forgot about the commission and it was not until 5 weeks before the premier that George Gershwin started work on the Concerto. He handed over his sketches to Ferde Grofé for him to produce the orchestral score which Grofé did brilliantly but Gershwin hadn’t completed the piano part so during the first performance the piano part was played from memory by Gershwin himself.  

Grofé, later in 1942, made an arrangement of the work for full orchestra and it is in this version that we best know Rhapsody in Blue. 

A composer in a white dinner jacket and bow tie.
Paul Whiteman in a still from the movie ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. 
Trailer screenshot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1929 Grofé started work on a piece initially titled Five Picture of the Grand Canyon. This evocative tone poems was to become the work we know as the Grand Canyon Suite. This suite would take the next two years to complete having its premiere in 1931.  

This was a relatively short period of time for Grofé to work on a piece but an emerging pattern painted from these two works show how the composer/arranger could work. On some things quickly, efficiently and on others a long painful artistic process with many of his works unfinished on his death, not receiving a first performance till long after his passing, taking ten, twenty or more years to be finished. 

The Grand Canyon Suite was premiered on the 22nd November 1931 in the Studebaker Theatre, Chicago, by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra and has remained a staple in the orchestral repertoire ever since. 

The work was used as the soundtrack to a 1958 Walt Disney film called Grand Canyon. Its opening shot states “a pictorial interpretation of Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite”. Rather in the manner of Fantasia, this Disney short has no dialogue and no plot.   

Cinematographers Ernst and Jeanne Heiniger filming ‘Grand Canyon’.
Daniel Davis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ferde Grofé died in 1972 leaving behind a large body of work including film scores, large orchestral works, choral works,  concertos and chamber works. Only a very small percentage of this catalogue has been recorded. 

We have collected a few of Grofé’s works on to playlists in Naxos Jazz and Classical streaming services. 

Ferde Grofé playlist on Naxos Music Library Classical
Screenshot of Ferde Grofe playlist on Naxos Jazz Music Library
Ferde Grofé playlist on Naxos Music Jazz

Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool

Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool famous for its Art Deco design, large diving boards, artificial waves and chilly water was one of Portobello’s main attractions for over 40 years. Opening in 1936, it was the largest outdoor pool of its kind in Europe.

The pool was enormous, 330 ft long by 150 ft wide. The one and a half million gallons of water required to fill the pool was filtered from the sea and heated by steam from the adjacent power station.

One of the main attractions was the wave making machine which was the first to be installed in an outdoor pool in the UK and could generate waves up to 3ft high.

Completed open air pool -1936

The pool closed for six years during the Second World War and had to be camouflaged to stop it being used as a landmark for enemy planes.

Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool – 1936

By the end of the 60s Portobello’s popularity waned as cheap package holidays became readily available. The pool fell into decline and with the closure of the power station in 1978, removing what little heat there was for the water. The 1979 season was to be its last and the pool was finally demolished in 1988.

We have just published images on Capital Collections recording the pool’s construction. See these fascinating images in our new exhibition on Portobello Open Air Swimming Pool.

Composers, musicians, and hearing loss

Deaf Awareness Week runs from 3-9 May 2021, with this year’s theme being ‘Coming Through it Together’ – you can find more information on the UK Council on Deafness website.

At the end of May, the Oscar-winnng and BAFTA-winning film Sound of Metal will be released in the UK, starring Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. These two events have inspired Douglas and Natasha from the Music Library to take a look at some composers and performers who have experienced hearing loss. You may notice that Ludwig van Beethoven is not present on this list, but that’s because Douglas has already written a fascinating blog about Beethoven and his deafness.

Dame Ethel Smyth 1858-1944

In 1934 the country gathered together to celebrate the 75th birthday of one of Britain’s favourite composers, Dame Ethel Smyth. Over a few spring months, concerts and radio broadcasts of Smyth’s works were organised, leading to the festival’s final concert in the Royal Albert Hall. The composer sat beside Queen Mary and watched Sir Thomas Beecham conduct a performance of her Mass in D to a packed Albert Hall, by this point almost completely deaf she could not hear the music, the adulation, and the recognition of her lifetime’s achievement in music.  

Smyth was closely involved with the suffragette movement, and her popular “The March of Women” was adopted by the Women’s Social and Political Union.  

With the outbreak of the World War One, Smyth went to France and trained as a radiologist. She worked as a radiologist in Vichy from 1915 to 1918, difficult years in which she became increasingly deaf. On her return to England, she concentrated on her writing, producing in 1919 the first of 8 volumes of memoirs, Impressions that Remained

In this period of her life Smyth focused on writing memoirs, she was made a Dame in 1922, but composed little, the outstanding work of this late period was a large-scale vocal symphony The Prison, described as dialogue between a wrongly convicted prisoner and his soul. Smyth wrote this work in 1929/30 and she herself, despite her major hearing loss, conducted the premiere of the work in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on the 19th February 1931.  

Ralph Vaughan Williams 1872-1958

Sir Gerald Kelly’s portrait of Ralph Vaughan Williams depicts the composer during his final days. Completed after his death, the painting shows Vaughan Williams seated, a musical score in front of him, conductor’s baton in his right hand, and a hearing aid in his left ear.

Before the outbreak of World War One, Vaughan Williams had already composed some of his most famous works, including The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; these two works have just been voted 1st and 3rd respectively in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame 2021. He volunteered for military service in 1914, despite being forty-two at the time. He served in France and Salonika (Thessaloniki), having joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and the 2/4th London Field Ambulance. The prolonged exposure to loud, continuous gunfire in the trenches caused Vaughan Williams to experience hearing loss, which worsened to severe deafness in later years. According to the biographer James Day, Vaughan Williams possessed a large number of hearing aids, “the largest of which he referred to as his ‘coffee pot’”.

Vaughan Williams continued to compose after his time spent in the military, right up until his death in 1958. Following the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in 1943, for which he was the conductor, many took the serene nature of the piece to be the seventy-year-old Vaughan William’s farewell piece. This could not have been further from the truth, with Vaughan Williams composing many more pieces before his final work, Symphony No. 9, which premiered four months before his death. Day also noted in his book, The Master Musicians: Vaughan Williams, that the composer’s hearing loss did impede his ability to enjoy performances by larger ensembles but he continued to attend concerts throughout his life, including works by Gustav Holst with whom Vaughan Williams was great friends.

Bedřich Smetana 1824-1882 

Best known perhaps for the symphonic poems Má vlast and his opera, The Bartered Bride.  

In the summer of 1874 Smetana became ill with a rash, a throat infection, and a blockage to his ears. By October of that year he had lost all the hearing on one side and most on the other, Smetana remained hopeful that his hearing might return but it never did.  

This final decade of Smetana’s life was a fruitful one producing the earlier mentioned Má vlast and three operas. One of Smetana’s final works was his String Quartet in E minor which is also titled From My Life and is described as a musical autobiographical work with, in the final movement, a high open harmonic E on the violin said to represent the now constant ringing in his ear. 

Asteroid 2047 Smetana was named after the composer in 1971.

Dame Evelyn Glennie 1965-

Noted as being the first person to maintain a full-time career as a solo percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie began to lose her hearing aged 8 and has been profoundly deaf since the age of 12.

Born in Aberdeenshire, she initially learnt to play the piano and clarinet before switching to percussion as her hearing deteriorated. Glennie attended the Royal Academy of Music in London, though she was initially denied a place as she describes the institution stated they “[didn’t have] a clue of the future of a so-called deaf musician”. Glennie challenged the decision and auditioned again, being accepted the second time. Glennie advocates the act of listening with the whole body as opposed to simply by hearing, and as such does not refer to herself as a deaf musician but instead as a musician with a hearing impairment. With the aid of Ron Forbes, her percussion teacher at her secondary school, Glennie learnt how to tune timpani using vibrations she could feel with her hands flat against a wall, before finding ways to harness the vibrations created to further her musicianship, such as performing barefoot.

