Interview with Amanda MacLeod

To mark our launch at the University of Edinburgh last week, we sat down with Amanda MacLeod, the current President of Edinburgh University Music Society, to discuss some of her most memorable moments, as well as some of her big plans for the future...

What was your first ever concert as part of EUMS?

We performed Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in September 2011 with EUMS Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, and it was incredible. We brought in some professional soloists and Greyfriars Kirk was absolutely full to the rafters, it was a great introduction the music scene at Edinburgh for me.

And last?

There’s a big Summer concert coming up in May, which involves all three ensembles, but I’d say my last proper concert was Mozart’s Requiem with Chorus and Sinfonia, which attracted a HUGE audience - there was still a queue out the door at 7.20! I reckon we brought in around 700 people, and the chorus was 150-strong. Definitely one of the most epic performances I’ve done here.

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Mozart

How did you work your way up to presidency?

I was actually accosted about a week before the AGM at the end of my first year by my predecessor, who asked if I wanted to become Chorus Manager. I very quickly saw the light, and became CM in my second year, which was really, really fun. That year, we put on a joint concert with Sinfonia, a concert of our own, and did a tour of Cologne.

The AGM came round again, and I went for Chorus Manager again. It was slightly controversial, as nobody had done it before, but I knew exactly what needed to be done, and people seemed to trust me enough to take on the role for a second year running!

That year, we did another joint concert, where we performed Verdi Requiem in the McEwan Hall. I’d say it’s better than the Usher Hall, tenfold. Unfortunately, it’s been closed for nearly all of my university career, and it’s closed for another four years, so we leapt at the opportunity to perform there when we could and it was incredible.

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EUMS Chorus and Symphony Orchestra after performing Verdi's Requiem in The McEwan Hall

Just before we chat about presidency, what were you most proud of as Chorus Manager?

I increased numbers, and I think I helped Chorus become a lot more respected. It’s totally unauditioned, and I’m sure that used to make people question the standard. The truth is, there are a lot of solid musicians in there - some really good sight readers - and they’re sat beside some people who can’t even read music, who are there simply to enjoy themselves. I mean, that’s what music is ultimately all about, right? There’s just a great balance. Our Chorus master, Neil, is exceptional, and really knows how to push people and get the very best from them. The hardcore musicians enjoy it, too. It’s a relaxed evening that they come along to for a sing and a chat, there’s nothing in the way of added pressure.

Anyway, back to your presidential ascension…

Oh yeah! I think it was quite a natural progression for me to step up to the plate. The President clearly needs to be an experienced person within the society, and I’d gained that experience as Chorus Manager. Maybe I’m slightly crazy to have done it in my final year, and I’ve been so ridiculously busy, but I really wanted to give back to the society that had given me so much.

Last year, we set up a community outreach fund, which allowed our members to take part in projects within the community and develop links with primary schools, local charities, etc. It was initiated before I became President, and I was determined to continue and develop it. It’s been been difficult to keep it going this year, now that the initial excitement from its first year has died down, but I’m really proud of what we’ve done with it.

We performed the Firebird in the Caird Hall as part of the BBC Ten Pieces initiative, which aims to to get every primary school child involved in classical music at some level. It was a collaboration with Dundee primary schools, and they danced as we played, which was so much fun!

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The Caird Hall

We also have strong links with local Edinburgh primary schools, and we recently did a big education project with them where we brought in 250 local primary school kids and introduced them to the orchestra and the choir. Stuff like that really makes the job worthwhile.

What have been some of the musical highlights of your time at Edinburgh?

Singing the mezzo-soprano solos as part of the Mozart Requiem was truly incredible. To be sitting there with the orchestra and the chorus behind me was fairly emotional... I cried! Was a really proud moment.

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The music society becoming more prominent across campus has also been really exciting. We’re seeing more and more people coming to our concerts (not just our friends!), and our student prices have been reduced in line with the RSNO and SSO - £5 tickets for under 26s, which is a bargain.

I suppose one of the biggest highlights happened just last week. Part of my course is called Music in the Community, which means I get to do a primary school placement every week. In the second semester, we do a big collaborative arts project, and this year, the course organiser composed an opera for children all about sleep, and how their sleep cycle and different natural remedies can help them get to sleep. We performed it with lighting, actors, dancers, etc, and it was absolutely amazing. I got to sing in a solo quartet on the roof of the Botanic Gardens!

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The Botanic Gardens - Photograph by Andy Catlin

What advice will you be giving to the next president?

It’s difficult. Keep a smile on your face, to keep your passion for the society, and most of all, keep in mind why we’re all there. At the end of the day, it’s a performing society. Yes, we can get involved in lots of exciting peripheral things, but the most important thing is that our concerts go well and that people getting involved and enjoying playing and singing.

What would be your dream concert for EUMS?

It’s our 150th anniversary in 2017 - we’re older than the Students’ Association by about five years - and I’ve been dreaming up some big plans for a while now, which nobody knows about yet, so this is an Encore exclusive reveal!

Edinburgh has awesome alumni in the music society, such as James MacMillan, Donald Runnicles, and Christopher Bell.

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I’m envisioning us in the Usher Hall, with Chorus, Symphony, amd Sinfonia as a small chamber orchestra. We’d perform a commission written for us by James MacMillan, and conducted by Runnicles. That’s the dream.

I think James would be interested, but we’d need to ask. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll definitely have a big gala weekend, with the pinnacle being a big Usher Hall concert. Mahler 8, Mahler 2, something like that. A reunion of all of our ensembles with as many of our wonderful alumni as possible.

What’s next?

I plan to chill a little bit, then give singing postgrad a go in a couple of years. In the interim, arts admin, freelancing, singing a bit - basically just seeing what happens. I have some exciting plans for the end of the year, but they’re under wraps.

Oh, go on...

Touring in England, that’s all I’m allowed to say!