Our History

“The annual concert of the Edinburgh University Musical Society was held last night in the Music Hall, which assumed its gala dress for the occasion, being decorated with palms and other hothouse plants, contributed by the Professor of Botany. There was a large attendance. Since its establishment, in 1867, this meritorious Society has never been in such a condition of prosperity as at present.”

This was written about the society in a March 1873 edition of the Scotsman newspaper. The piece goes on to describe the society’s make up:

“Professor [Herbert] Oakeley assumed the baton, and his ease, precision, and perfect rapport with all the performers were as conspicuous as at last year’s concert. The chorus numbered about 85 voices, and the orchestra 60 performers…”

It is very interesting to read about the society in its earliest years, and to see how little has changed since the mid- to late-1800s… Read the full article here.

Edinburgh University Music Society is the oldest student’s musical society in Scotland, and can be traced back to its origins in a concert in February of 1867: the 27th Reid Memorial Concert. This concert was unusual in that, rather than exclusively relying on the professional players within Edinburgh at the time (as had been the norm up until this point) the performance was cast as a “University Amateur Concert.” It consisted of a selection of musicians from around the University of Edinburgh, most students, some academics, and others members of the St. Cecilia Instrumental Society.

They were led by the then Professor of Music, Herbert Oakeley, and in George Street’s Music Hall (now the Assembly Rooms) provided such a grand performance that students and academics alike started scratching their head. Chief among these was Oakeley. They began pondering upon the possible creation of a new society dedicated to the inclusion of students in an orchestral setting, in order to produce high quality music and introduce students to the rigours of performance.

That summer a draft constitution was set down, and at the commencement of the next academic year the first students rehearsed under Oakeley for the first time in what became known as the Edinburgh University Musical Society.

Early records exist of a performance by the society was in 1872, where they performed alongside the Hallé Orchestra from Manchester and some of the most famous artists of the time in a three day festival devoted to the continuation of General John Reid’s passion for music.

The Society performs in all its glory...

The Society performs at its 1961 Carol Party in the McEwan Hall.

The society, now and for many decades the largest outside the University of Edinburgh’s Sports Union, has a long history of representing the University of Edinburgh through the quality of its performances. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana was premiered in Scotland by EUMS in 1963, and the BBC has made recordings of several of our concerts.

In 2017, the Society celebrated its 150th anniversary with a series of concerts, culminating in a concert in the Usher Hall on 25th November. Sinfonia played George Gershwin’s An American in Paris before Symphony Orchestra and Chorus combined to perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, 54 years after its Scottish premier.

Since those early days in the late-1800s, the society has performed hundreds of concerts in Edinburgh, and in recent years the quality of our music has only got better, despite an increasing concentration on matters beyond performance.

Our history has given us great strength as a society, but we also look forward to seeing what the years ahead can bring us. We hope you will enjoy following the Edinburgh University Music Society through the years, as we enjoy being involved in such an important part of Scotland’s heritage and culture.