Glennie played the first percussion concerto ever in the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and has commissioned over 200 new pieces for solo percussion. Her own composition, A Little Prayer, which she wrote when she was thirteen, has become one of her most famous pieces. A multi-award winner, including Grammy Awards and the Polar Music Prize, Glennie was named Chancellor of Robert Gordon University in April 2021. Many will have seen her perform at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, leading one thousand drummers as well as performing on an aluphone, which was an entirely new instrument at the time.

William Boyce 1711-1779 

William Boyce was made Master of the King’s Music, succeeding composer and his teacher Maurice Greene on his death in 1755. It is said that one of the first things Boyce did was to refuse to write a new setting of Zadok the Priest as Handel’s was “unsurpassable”. By 1758 Boyce’s deafness had become such that he was forced to retire his teaching and organist roles and returned to Kensington to devote the rest of his life to editing and copying works left to him by others. He completed Maurice Greene’s Cathedral Music, which Greene had left unfinished on his death, and is still used today in the Anglican Church. Boyce and his works are largely forgotten and rarely played with the exception of a short-lived revival in the 1920s by composer Constant Lambert and works in the afore mentioned Cathedral Music

Brian Wilson 1942-

Often considered one of the important songwriters ever and referred to as “a genius”, Brian Wilson is best known for his work with the Beach Boys, which he co-founded. Wilson has been almost completely deaf in his right ear since he was a child. There are differing theories as to the cause of his hearing loss but, in his 2016 book I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir written with Ben Greenman, Wilson states that another child hit him in the head with a lead pipe whilst they were playing out in Wilson’s neighbourhood. He states that the following day he noticed he could no longer hear out of his right ear, and that the doctor who examined him noted that “the eighth nerve in [his] head was severed”. This not only impacted Wilson’s hearing but the way that he spoke, as he had a tendency to speak out of the opposite side of his mouth.

Wilson’s musicianship has been apparent from a very early age, as he was able to learn music by ear on the keyboard. The first instrument he learnt how to play was a toy accordion before turning to piano and bass guitar, the latter of which he was taught how to play by his younger brother, Carl. Wilson also taught himself music theory. His work with the Beach Boys is regarded as hugely innovative, noted for the use of harmonies, jazz chords, weak tonal centres, and chord inversions, to name a few techniques Wilson employed.

Wilson is also considered one of the most influential figures in music production, achieving many firsts in the field. Amongst other things, he is noted as one of the first rock producers to use the studio as its own instrument and, with the song Surfer Girl, was the first pop artist to be credited with writing, producing, arranging, and performing his own material.

Gabriel Fauré 1845-1924 

Fauré had effectively retired from public life by 1920 due to his now complete deafness and his increasing ill health. 

During his life he had steadfastly refused to write a string quartet, saying that it was the genre that all those who were not Beethoven should be terrified of. Despite that statement and in the twilight of his life he commenced work on his string quartet, a work he was destined never to hear. He completed the quartet in September 1924 but declined the opportunity to hear it performed for him in a private performance, his hearing had become such that high and slow sounds distorted terribly. Fauré died in November 1924, his string quartet was given its first performance in June of 1925.   

Danny Elfman 1953-

Before becoming an Oscar-nominated film composer, Danny Elfman’s musical career started as the frontman in the new wave band, Oingo Boingo (originating from the group The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, formed by Elfman’s older brother Richard), who achieved their height of fame during the 1980s. Sixteen years performing with the band left Elfman with significant hearing loss and tinnitus. This, coupled with his film career achieving new heights, led Elfman to disband Oingo Boingo in 1995 in order to preserve his hearing. Elfman’s career change to composition was thanks to his enduring creative partnership with Tim Burton, his first score having been written for Burton’s first feature film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. By the time he left Oingo Boingo, Elfman had already scored several big films, including Batman for which he won a Grammy for the film’s now iconic main theme. Elfman has now scored over 100 feature films, as well as musical works for television and the concert hall, including his violin concerto Eleven Eleven which received its UK premiere at the Usher Hall in November 2019.

Despite discounting a full Oingo Boingo reunion due to his hearing loss, Elfman has been drawn back to live performance within the last few years. He has appeared at various performances of his work, including reprising his role as the singing voice of Jack Skellington in live performances of The Nightmare Before Christmas. In 2013, at the concert Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton at the Royal Albert Hall, Elfman performed live onstage for the first time in 18 years. He noted to the audience that evening that he had thought “why not?”* when asked to return to performing. Alongside some of the original voice actors, he has since been part of live performances of the entirety of The Nightmare Before Christmas; with Steve Bartek, who acts as orchestrator on Elfman’s film scores, the two delighted fans at a Hollywood Bowl performance with an encore of Oingo Boingo’s Dead Man’s Party. Elfman was due to perform at the Coachella festival in 2020, though this was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he is about to release a solo rock album in June.

*I was lucky enough to be present at this concert and, though Elfman’s language was a little stronger, the sentiment was the same!

Danny Lane  

Danny Lane is a profoundly deaf musician and pianist, CEO of the charity Music and the Deaf, based in Yorkshire. Danny was inspired by his primary school teacher to be a part of all the music making in his school. This led to him studying for a joint Music and French Degree at Keele University. He left Keele with a 2:1 and immediately went to train as a workshop leader with the organisation which he now leads: Music and The Deaf.

You can listen to pieces and performances by these individuals and more on the Naxos Music Library Classical and Naxos Jazz catalogues, including through the playlists function on Naxos Classical.

Here are some online sources of help and information for anyone with hearing loss:
Action on Hearing Loss Scotland
Health in Mind – Lothian Deaf Counselling Service (Edinburgh)

Hearing aid batteries

How to get your replacement hearing aid batteries during COVID

There is a special COVID-19 service in operation so that you can get replacement hearing aid batteries.

To get supplies of hearing aid batteries while libraries are still closed, contact the audiology department in Lauriston Building.

For replacement batteries, please contact the audiology department by phone or email. If you are unable to do this, you can also send your yellow battery book to the address below.

For repairs, post the faulty hearing aid to the address on the back of your battery book with you name and date of birth and description of the problem. Audiology will try to repair hearing aids on the day they are received and post them back the same day via first class post.

Audiology contact details:
NHS Lothian Adult Audiology
Level 1, Lauriston Building
39 Lauriston Place

Phone number – 0131 536 1637 (10am – 1pm and 2pm – 4pm)
Email: audiology@nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk

How to get your replacement hearing aid batteries when libraries are open

Currently, it is necessary to book a time to visit one of our reopened libraries to get replacement hearing aid batteries.

Take your yellow battery book which shows how many hearing aids you have and what type of batteries you need to your nearest open library.

The type of battery you need is shown on the inside cover of the battery book.

Library staff will check your yellow battery book and issue you with the correct replacement hearing aid batteries.

If you do not have your yellow battery book Library staff will still issue you with replacement hearing aid batteries. They will remind you to bring the book next time. If you have lost your yellow battery book you will need to contact the audiology department and they will send a new book out to you. See contact details for audiology above.

In conversation with Nick Coleman and Professor Raymond MacDonald

Edinburgh City Libraries actively seek to raise awareness of diversity and inclusion in the public arena by participating in various Awareness Weeks throughout the year.

We are honoured to highlight Deaf Awareness Week by hosting an ‘in conversation’ with two highly prominent professionals, whose life and work experiences have enabled them to talk so personally, interestingly and eloquently, that by watching this video you feel like you are all in the room together!

Nick Coleman is a qualified psychotherapist after 30 years spent as a writer and editor on broadsheet newspapers (chiefly Independent and Independent on Sunday) after starting out as a music journalist for NME and Time Out. He has written over the years for The Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, New Statesman, US Vogue, GQ etcHe is the author of three books: The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss; Pillow Man (a novel); and Voices: How a great singer change your life (all Vintage/Cape).

Professor Raymond MacDonald – ​after completing his PhD in Psychology at the University of Glasgow, investigating therapeutic applications of music, Raymond worked as Artistic Director for a music company, Sounds of Progress, specialising in working with people who have special needs.  He joined the School of Music in 2012 having worked at Glasgow Caledonian University previously. Between 2012 and 2013 he was Director of Postgraduate Studies and was Head of The School of Music between 2013 and 2016.  As well as working as a saxophonist and composer he is also a Chartered Health Psychologist and has published over 70 papers and co-edited five texts.

