Founded in 1980 by Lothian Regional Council, the City of Edinburgh Music School acquired its present title a decade later, with the secondary department located at Broughton High School. When Susan joined the primary one attached to Flora Stevenson School teaching violin in 1988, it had 6 pupils – now there are 22 in what is the only primary music school in the UK, and she became Assistant Director but continues to teach violin and chamber music and to conduct the orchestras. Converted 1940s huts gave way in 2009 to a new building. As a Steinway School of Excellence, all its pianos are Steinways. Entry is by audition, initially with Susan and her director, then with an external panel who are looking for music potential and an ability to work hard.
Pupils spent two half-hours daily receiving individual lessons, supervised practice and accompaniment plus small group sessions for theory, aural and general musicianship. All play the piano and one other instrument which is normally the flute or recorder at P1 with others such as cello, clarsach or percussion offered later as their hand skills develop. They find the time to do this by being taken out of classes such as physical education or art and project-work or by staying on late, but care is taken to ensure that their general education does not suffer should they decide (as very few do) not to pursue their musical studies. There also are a lunchtime samba band and chamber group rehearsals, all pupils have a choir rehearsal before school, and string orchestra rehearsals are held after school. Performance opportunities include Christmas and summer recitals, piano solos at Friday assembly, outreach concerts, open days and the City Council's Resonate series of concerts at the Queen’s Hall. Primary pupils take part in Broughton concerts and are encouraged to audition for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. Pupils are encouraged to write and perform their own compositions.
As a National Centre of Excellence, the School has no boarding facilities unlike its sister centres at Douglas Academy, Plockton High School and Dyce Academy, but they have no primary departments. The only other criterion is that the family must reside in Edinburgh, and some parents have relocated here, drawn to the city from as far away as Portugal and Malta – indeed parental commitment is a key feature of school life, and often includes taking their children to professional concerts. Instruments taught include bagpipes, and former pupils have included the late Martyn Bennett who was its first traditional musician and Ben Duncan who became an Army piper. Conservatoires in Glasgow, Manchester and London offer performance-based courses as an alternative to the more academic musical further education available at universities.
The Edinburgh Branch has funded a cello, guitar and percussion kit for the School, and looks forward to continuing its very positive relationship with them.