The location of the school in the cultural city of Edinburgh allows for a vibrant arts programme.
The Arts Programme is one of the things that helps to make Merchiston really special; in fact, we’re pretty sure it’s unique.
On the one hand, the idea is very simple. As the teacher in charge of it, I select a range of arts events that are taking place in Edinburgh each term, and boys have the opportunity to sign up for as many of them as they like. We also include the arts events in which Merchiston boys are participating, so as to encourage the boys to support their friends too. We arrange the tickets and the transport: all the boys need to do is show an interest and then turn up.
Simple, but also really important. Our responses to the arts are a key part of what makes us human, but it’s especially critical to be introduced to them at a young age when you’re still forming your views about life. Exposing our boys to really high-quality music, drama, opera, cinema and visual arts is a formative experience for a lot of them, and I’ve lost count of the number of boys who have come up to me at the end of an academic year and told me that an Arts Programme event has been one of the highlights of their year. It’s also really important that all of the boys get a chance to do this, and they often surprise themselves by what they enjoy: several years ago the entire 1st XV came to a performance of The Marriage of Figaro. None of them had been to an opera before, but they all came out and said how much they had enjoyed it.
Every term I visit assemblies and give the boys a run-down of what’s coming up that term, as well as a taster of a couple of the events. That makes it more accessible for them, and I always encourage them to try something new. It’ll never be easier for them to go along to their first orchestral concert, or to try their first opera: the Arts Programme picks things we hope they’ll like, and does all the organisation for them (and thank you to all you parents who pay for the tickets via the school bill!).
And how lucky we are to have a boarding school like ours that’s right on the edge of Edinburgh. How many schools in the UK can claim to be in a capital city that has such a vibrant arts scene that pulses with life but that is small enough to be accessible and is never overwhelming? One of the best things about Edinburgh is how delightfully compact it is, but for a city of its size it punches well above its weight in terms of its arts scene, with venues like the Usher Hall, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, the Playhouse and the Festival Theatre, and companies like Scottish Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, all of which we visit regularly. Introducing our boys to this is a key part of what we do at Merchiston. If there’s another UK school that has a programme like ours then I’ve yet to hear of it.