We’re delighted to host ‘Coming through it together’ – a conversation around music and deafness between Nick Coleman and Professor Raymond MacDonald.

Deaf Awareness Week 2021

3rd – 9th May 2021 is Deaf Awareness Week.

Edinburgh City Libraries are privileged to work with excellent partners, making sure we get the correct information to our readers.

For Deaf Awareness, Dawn Lamerton, Principal Audiologist/Head of Service for NHS Lothian shared some excellent resources for us to recommend for Children and Young People:
Royal Hospital for Children and Young people web page
NHS Lothian’s webpage
Hearing Impaired Network for Children and Young People
Deaf Action (Youth Group) 
National Deaf Children’s Society
National Deaf Children’s Society Webinar series 
National Deaf Children’s Society YouTube channel
Recommended videos on YouTube: Deaf teens describe the support they get at school 
YouTube playlist for deaf teenagers
Deaf vloggers
Working with deaf young people: Youth Employment & NCDC Webinar
Young and Deaf: Dean’s Story

Further general information:
Edinburgh hearing loss support directory

Hearing Aid Batteries
To get supplies of hearing aid batteries while libraries are still closed, contact the audiology department:
NHS Lothian Adult Audiology, Level 1, Lauriston Building, 39 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh, EH3 9HA
0131 536 1637 (10am – 1pm and 2pm – 4pm)
or email audiology@nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk.
When libraries are open, you will be able to take your yellow battery book to your nearest open library for replacement batteries.

And later this week on the blog:
In conversation with Nick Coleman and Professor Raymond MacDonald
We are honoured to be in conversation with two renowned professionals raising awareness on music and deafness. Nick Coleman and Professor Raymond MacDonald.

Composers, musicians and hearing loss
Douglas and Natasha from the Music Library will take a look at some composers and performers who have experienced hearing loss and highlight their music available to enjoy on Naxos Music Library.

Bringing physics to Edinburgh Libraries’ Children and Young People

Edinburgh City Libraries and Information Service, do just that…we provide information and services.  We also highly value our partnerships where we can share resources to the benefit of our customers. One of these partnerships has developed into a gift that keeps on giving. Networking is key to building connections and it was during one of these events we met Dr Jean-Christophe Denis (JC), NBIC and Ogden Outreach Officer at Edinburgh University.

This chance meeting turned into a solid connection where JC works with Edinburgh Libraries to bring the joy of physics to our Children and Young People (CYP), JC introduced us to Dr Kirsty Ross who taught our CYP the magic of science using nanoparticles and now his introduction to Amy Cook bringing stories and fun to STEM.  All of which we can share with our CYP. Below Amy tells us a bit about herself and why she loves reading and physics and how they work together.

“I am a 4th year Astrophysics student at the University of Edinburgh and have always been fascinated by space. However, if I hadn’t chosen to study Astrophysics at university I would have chosen English. It was up there with Physics as one of my favourite subjects but I decided that I didn’t want to study it as I wanted to make sure that reading and writing always remained an enjoyable and relaxing activity for me. I have always loved reading and almost always have a book on the go – and have done from a young age. I have always enjoyed reading books in the fantasy genre – I still have all my copies of the Harry Potter series that have been very well thumbed! I still really enjoy any good fantasy or science fiction series. Some favourites of mine have got to be The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini (I liked this so much I wrote my English A-Level coursework on it!), the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit books – these last books are definitely for the more ambitious reader though. Incidentally, these are all available in the library catalogue if anyone wants to give them a read!

I am naturally curious, which lends itself to being a scientist very well, but is also very beneficial for those who love to read, write and generally be creative. Being creative is definitely an aspect of science that isn’t very well known but it’s very important! I chose to use creative writing as a key part of the development of this project as I myself am a keen writer. I used to do a lot of writing when I was in school, but since coming to university it has fallen by the wayside as I’ve been preoccupied with university work (which rarely includes writing creatively). In order to “flex my creative muscles”, I decided that creating a project joining physics and storytelling was the way I would feel really passionate about what I was creating and, most importantly, I would enjoy doing it!

It was easy to decide on doing a space related story as space is the thing I love to talk about the most in physics. It was hard to decide what space topic to focus on but during my research I found out about an influential astronomer from the 1700s, Caroline Herschel, who overcame many challenges in order to discover several comets and become the first professional female astronomer. As a female student studying in this field, I found her story inspiring and decided that this topic was perfect. Forces was a little more tricky to decide on, but Isaac Newton is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of physics as his discoveries led to what is now known as Classical (or Newtonian) Physics. Forces and Newton’s laws of motion are at the heart of physics today, so why not implement them into a story?

I really hope that you enjoy my stories and that you can participate in the follow up activities and really get the most out of them. Reading and writing is something that everyone deserves to enjoy as it’s the most wonderful form of escapism – and if it teaches you physics at the same time? Well, that’s a bonus!”

Here are the links to Amy’s stories and activities:
Forces Fiona and the Laws of Motion story

Forces Fiona and the Laws of Motion activities

Spaceman Sam Story

Spaceman Sam and the Solar System activities

Adult Education Programme for Spring 2021

Edinburgh’s Adult Education Programme has been running for over a 100 years, offering day, evening and weekend courses to over 10,000 students per year. The courses have traditionally run in a variety of venues including community centres, high schools, libraries, outdoor spaces, as well as venues offered by partner organisations, such as museums and historic buildings.

Since Spring 2020, the courses have also been offered online whilst it hasn’t been possible to meet in groups. Adult Education are currently running an online programme and enrolment is underway for Spring term of both outdoor and online courses. 

Courses will start from Monday 10th May 2021 and range from writing, health and wellbeing, walking, local history, art and much more…..

Browse and enrol on the upcoming Adult Education Programme courses online or for more information contact: adult.education@ea.edin.sch.uk

You can also follow the Adult Education Programme on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EdinburghAEP
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/edinburghaeprogramme
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AepEdinburgh

Street photographers

Today we open another scrapbook put together on Edinburgh Collected by the Living Memory Association, this time focusing on Street Photographers.

In the 1930s, street photography was extremely popular and there were many street photographers operating in Scottish cities. These photographers would post themselves on busy streets in towns and cities taking ‘walking pictures’ of passing pedestrians.

Here in Edinburgh, the North Bridge was a popular location, and there would be a kiosk or shop nearby where you could purchase the photographs of yourself. These photographs became a novel keepsake as most people would not have owned a camera.

Pedestrians Walking Along North Bridge 1930s
Pedestrians walking along North Bridge, 1930s

The great thing about these photographs is that they are not posed, it is possible many didn’t even realise they had been photographed until they were confronted by the photographer.

In one image a street photographer even manages to capture a Charlie Chaplin-esque figure walking along Princes Street and in another one, a woman carrying her messages home along Gorgie Road.

Street photography continued to be popular until the 1960s when photography became more affordable to the masses.

View the whole scrapbook of this lost art of street photography on Edinburgh Collected.

Edinburgh composers

This is just a short and not at all comprehensive list of Edinburgh born composers. 

Edinburgh, the Athens of the north, an artistic oasis, is a home and birthplace for many great talents and we have chosen to highlight a precious few who provide the soundtrack to some of our lives.

Thea Musgrave    

Thea Musgrave 2010, photo © Kate Mount

Born in Barnton, Edinburgh and after a boarding school education, Thea returned to Edinburgh to the University to study Medicine but changed to Music. After a long career in Music and now in her 93rd year, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing. In an interview for the BBC in 2018, Thea Musgrave was asked about being a women composer. She responded by saying, 
“Yes I am a woman, and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”,
and asked in the same interview if she had any advice for young composers she said,
“Don’t do it, unless you have to. And if you do, enjoy every minute of it.”
A composer of over a dozen operas including Mary, Queen of Scots and Simon Bolivar, and a full list of works for solo instrumentalists, chamber groups and full orchestras including Loch Ness – A Postcard from Scotland (2012). 

