THE artistic director of Scotland’s only specialist music school is looking forward to the future as he takes up his new role.

Robert Baxter has taken on the role at St Mary’s Music school – which boasts a number of highly successful alumni working in the music industry today.

The school, which is located in the west end of Edinburgh, gives pupils with an aptitude and talent for their instruments to hone their skills while completing their regular studies.

Speaking to The National about the new role, Baxter said: “It’s still a normal school with normal exams but music contact time is huge so it gives pupils the chance to go on, as many have, into the music industry.”

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Alumni include pianists Steven Osborne and Simon Smith, as well as soprano Susan Hamilton while comedian, actor and presenter Alexander Armstrong (below) was a chorister at the school.  

Baxter himself has worked in the music industry for some time as a successful trumpet player but believes that his career thus far makes him well-suited to his new position.

“I’ve been busy and successful in the sense that I’ve always been working with orchestras in Scotland,” he said.

The National:

“That’s kept me busy for many decades and I’ve always been involved with community groups as well as teaching.

“I took on a brass teaching job as well which gave me an insight into that side of things and so all of that has kind of geared me towards this role and I was very excited to take it on.”

Looking to the future

Asked about what he would bring to the role, Baxter said it was important to “maintain the high standard of teaching and tuition” but also to ensure a focus on working with communities.

“The pupils want to attain a high level on their instrument, but I think all musicians need to realise that working and engaging with communities is all part of it.

“It’s not just about giving back, it’s about adding more to your musical integrity and having some social responsibility for what you’re doing.

“Even if you’re successful and full time in an orchestra, there’s still time for community-based projects.”

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He’s also passionate about ensuring that Scotland places a focus on and protect its culture sector.

“Music is like sports in that you need to devote so much of your life and time to it – you can’t really start this at 18 or 19 so it’s important we have these schools because it pushes up the standard all the time,” he said.

“That’s why we have this great list of past pupils. They drive the top end and the standard is as high as it can be.

“We must maintain cultural support and I think if there’s one thing we learned from Covid, it’s that as soon as people were locked in they were looking online for music, art, poems and theatre.

“This is what people were drawn to and I think we have to make sure that survives for the future.”