Skip navigation to content

« Back to news items

Sir James MacMillan helps spark creativity at University launch

Monday 05 March 2018

A fire-spinning scholar sparked the launch of the TheoArtistry Festival today (5 March), the culmination of a ground-breaking initiative which shines a new light on the creative power of Christianity.

Sir James MacMillan, the internationally renowned Scottish composer, along with members of the University Choir wearing the traditional red gown, were accompanied by fire-spinner and theologian Rebekah Dyer.

The festival marks the launch of six new musical compositions created in collaboration between research students at the School of Divinity at the University, and six talented young composers who applied to take part in the scheme and be mentored by Sir James.

Among them was Rebekah, whose doctoral research on fire in the theological and social imagination, combined with her hobby as a fire-spinner, gave talented composer Kerensa Briggs inspiration for a new piece of sacred choral music.

The TheoArtistry Festival: Sacred Music for the 21st Century, which continues tomorrow (6 March), will explore the challenges and opportunities for sacred music in the 21st century, with sessions on sacred music in and outside the church as well as reflection by leading scholars on new directions in theology and music.

The CD of the project, which features sacred music by Sir James MacMillan, his contemporaries and influences, and the six ‘next generation’ composers on the TheoArtistry Composers’ scheme, will go on general release after the conclusion of the festival on Friday 9 March.

The TheoArtistry project has been led by the University’s Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) which pioneers the practice, making, performance, curatorship, and reception of Christian art.

Sir James said: “It will be interesting to see if the next generation of composers will engage with theology, Christianity or the general search for the sacred. There has been a significant development in this kind of intellectual, academic and creative activity in the last 20 years or so. In the world of theology there is an understanding that the arts open a unique window onto the divine.”

Lecturer in ITIA and Director of TheoArtistry, Dr George Corbett of the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, said: “We believe that by encouraging artists to re-engage with Christianity (whether in a reverent, irreverent, playful, or provocative way), we can help to inspire creative and original new art.”

More than 100 young composers from across the UK applied for one of six exclusive places to work with six St Andrews theologians to create new music inspired by religious themes.


Sir James MacMillan, one of Scotland’s most accomplished living classical composers and conductors, holds a part-time professorship in ITIA.

Dr George Corbett is Lecturer in the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, and the Founder and Director of TheoArtistry.

The TheoArtistry Festival runs from Monday 5 March to Tuesday 6 March. Tickets can be booked via the Byre Theatre, online or on 01334 475000. A PDF of the whole programme is available online.

A behind the scenes documentary on TheoArtistry is available online.


Photos are available from the press office on

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office. Contact Steve Bargeton on 01334 467310, 07802 376 860 or