Alexander Mackenzie 

Caricature of Alexander Campbell Mackenzie by Leslie Ward, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1847 in in the New Town, Edinburgh, Mackenzie was the fourth-generation musician in his family. His great-grandfather was an army bandsman, John Mackenzie, his grandfather was a violinist working in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Alexander’s father also an Alexander and also a violinist, was Leader and Musical Director of the orchestra of the Theatre Royal Edinburgh and Editor of the National Dance Music of Scotland. By the age of eight Alexander, already a prestigious talent, was playing in his Father’s orchestra at the Theatre Royal. Mackenzie went to study violin and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He studied violin with Prosper Sainton, who had taught his father. After the Academy he returned to Edinburgh to a very busy life composing, teaching, playing and conducting. In 1888, after the death of Sir George Macfarren, the Head of the Royal Academy of Music, Alexander Mackenzie was appointed its new head where he remained until his retirement in 1924, and in that time re-establishing its slightly tarnished reputation. On his retirement from the Royal Academy, Sir Alexander also retired from public life. He died in London in 1935 at the age of 87. 

Learmont Drysdale 

George John Learmont Drysdale was born in 1866 and brought up in Edinburgh. Drysdale went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music but a falling out with the afore mentioned Alexander Mackenzie, who was the then Head of the Royal Academy, forced Drysdale to leave before graduating and return to Edinburgh to try and pick up his career as a composer, teacher and conductor. 

Despite not have much of his music published in his lifetime, there is a record of a performance of one of his works at the proms in London. In Prom 55, on Saturday 8 October 1904 at the Queens Hall, London the programme included “A Border Romance” by Learmont Drysdale. 

During his brief life his work, the Kelpie – a dramatic cantata had been performed in Edinburgh, there had also been performances of his larger works, a musical Mystery play – The Plague – and an opera – The Red Spider. At his death in 1909 there were many works left in manuscript, including the almost complete opera Fionn and Tera. Drysdale’s manuscripts are held in the Glasgow University Library. 

Helen Hopekirk 

Plaque to Helen Hopekirk in Portobello,
Photo by gnomonic via Wikimedia Commons

Helen was born in Portobello in 1856, a Blue Plaque above the door of a close on Portobello High Street marking the place she was born and lived until she was 12 years old, the plaque was placed there on the 21 May 2006 by Portobello Community Council. Helen studied piano and composition with Alexander Mackenzie mentioned earlier. She made her debut as a soloist with the Edinburgh Amateur Orchestral Society. Hopekirk briefly relocated to Leipzig to study composition with Cark Reinecke. In 1882 she met and married Edinburgh Merchant and music critic he served as her manager. In 1883 after their move to America she made her debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She continued to tour America and Europe as a soloist and retired in 1939 after a final performance in the Steinart Halls, Boston. She died six years later in 1945. Hopekirk was a respected and much sought after composer in her lifetime, but now her work unfortunately remains for the most part unrecorded and not concert repertoire.  She left a large collection of songs, works for piano, piano and orchestra, it is also unfortunate that some of her large-scale works are, as well as ignored, also lost. 

Shirley Manson 

Shirley Manson
photo by Zach Klein from New York, SA, via Wikimedia Commons

Lead singer and one of the main songwriters with the band Garbage, held largely responsible for their very successful second album Version 2.0. Shirley was born in Edinburgh in 1966. Before Garbage she wrote and sang with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish.   

Kenneth Dempster 

Kenneth Dempster was born and educated in Edinburgh. He started his full time music studies at Napier College of Commerce and Technology before it became Edinburgh Napier University. Then went on to the Royal Academy of Music. Kenneth Dempster is Composer in Residence at Napier University.  He has had major commissions from, amongst others The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Scottish Chamber Choir, Mr McFalls Chamber, The Edinburgh Quartet, the Hebrides Ensemble and St Magnus Festival.  

Dempster’s works include Seven Fans for Alma Mahler for the SCO, a community Opera based on Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

Ronald Kinloch Anderson  

Ronald Kinloch Anderson
by Howard Coster, 1933 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Ronald Kinloch Anderson was born in Edinburgh in 1911 and he died in London in 1984. 

A pianist and teacher, Ronald Kinloch Anderson studied in Edinburgh with Professor Donald Tovey. He taught at Trinity College of Music, London, from 1946 to 1963 and after a period as a freelance music producer with EMI became their Artistic Director. In his lifetime Kinloch Anderson was more known as a pianist and a harpsichordist, with the Bath Festival Orchestra and the Menuhin Festival Orchestra. At Dartington Hall he formed the Robert Masters Piano Quartet with Robert Masters – violin, Nannie Jamieson – viola, Muriel Taylor – cello and Kinloch Anderson – piano. In amongst the correspondence and manuscripts he left to Central Library on his death in 1984, are works for, and dedicated to, this Piano Quartet. 

Tommy Smith 

Tommy Smith recording his epic Modern Jacobite piece with The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
photo by DerekClarkPhoto via Wikimedia Commons

Tommy Smith was born in Edinburgh in 1967. Encouraged to take up music by his stepfather, Tommy began his musical education in Wester Hailes Education Centre. Shortly after recording his first album he was awarded a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, fund raising by friends, family and music teachers enabled him to take up this scholarship. This move shaped his musical life as a composer and educator. His long tenure with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and as Artistic Director of the first full time Jazz Course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His works as a composer are showcased on many of his recordings and his commissions like his piece for Sax and Orchestra – Jacobite for the BBC SSO. 

Craig and Charlie Reid 

Craig and Charlie Reid together known to the world as The Proclaimers are proud sons of Leith. The twins were born in 1962, in their early years moved from Edinburgh to Cornwall and then to Auchtermuchty in Fife where they were educated. They have both since returned to Edinburgh and never stray far from their beloved Hibernian Football Club. The pair first came to the world attention with the 1987 album, This is the story and the single from that album Letter from America. What for most can be the difficult second album, for the Proclaimers is for many their best work. Sunshine on Leith containing the hit single Sunshine on Leith generated a hit show and a film and is sung regularly at Hibernian Football Club. I am not originally from Leith or Edinburgh so my football allegiances lie elsewhere but standing in Easter Road Stadium listening to a capacity crowd singing Sunshine on Leith, it is difficult not to be moved, and believe me I have tried. 

The Proclaimers
photo by Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Their Albums are:
This is the Story (1987)
Sunshine On Leith (1988)
Hit the Highway (1994)
Persevere (2001)
Born Innocent (2003)
Restless Soul (2005)
Life with You (2007)
Notes and Rhymes (2009)
Like Comedy (2012)
Let’s Hear it for t he Dogs (2015)
Angry Cyclist (2018) 

In 2007, the single 500 miles, first out in 1988, was re-released as part of the Children in Need charity appeal and occupied the top of the charts in this second outing.  

Robert Crawford 

Born near Edinburgh in1925, Robert started composing at the age of fifteen, whilst still at school and studying privately with the Edinburgh resident Hans Gal. He went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music with Benjamin Frankel. On his return to Edinburgh in 1949 he completed his 1st String Quartet which was first performed in the 1951 ISCM Festival in Frankfurt and received a prize for a new Chamber work awarded by the Scottish Arts Council at the Festival of Britain. 

Never a prolific composer, after the completion of his 2nd String quartet in 1956, Crawford stopped composing almost completely, not starting again till 1986. Thirty years later, for some of that period Crawford was a Music Producer for the BBC retiring in 1985. 

This is a nearly complete list of compositions by Robert Crawford from 1949 to his death in 2012. A lot of these works were commissions:

Elegiac Quintet for Recorder and String Quartet
Hammered Brass 
Piano Quintet
Piano Sonata No. 2
Octet “Ricercare”
Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet
Saltire Sonata for Piano
Six Bagatelles for Piano
Sonata Breve
String Quartet No. 1
String Quartet No. 2
String Quartet No. 3
Three Two-part inventions for Recorder and Clarinet
Variations on a Ground, Three Two-part Inventions 
Symphonic Study Lunula for Orchestra 

As a composer there a few things which strike notes of difference from a common path, Crawford made his name as a composer of chamber works, mostly the string quartet, and his choice to live and work in Edinburgh, when his peers may have chosen London or Glasgow or even further afield. 

