As the home of Scotland’s oldest university and with an international reputation rooted in history and culture, St Andrews already has many strings to its bow.
So having been appointed Festival Director at Scotland’s singing festival St Andrews Voices last year, Amanda MacLeod can’t think of a better place to bring a breadth of vocal and choral music either.
Themes of pilgrimage and journey are at the heart of the five-day St Andrews Voices event, running from October 13 to 17, celebrating the process and voyage singers and musicians undertake to come together, explore and share music.
Amanda, who comes from a grassroots choral singing background, first got involved in the festival in 2015.
Having taken over the festival directorship last year, she now can’t wait to emerge from a sustained period without live performance.
“The festival started with very much classical music at its core and will continue that way,” she says, “but really we are responding to the diaspora of singing in the region in Scotland and the area – bringing that platform for traditional Scots song in all its different forms as well.
“There is something for everyone to enjoy across the five days and we hope music fans from Fife and far beyond will join us for a special few days of musical celebration in St Andrews.”
Alternative to Central Belt
Amanda, who grew up on the “bonny banks” of Loch Lomond and studied in Edinburgh, laughs that she’s an “outsider” to St Andrews.
However, part of what drives her is a desire to “champion taking things away from Glasgow and Edinburgh”.
Describing the cultural calendar in St Andrews as “insane”, the event aims to be a festival for Scotland.
However, it also needs a home, and with St Andrews’ long history and links to the saints, it feels like the natural place.
St Andrews Voices is supported by the St Andrews University Music Centre.
And Amanda describes the university’s new Laidlaw Music Centre as “just remarkable”.
“I feel very lucky and pinch myself every time I walk through those doors to be honest,” she says.
“I know I was lucky to use it last year with our digital output, but this year being able to welcome people in is fab.
“It’s unique in Scotland, UK, Europe – it really is one of the smallest places in the world with this most amazing echo chamber. You can play with the acoustics, you can make it feel it’s more like a symphonic hall, or make it to suit the type of singing.
“Every one by two metre square on the floor can move – it can go down by 600cm or it can go up by 1m, so we can really manipulate the floor so audiences can play with it. It’s going to be fun and we can play with it.”
The programme features an eclectic and inclusive mix, from classical and folk to jazz and world music.
It will showcase some of the finest singers from across the UK and beyond and incorporate its important community outreach work into the programme with a series of free workshops.
Asked who her favourite is though, and she says there’s two.
The first is award-winning and highly acclaimed Scottish jazz singer Georgia Cecile who will herald the release of her debut album with a special performance from the stunning McPherson Recital Room in St Andrews University’s Laidlaw Music Centre.
“Georgia Celie is fab,” smiles Amanda.
“I fell in love with her last year. She’s on the Friday evening the day before she has her album launch concert in Edinburgh. She’s just released her debut album and creates this electric and soulful and all from within. She’s a really emotive singer.”
The second highlight for Amanda will be when celebrated Scottish Gael Mary Ann Kennedy completes an epic journey of musical discovery.
The project entitled Triall (Gaelic for journey) saw Mary Ann follow in the footsteps of St Columba and complete a pilgrimage that has taken her across the breadth of the country in recent months, from Iona to St Andrews.
This performance will be the culmination of that journey, drawing on the inspiration garnered from choirs and singers along the way. She will perform as part of Aon Teanga, a trio from three Gaelic nations with superbly expressive voices.
Mary Ann will unite with Ruth Keggin, a leading vocalist of the Manx Gaelic revival and young Irish Gael Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, to celebrate the cultural connections between sister nations.
“That’s going to be very special because it’s going to be the culmination of a lot of work over the last few months,” adds Amanda.
For details of the full programme go to www.standrewsvoices.com/festival