Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Musical family

Music in the Blood

The photograph above shows the White Heather Jazz Band which played in Brisbane in the 1920's and 30's. Pictured from right is my grandfather, Colin Hamilton McDade seated at the piano; Seated front with Violin, his brother Robert McDade, Playing the drums, my grandmother's brother Andrew Thompson White, On trumpet, my great uncle Alexander McDade, two people are unknown in the photograph but seated beside my grandfather is another of his McDade brothers.

Both of my parents were musical. My mother and father, Alwynne Jean and Colin John MacDade (pictured right on the day that they became engaged),learned to play the piano from the same piano teacher in Brisbane, Queensland as children. My father, Colin John MacDade was somewhat of a child prodigy, performing his first classical music concert at the age of four years and winning a scholarship to attend the Conservatorium in Sydney at the age of 15 years. At that time he was attending the Brisbane Boys Grammer School in Brisbane, on an academic scholarship, and his parents wished him to complete his education there. There was no Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane at the time, and my father's family did not want him to move to Sydney so he turned down the offer of a musical scholarship. As a young boy, Colin John won a television contest called Steps to Stardom. As anyone who ever heard him play, will testify, that my father was truly a gifted pianist. He did not make a career out of his talent, however, choosing to get a job when he left school to help his family.
Right: My father, Colin John MacDade as a young man playing the piano

Music was an important part of my life growing up. My father played in a band on Saturday nights and composed musical scores, including some for film tracks. My mother was a music teacher, giving lessons on the piano and electric organ. My uncle owned and operated a Music Academy in Brisbane which launched the careers of a number of well known Australian bands including, Savage Garden. He also played the saxaphone and the clarinet in a jazz Big Band. 

As soon as I began school I played in the fife band and later played in a recorder band. My sister and I were both choristers in church choirs and I have fond memories of wearing chorister's robes and singing with the choir at church services and weddings. Piano lessons with my father were not a great success as he was a perfectionist, and not patient with my lack of practice. I decided to learn to play the guitar and loved this instrument and I certainly inherited my father's love for music from him. From the age of three, my grandfather gave me lessons on a small button accordian which had come to Australia with the family from Scotland. Although I do not have the accordian, it is safely still in the hands of a family member. Later I went on to learn to play the flute, piano and organ. Just before he passed away, my grandfather, requested a family gathering to which every family member was to bring a musical instrument or their voice. The last memory I have of Colin Hamilton MacDade is of him happily listening to all of his grandchildren, as well as his grown children and their partners entertaining him with the piano, guitars, a trumpet, drums, and other intruments and everyone else singing along to the music. It was a musical delight which I will never forget. My grandfather died the same week, however he had truly left a musical legacy in his family.

Right: My father, Colin John MacDade

My grandfather, Colin Hamilton McDade ( it is another story as to how the name was changed to MacDade) taught me to sing songs in the Gaelic language. Only many years later did I discover that I had taken these ditties to school and sung songs full of quite rude words for show and tell. My father was horrified when he discovered what his own father had though to be hilarious. Fortunately my teacher didn't understand a word of the Gaelic language. Either that, or she had seen the humourous side to my innocent 5 year old singing. My grandfather had his own band in Brisbane. It was called 'The White Heather Band', ( pictured above top) obviously named so because the McDade family were from Glasgow in Scotland. Recently a search of the Trove website and digitalised newspapers from Australia revealed someinteresting articles featuring this band and my talented piano playing grandfather.

Recently I discovered that my grandmother's family were also very musical, although I did not know this growing up. Jemima Florence White ( married Colin Hamilton MacDade)had arrived in Australia at the age of 11 in 1913. The family lived in Kaimkillenbun on the Darling Downs in Queensland and articles from the Dalby Herald and other local newpapers tell of the beautiful singing voices of the White girls, Violet and Florence as my grandmother insisted on being called in Australia (she thought the name to be much more modern than Jemima). Her eldest brother, William Thomas White played a pump organ, which is still in the family.
I am now on a journey to discover more about my musical ancestry. My own children between four of them, play or have played the flute, piccolo, guitar, base guitar, banjo, mandolin, drums, piano, clarinet, violin and the saxaphone. One daughter has inherited a great aunt's singing voice. The same daughter, my youngest, kept us most entertained at the age of 6, being convinced that she had a stage career ahead of her playing the spoons! Talented as she may have been with two spoons clanging together, we were most relieved when she moved on to learn the flute.
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Musical talent, is something that seems to be inherited, although music excludes no-one. I am looking forward to discovering more of my musical ancestors.
Right: My daughter learning to play her tiny violin.