Robert Crawford died in Edinburgh in 2012 at the age of 86. 

Stuart Mitchell 

Stuart Mitchell composer
photo by Stuart7m via Wikimedia Commons

Stuart was born in Edinburgh in 1965 and died in 2018 at the age of 52. 

Stuart is perhaps best know for the work the Seven Wonders Suite written in 2001 and recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Stuart and his father Thomas Mitchell caused much media interest when they claimed to have deciphered the musical code adorning the walls of the Roslyn Chapel. 

Stuart formed a company producing music based around a DNA profile. He produced works based on the DNA profiles of Beethoven and Elvis Presley. 

We have put together some examples of the work of the people featured here in playlists that you can find on Naxos Music Library and Naxos Jazz.  
All you need is your library card number to login and enjoy the enormous Naxos music library online.

Edinburgh composers playlist on Naxos Music Library Classical
Edinburgh composers playlist on Naxos Jazz

Music and literature

There is a wealth of novels which have music, musical instruments, musicians or composers at their core, fictionalised accounts of real people and real accounts of fictionalised characters.  Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, a wonderful account of the century long journey and the owners of an accordion from Sicily to America, or Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, the long story of a break up and a reconciliation, of sorts. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity or Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, the list is long covering all kinds of music and all kinds of fiction. We asked a few of our colleagues to pick their favourites and review them for you here.  

Book cover of The Noise of Time

Douglas from the Music Library takes a look/listen to this audiobook available at Overdrive, The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.

A fictionalised biography of Dmitri Shostakovich which through three “meetings with power” lays out for us the very great compromises made by artistic communities in Russia during the reign of Stalin and Khrushchev. The novel opens with Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich awaiting his fate, sitting with his packed suitcase in the hallway outside his apartment.  Waiting for the lift doors to open and two men in suits to come for him and take him to the Big House. Where he could expect a bullet to the head for his artistic crimes, listed in a Pravda article, probably written by Stalin, denouncing his Opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”. The first of two killer assassinations, by the state, of this work.  

The dates, the names, the compositions, the main events are all as they should be, in this imagined version of a very real life. How Dmitri Dmitriyevich reacts and comments through his internal and external monologues and conversations are for the greatest part down to Julian Barnes. It is this commentary which, one main thread of the novel, makes us question the veracity of any of Shostakovich’s written dialogue with the world. The Shostakovich of the novel comments on this saying his written output will be worthless to future scholars of his thoughts and deeds. Through the novel Dmitri Dmitriyevich alludes to how the state put words in his mouth or wrote words which were attributed to him.   

At his death, of heart failure on August 9 1975, Shostakovich was probably one of the most successful soviet composers of the 20th century. But is his legacy and his survival, that of a man who did what he did to stay alive, and keep his family alive, or is it that the things he did and said, he truly believed, because he was a party man, leading a charmed life. Whichever of those statements you believe, few of us will ever be made to examine ourselves and the strength of our believes and how strongly we would hold on to those believes in the face of imprisonment or death.  

I recommend you don’t listen to this as an audiobook when you are out for your daily constitutional, it could end in tears. 
Borrow The Noise of Time as an audiobook

Doris from Central Library introduces Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid  

This evocative novel captures the hedonistic lifestyle of a fictional Los Angeles-based seventies band, The Six. Though the band is made up, Taylor Jenkins Reid has made no secret of her love of Stevie Nicks and The Six is reportedly inspired by Fleetwood Mac.  

Daisy Jones and The Six experience highs and lows over a period of years, revealed through interviews with a journalist and written as transcripts. Readers witness the accelerated rise to fame of Daisy Jones and the Six, the struggles of producing a hit album and being on tour and the eventual breakdown of the band.   

Complicated relationships are at the heart of the novel. Not only is there the romantic entanglement between Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne, the married front man of the group, but the tension between Billy and his brother Graham is well written, as are the interactions between the other members of the band. Big personalities and tortured souls feature heavily in this book, adding a vibrancy and sadness to the novel.  

I read Daisy Jones and the Six during the first lockdown in April 2020. Given that we were unable to escape to sunnier and warmer climes, this made the book even more poignant. While plane rides to California were off limits, it certainly made me listen to Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours with a renewed perspective. 
Borrow Daisy Jones and the Six as an ebook or an audiobook 

Bronwen from the Art & Design and Music team tells us about Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers  

If ever there was a book to transport us to a world of sea, sun and bohemia Polly Samson’s novel A Theatre for Dreamers would top the bill! Set on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, through the eyes of our narrator Erica we are dropped into the artistic set living on the island that includes the authors Charmian Cliff and George Johnstone and the Norwegian couple author Axel Jensen and wife Marianne Ihlen. Into their lives comes the young Canadian, charismatic musician and poet Leonard Cohen who meets his muse Marianne and turns the lives of this bohemian set around as we see musician and muse increasingly drawn to each other.  

Erica is fulfilling her late mother’s dream for her to experience an adventure and though Erica is largely outside the main events, we see her eyes opened and innocence lost as wars are waged between the bohemian men and the women on the island over their respective allotted writing time contrasting with the locals who struggle to make a living and feed their families and for whom art is not an option. This book is blissful escapism and captures a period of time in the life of Leonard Cohen.   

Leonard Cohen lived on Hydra 1960 to 1967 and continued to make short visits throughout his life right up to his death in 2016.   
Borrow A Theatre for Dreamers as an ebook or an audiobook, and sample interpretations of Cohen’s music on Naxos Jazz. Go to playlists and select Listen and Read and select the Leonard Cohen playlist. 

Our colleague Fumiko, is normally based in Morningside Library but during the post lockdown period she joined us in Central Library, below she tells us about the author Murakami and his book Norwegian Wood

I was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth and lent everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in rain gear, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So—Germany again.  

Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’. The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.’ 
— Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ starts with these lines.   

Murakami uses various genre of music in his books from pop, rock, jazz to classic music, which attracts many readers. Since I like to listen to any type of music, it was a pleasure when I read Norwegian Wood first time and I devoted my time reading his books one after another.   

In Norwegian Wood, he uses Beatles ‘Norwegian Wood‘ of course and their many other songs and other pop, folk and rock musicians.   

For jazz, Henry Mancini ‘Dear Heart’, Bill Evans ‘Waltz for Debbie’, Miles Davis ‘Kind of blue’, Thelonius Monk ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and many jazz players are mentioned.   

For classic music, the book mentions Debussy ‘Claire de Lune’, Brahms ‘Fourth Symphony’ and ‘Second Piano Concert’, Ravel ‘Pavane for Dead Princess’ and Bach ‘Inventions’ and many mentions about classic music composers.   

Cleverly using this blend of the music, he describes the mood and the lives of young people in the sixties in Japan effectively and gives the people in the books character.  

You can borrow Norwegian Wood as an audiobook and many of his other via Overdrive/Libby app. And moreover, you can enjoy the music in his books with library’s online services, Naxos Music and Naxos Jazz without any advertisement!   

A library user from Edinburgh, David, introduces Trumpet by Jackie Kay. 

Trumpet is the stunning debut novel by the writer/poet Jackie Kay. First published in 1998 it is, as you would expect, beautifully written and tells, mostly through a series of flashbacks, the story of the life of a great Scottish jazz trumpeter Joss Moody. 

The novel starts after Moody’s death when it is revealed that Joss had been born Josephine but had chosen to live her life as a man, a fact that was kept a secret from all but his wife. Through the recollections and reactions of his family and friends we follow his story from 1927. The book deals sensitively with the many issues that this situation creates. His loving wife Millie the only person who knew the truth tells much of the tale and her version contrasts with the reaction of his adopted son Colman whose reaction to the news is at times less than sympathetic. 

The novel is in part influenced by the true story of the American jazz musician Billy Tipton who found fame as a pianist and band leader and who had been born Dorothy Lucille Tipton. It is a moving story, sensitively and brilliantly told but it also works on other levels as well as dealing with issues of sexual and racial identity. 

Borrow Trumpet by Jackie Kay as an ebook or an audiobook.
In his review, David mentions the jazz musician Billy Tipton, Suits me: the double life of Billy Tipton by Diane Wood Middlebrook is available to borrow from the Music Library when we reopen. 

Zoe works in the Libraries’ Central Lending department and is busily collaborating with colleagues from other departments to launch our new online Craft Group. Ursula le Guin is one of the most read science fiction/fantasy novelists, and below Zoe shares with us her regard for her work. 

Ursula le Guin, perhaps best known for her Earthsea series, wrote many more science fiction and fantasy books for both children and adults over her long lifetime. She was a peerless world-builder, philosopher and scholar of human nature. One of her books, ‘Always Coming Home’, available on the shelves at Central Library, is about the lives of an imagined tribe of people, 500 years into the future. Le Guin collaborated with analogue composer Todd Barton to invent the music of this world, and a soundtrack to the immersive experience of reading this unconventional book. The resulting album, created with its own music notation, is ‘Music and Poetry of the Kesh’. 

Library reader Daniel from Leith reviews Utopia Avenue 
David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue took me right into the sixties London music scene and then further afield to America. Along the way I met famous musicians of the time and had a few words with them. I went to a great party at the Chelsea Hotel and felt very rock and roll. In fact, my only real disappointment was not to have met Jim Morrison of The Doors. 
The book concentrates on the experiences of three members of Utopia Avenue, and deals with many of the all too human personal stories that are the backdrop to finding fame and fortune. These form the basis of many of the band’s eclectic songs and music, and hence the story the book tells. 
I’ve been left trying to decide, if Utopia Avenue actually was a real band from the 60s, who would they have been? I reckon they were somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention, with a touch of The Yardbirds. The whole book felt very tangible and I wanted to be there among it all. 
Utopia Avenue is available to borrow in hard copy 

Mairi too joined us at Central Library in the first post lockdown period from her home library, Oxgangs. If you are not already aware of the works of Mitch Albom, Mairi introduces us to part of what to expect in The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.

What do you choose to read during a global pandemic? Words I never thought I would utter! 

I decided on a fairy tale for adults, and Mitch Albom is the master of them. I had avoided this book as I thought it was about a puppet! I couldn’t have been more wrong, the strings in question were on a classical guitar. 

I was transported around the world with the most eclectic musical accompaniment.  

Starting with Mozarts Eine Kleine Nachtmusic. It was August 1930 in Villarreal and in an erratic 6/5 tempo we met Francisco Tarrega, travelling on to Hector Villa-Lobos living in the Brazilian Rainforest writing his twelve etudes. The a Taverna playing flamenco. 

The protaginist travels to England by boat to escape Franco, and abandoned on a dock there he meets Django Reinhardt heading to America to tour with Duke Ellington, as he speaks no English the young man accompanies him to Detroit! He finds love to the tune of Avalon, enjoys solace on Waiheke Island, then travels to New York to teach, and via La Catedral by Agustin Barrios we return to Villarreal where the symphony ends. 

I would add all living musicians – Marcus Belgrave, Roger McGuinn, Lyle Lovett, Ingrid Michaelson, Paul Stanley, Tony Bennett, Winstom Marsalis and John Pizzarelli were all happy and proud to be included in this book! 

We have created some playlists of some of the music mentioned in the books above. 
All you need is your library card to log on to Naxos and then go to ‘Playlists’ to stream or download this literature-inspired list of tracks. 

Music and literature playlist on Naxos Jazz
Music and literature playlist on Naxos Music Library (classical)

Redefining autism with Edinburgh Libraries

Hope from Central Lending Library writes today’s blog, sharing her personal insight and bringing together responses gathered on Twitter during Autism Awareness Week on how we can correct assumptions around autism.

One thing which always gets me about the word autism is how cold it is, all clinical and science-y blue. No blood pulses through this word, no vitality, no humanity, which is ironic, as to be autistic is to be human in so many ways. 

On April the sixth, Edinburgh Libraries put a call out on Twitter to ask autistic people about perceptions about autism, and how these should be challenged. There is an appetite, now, to understand autistic people, but sadly this appetite comes with many misunderstandings, and well-meaning misconceptions. As an autistic member of staff at Central Library I find the desire to learn about autism among non-autistic people to be good-willed, and to come from a positive place – but like many others who responded on Twitter, I find that well-intentioned misunderstandings are still rife. 

Below we look at some of the responses about the reality of autism, as opposed to the perception. 

Alan Gardner, the autistic gardener, and Mairi Black, pointed out that all autistic people do not feel the same way – there is a huge range of needs, perceptions, interests and vulnerabilities within autistic individuals – as Alan Gardner says, ‘We are not a diagnosis, we are our own strength and needs.’ 

@ClearAutism said it was time we should redefine the autistic spectrum, highlighting Rebecca Burgess’ comic redesign of the Autism Spectrum which sees it as multi-faceted, full of wonder and deeply nuanced, showing the individual skills and needs and vulnerabilities of autistic people as a wonderful symphonic, complex, organic thing, which is so often misunderstood.  

Her cartoon (which struck a chord with me, as an autistic person who can ‘pass’ as neurotypical, until faced with a scary or challenging situation) can be seen on TheMighty.com

@Bookishlaloba and @Mairiblack pulled out two of the most frustrating misperceptions about autism, that autistic people lack empathy and humour. This is emphatically untrue – autistic people can be funny, and their experiences of life and the knocks they have experienced can also make us deeply empathic. For me, personally, I may appear lacking in empathy as I don’t pick up on body language which would tell me someone was upset, or angry, however if they tell me verbally, then I am fully capable of understanding and empathising.  

Staff members at Kirkliston Library also spoke to Neurodiversity advocate Jess Rowlings, who spoke about masking, and the effort of appearing non-autistic, of constantly trying to fit in, and how damaging and exhausting this can be for autistic people. When asked what she would tell her younger self she said, 

“I think the first thing I would do is give my younger self a big hug, and tell her that things will be okay, even though it really doesn’t feel that way! I really struggled socially during my school years and wasn’t diagnosed with autism or ADHD until I was an adult, and I wish my younger self knew that there was nothing “wrong” with her. I would also tell her that she will find love and support from people who accept her for everything she is, she just hasn’t met them yet. As awful it was to struggle to fit in, I wish I knew that it wouldn’t be this way forever, and school isn’t representative of the adult world. Your people are out there, you just may not find them in school!’ 

By asking about, and dismantling misconceptions, I think the library has started to build valuable work. Staff are also undertaking training through organisation Dimensions in making libraries a more accessible and friendly place for autistic children, young people and adults, and Edinburgh Libraries have put together a teenage reading list of ebooks and audiobooks, both fiction and non fiction, exploring the experiences of autistic people. You can browse our Autism Awareness Week collection on Overdrive or via the Libby app.

We’re grateful to all those who took the time to respond to our questions and you can see more of those twitter responses below.

We asked:
What assumptions around Autism would you correct?

Emily Kenny, author replied:

Actor, producer, YouTuber and Autistic ambassador, Max J Green replied:

Reply from writer, Elle McNicoll:

And in reply to:
What would you tell your younger self about acceptance?
Elle said:

Sendak on stage

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963 – a much loved, much lauded, very famous picture book. And as an illustrator, he has opened and generously filled the imaginations of little minds everywhere. Wild thing critters, with their big heads and short thick legs, judder through his books in hatchy ink, or graphite, and watercolour. He can draw a jitter perfectly, a heebie-jeebie in the trees; just let the rumpus begin.

What is less known about Maurice Sendak is that in the 1970s he began what he referred to as his second career, shifting away from illustrated books – very willingly – into the world of set and costume design. He found a release in the theatre, “I became the person I want to be”, he said of it, and the storyboards, watercolours, dioramas, preparatory sketches, props and costume studies, all the many things he made during this time, are a wonderful expression of just that. As with all great artists, he knew how to make his work distinctly his own.

When he died in 2012 he bequeathed a large amount of his work to the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan, and in 2019 they put on a show, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet. (The book is on order for the Art & Design Library, it’s a treat, and will be available for borrowing soon. In the meantime, do image search the designs and visit The Morgan’s website).

Mozart’s The Magic Flute
“I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart,” Maurice Sendak once said. And so when the director Frank Corsaro contacted him and asked if he might design the sets and costumes for The Magic Flute with Houston Grand Opera, Maurice Sendak was delighted – nervous because of his inexperience – but excited. (“You wanted a fresh, dumb designer and, God help you, you found one,” he wrote later.) Frank Corsaro had no idea of Maurice Sendak’s passion for Mozart; he’d been reading his illustrated edition of The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973), and in terms of mood and tone, he thought Maurice Sendak would be a perfect fit for his new project.

First performed in 1791, The Magic Flute was Mozart’s last opera, and it has long been seen as a gift for the designer. It is the story of the fantastical adventurings of Tamino and the birdcatcher Papageno. Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night, has been kidnapped by the ‘evil’ high priest Sarastro, and Tamino and Papageno are to rescue her. They are given magical musical instruments to help them; Papageno, bells, and Tamino, a magical flute, but on meeting Sarastro their quest isn’t quite as clear as they first thought.

Both Mozart and his librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder were freemasons, and this thread of enlightenment philosophy runs throughout the opera. Early masonic texts trace the ‘craft of masonry’ to Euclid in Egypt, and thus masonic imagery has always been wedded to Egypt. Corsaro and Sendak agreed they would set the opera in Mozart’s time. They would tell Mozart and Schikeneder’s story and explore these founding themes. They wouldn’t overturn, defamiliarise, or subvert; they would employ none of these sorts of approaches, approaches that an artist-turned-set-designer might readily employ. They were storytellers, historians; and Maurice Sendak set about his excavations into art history for imagery. He drew sphinxes, temples, pyramids, Horus figures, beds, hieroglyphs… Tut mania was in the air in the late 1970s as a major exhibition of Tutankhamun’s tomb was touring the country. It reached The Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 1978 – and whether Maurice Sendak saw it or not is unclear, but he was certainly looking at the objects when he was drawing his designs.

Maurice Sendak loved Mozart. He loved all music but he loved Mozart especially. As he drew he would always listen to music, and music and drawing shared a symbiotic relationship for him. He’d sit in front of the record player and reach out for what he felt would suit his drawing. He called it choosing a colour, and the colour had to be just right. In an article he wrote for the Sunday Herald Tribune called “The Shape of Music” (1964), he elaborated on this: how he conceives of his drawing as a musical process; how drawings must be animated, and how they must have a sense of music and dance – they cannot be glued to the page. The artists he most admires he thinks of in terms of their musicality; their artistry has an “authentic liveliness” as he calls it. He’d turn to books too, “but it is music that does most to open me up,” he said.

He also drew wonderful fantasy sketches of operas, even before he started to work on them, The Magic Flute being one of them. And just as he saw the work of the illustrator as illuminating a text, so too he saw set design as being in service to the music: “… your job is to make Mozart look even better, if that is even possible,” he wrote.

Listen to The Magic Flute on Naxos.
Watch performances of the opera, as well as documentaries, on Medici TV.
Watch a short video and take a look at some of Maurice Sendak’s designs on the Morgan Library & Museum website.

The article, “The Shape of Music”, is collected in Maurice Sendak’s book Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, and is available for borrowing from the Art and Design Library when we reopen.

Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges
Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges is a commedia dell’arte fairy tale about a young prince, who is cursed by a witch and travels to faraway lands in search of three oranges, each of which contains a princess.

The tale was collected in Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone, and in the 18th century, it inspired the playwright Carlo Gozzi to write L’amore delle tre melarance. Prokofiev based his opera on Gozzi’s play as well as a translation of the play by the Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold.

It was The Morgan Library and Museum’s Tiepolo drawings, and in particular Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello sketches, that inspired him. He wrote to Frank Corsaro: “It is an odd matter indeed, this almost magical union that occurs between stealer and stealee; it is as though I know what I want but can see it only inside (in this case) a Tiepolo drawing and then I can draw it out and make it quite properly my own.”

They produced the opera for Glyndebourne, the first Americans to be invited to do so, debuting there in May 1982.

In 2013, New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy and many sets and costumes, Maurice Sendak’s among them, were auctioned off. Some photographs are available on the Cotsen Children’s Library’s blog and on the R. Michelson Galleries website (have a look at, among other things, the peeing fountains, gondolas, throne coverings, a dragon in the clouds, and many many hats…)

Listen to Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges on Naxos.
Watch the opera on Medici TV.
Browse the Tiepolo collection online at The Morgan Library and Museum.

Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen
Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is another opera Maurice Sendak and Frank Corsaro collaborated on for New York City Opera, premiering in April 1981. It tells the story of a feisty young vixen who is captured by a forester but later escapes. She then marries, has cubs, and dies at the hands of a poacher. Revisiting the place where he first caught the vixen, the forester encounters a baby generation of forest animals and is reminded of the cyclical beauty of nature.

Maurice Sendak chose to unapologetically anthropomorphise his animals. The characters he designs are musicians, actors and actresses, dressed up – as a fox or a badger or a frog. He designs the artifice. It is a fun, playful, joyful thing this artifice.

Listen to Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen on Naxos.
Watch the opera on Medici TV.
Do just image search the designs – visit the R. Michelson Galleries website to see 3 sets of chicken feet, frog feet, weasel feet, headpieces for weasels, woodpeckers and ants…

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
In 1983 Maurice Sendak designed the sets and costumes for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker. It was his first without Frank Corsaro and he was proud to have achieved it on his own. The original ballet is “about a little girl,” he said in an interview with Marcia Alvar, and “a dream she has… all these adventures occur… [the wooden nutcracker toy comes alive. The evil mouse king declares war and is defeated. The young prince carries her away to a magical garden kingdom in the clouds]… and then at the end… a whole bunch of grown-ups dance at her party. No kid would want that.” Maurice Sendak was unenthused by the project at first, and prickly for being pigeonholed always as an illustrator of kiddies’ tales. And so he made changes, he returned to E.T.A. Hoffman’s story and darkened it up. Marie – Clara, in Sendak’s version – becomes a young woman, and instead of travelling to a land of sweets, she arrives at a seraglio. “A throbbing, sexually alert little story,” he called it.

In 1984 a book was released, and in 1986, the film version.
Nutcracker: The Motion Picture with designs by Sendak is available to watch on Amazon Prime (for a small fee unfortunately, but it’s available).

Listen to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on Naxos.
Watch the ballet on Medici TV.

Articles of interest (great pics included):
A New York Times review of the exhibition.
A Smithsonian Magazine review of the show.
A Brainpickings article on Maurice Sendak and “The Shape of Music”.

Temporary closure of Libraries – Update

We want you to know that we are keen to reopen libraries in line with the Scottish Government route map which allows for this from 26th April 2021, where safe to do so.
However, as you know this is in a context of challenges – including the Scottish Government guidance /roadmap and the continuing pressure on resources to keep our school population safe.

The health and safety of citizens and staff is our main priority. We work closely with our colleagues in Facilities Management, Health and Safety, Environmental Health and Estates to ensure this.

We intend to reopen library buildings on a similar model to pre-Christmas 2020. However, it is a complex process to identify and allocate resources when there are many competing priorities in the City.

For this reason, it is not yet possible to be specific on exact locations or dates for reopening. Please be assured that much work is continuing in the background, to plan for library reopening.

Thank you for your continued understanding and patience, we hope to be able to open our doors and welcome you back into our buildings as soon as we can.

Your Library is always open online to borrow eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers.

Covid Test Centres
From Monday 22 March until at least the end of August, Leith Library, Newington Library, Sighthill Library at Gate 55 and Oxgangs Library will operate as Covid Test Centres. The buildings will be operated by the NHS for this period and no library transactions or staff will be available during this time.

Patrick Geddes and Edinburgh

In another addition to Our Town Stories we feature a noted biologist and botanist who went on to be a pioneer in the field of town planning – Patrick Geddes.

Geddes’ work in Edinburgh brought about the redevelopment of a number of parts of the Old Town which were abandoned as slums in the late 1700s when the New Town was developed. Geddes believed that in order to understand and improve conditions it was necessary to share a community’s experience. With his wife, he chose to live in James Court in the Lawnmarket which at the time was considered housing for the poor.

They started cleaning and painting their new home, encouraging their neighbours to do the same. Working with the residents he transformed spaces he had cleared into community gardens.

Geddes worked with Edinburgh University to produce a series of halls of residence, the most striking of these being Ramsay Gardens which was a mixture of student accommodation and private flats.

Drawing of University hall extension at Castle Hill
University hall extension, Castle Hill, 1893

Geddes was involved in the improvement of Moray House, Huntly House and Whitehorse Close. Another project involved transforming Short’s Observatory on Castlehill into the ‘worlds first sociological laboratory’, The Outlook Tower, now the Camera Obscura.

His work in improving slums in Edinburgh led to him travelling to India at the invitation of the Governor of Madras to advise on urban planning issues. He subsequently held a position in Sociology and Civics at Bombay University.

Sir Patrick Geddes, by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd) half-plate nitrate negative, 30 December 1931. Given by Pinewood Studios via Victoria and Albert Museum, 1989 © National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x47992), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Geddes’ health began to deteriorate in 1924 and he left India to settle in Montpelier in the South of France.

He was knighted in 1931 and died in Montpelier in 1932.

Find out more about the celebrated environmentalist and sociologist and his lasting legacy on the city in our Patrick Geddes and Edinburgh story on Our Town Stories.

Lost instruments

Most musical instruments today have predecessors, few come ready formed remaining unchanged by the centuries.   

Few instruments have disappeared completely, some have disappeared and been rediscovered to live again. There is one instrument which hasn’t disappeared but deserves to be rediscovered. The Glass (H)armonica, refined by Benjamin Franklin became a fairly popular instrument in the late 1700s and early 1800s then fell out of favour. Written for by Mozart, Beethoven and Hummell with works much later by Donizetti and Strauss.   

Glass harmonica
Photo: Ji-Elle, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Carnyx was an Iron Age Celt war trumpet. A long upright length of beaten brass with a mouthpiece at one end and the animal head at the other. Fragments of Carnyces have been found in various locations and many images exist in places throughout Britain and the continent. A reconstructed Carnyx is held at the National Museum of Scotland.   

Carnyx war-horn at National Museum of Scotland’s reopening Photo: Brian McNeil, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now to the Caledonica, an instrument invented and made by a Scottish Bandmaster from Strathaven, William Meikle. His Caledonica gets its most significant write-up in the Musical Memoirs of Sir John Graham Dalyell, advocate, naturalist and antiquarian. The Musical Memoirs was written in 1849 and left in manuscript unpublished on Sir John’s death in 1851.

Musical Memoirs of Scotland, by Sir John Graham Dalyell, Edinburgh Libraries

The Caledonica seems to have been invented around 1820-25 and Dalyell’s description goes like this:-  

“The same individual (Meikle) has also favoured me with a manuscript description, drawings and inspection of a new instrument invented by himself and called the Caledonica, participating of the nature of the Hautbois and the Bassoon. This instrument has received much commendation from those who have heard its effect. Above is a mouthpiece with a reed, and the lower extremity terminates in a prolonged bell, somewhat like a horn or a trumpet, but from the mode of performance necessarily directed downwards. It is provided with keys: and according to the different dimension of which it is constructed, it may occupy the part of treble, tenor or bass. Its tone is said to be full and brilliant, and from the kind selected, it is adapted alike to the field in a military band as to the chamber in a quartett”.  

This pen portrait is the only “picture” we have of the Caledonica  and even this gets confused by different writers.  

Illustration of the Caledonica from Musical Memoirs of Sir John Graham Dalyell, Edinburgh Libraries

Several playlists have been created at Naxos Classical all with the intention of being starting points to explore the music of these lost instruments.
Simply login to Naxos with your library card number and select the Renaissance and early music playlists.

Castles and mansions of the Lothians

Our new Capital Collections exhibition features two photograph volumes, copies of which are held both in the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection and the Art and Design Library within Central Library, titled ‘Castles and Mansions of the Lothians‘.

There are over a hundred photographs and judging by the style of the images, we think they were all taken by the same photographer.

The Grange House which was demolished in 1936.

The mansions are situated throughout the Lothians from Linlithgow in the west to many in East Lothian. Some will be easily recognisable by their names. Most people who live in Penicuik will recognise the name Beeslack, and many might remember when the name Dalhousie Castle meant one thing, Medieval Banquet!

We think that the photographs were taken between 1875-1883. The photographs feature grand houses built in an age that allowed owners to display how well they were doing for themselves alongside older ancestral homes that had been passed down from generation to generation.

Bonaly Tower is now self contained flats.

Sadly, not all these buildings still exist. The ones that do are mostly now events venues, hotels or B&Bs or have been converted into residential apartments. There are one or two that remain private residences and continue, to show off their original splendour to this day.

To see the complete collection, view the Castles and Mansions of the Lothians exhibition at Capital Collections.

In conversation with Alan Gardner

Edinburgh City Libraries are privileged to assist in raising awareness for diversity and inclusion in the public arena e.g. Holocaust Memorial Day, LGBTQ+ History, International Women’s Day and in the future, Deafness & music, Mental Health, Dyslexia and more…

However, last week we focussed on Autism during Autism Awareness Week. Our very good friend Alan Gardner, diagnosed as Autistic when he was 55 years old, talks opening and honesty about his experiences and debunks some of the assumptions that surround Autism.

Watch and enjoy Alan’s conversation with Maya Aslam, doctoral researcher at Heriot-Watt University, talking about coping with lockdown, being Autistic and the misconceptions around Autism.

A stress-free Big Library Read!

Join millions of others around the world in reading a timely book about dealing with stress during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 5-19 April, readers can borrow and read Dr Brian King’s ebook The Art of Taking it Easy from our OverDrive service with no waiting list. Find out how to cope with bears, traffic and the rest of life’s stressors with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website

Psychologist and stand-up comedian Dr Brian King gives us a practical, yet laugh-out-loud guide to embracing humour to reduce stress and live a happier, fuller life. In this brilliant guide he presents hands-on techniques for managing stress by rewiring our brains to approach potentially difficult situations through a lens of positivity. Exploring what stress is, where it comes from, and what it does to our bodies and brains, he delves deep into how to address everyday stress—as well as anxiety, insecurities, repression, and negativity—and gives insight into resulting ailments such as anxiety disorders, depression, hypertension, obesity, substance abuse disorders, and more.

The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 5 April and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. You can even discuss the book online or by using #biglibraryread on social media you’ll be entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy tablet and book signed by the author!

Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.


The ReDrawing Edinburgh project needs your help!

ReDrawing Edinburgh project logo

Do you live in Cramond, Corstorphine, Colinton, Liberton or Leith? Or, have you lived there in the past?

We’d love to hear from you!

We are looking for pieces about what this area means to you. Is there a word that captures this place to you? Do you have any particular fond memories from growing up or living there?

Your piece can be a poem, a short essay, spoken word, or a song.

The ReDrawing Edinburgh project, in collaboration with Cinescapes, are working on a multimedia installation to mark the centennial commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act.

This multimedia installation will showcase an anthology of images, words and music that celebrate the identities of these areas over the past 100 years since their amalgamation into Edinburgh.

If you’d like to be part of the soundscape for this exhibition, send us your piece:

  • you can send a written text, an audio recording or a video of your BSL-signed piece
  • for written pieces we’re looking for 50-100 words
  • for recordings or videos, the limit is 2 minutes.

Please send in your submission to redrawingedinburgh@gmail.com by Friday 23 April 2021.

If you have any questions, please email redrawingedinburgh@gmail.com