Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Musical family

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 McDade (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 MccDade 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 saxophone 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 discovered I had a passion for this instrument. 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 accordion which had come to Australia with the family from Scotland. Although I do not have the accordion, 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 McDade 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 instruments 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 I had been singing songs my grandfather 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) named so because the McDade family were from Glasgow in Scotland. Recently a search of the Trove website and digitised newspapers from Australia revealed some interesting 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 McDade)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 newspapers 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.

Note - The surname McDade and MacDade have been used by various branches of this family.


  1. Greetings from Southern California

    I am your newest follower.

    I invite you to visit and follow TOGB.

    God Bless and Have a Nice Day :-)

  2. Hi Sharn - that was a great post and the photo of the engaged pair is just beautiful - I do wonder what the disc is!
    and your aunt was on Bandstand? that was a big big deal.
    My friends who nod off when I mention how fascinating genealogy is, need to read your blog. There are no 'ordinary' families, especially not yours.

  3. Hi Sharn
    What a great musical legacy!! I've also been looking into the musicians and singers in my family but hadn't thought to put together a blog post, so this is going on my list of posts to write!! I love the picture of your daughter learning the violin. My children also play and sing and I'll be singing to my new grandbaby in October that's for sure!! Kylie :-)

  4. Hi Sharn
    I also grew up in a very musical household. My Mum studied at the Conservatorium in Sydney for 10 years, was a concert pianist and then taught piano (until the day before going in to hospital). My Dad played cornet in the RAAF band. I also grew up with music - but like you found learning from my Mum too exacting, so she bought me a guitar to learn to play instead. I also had an accordion for a while! Mum taught my daughter to play piano but in addition my daughter excelled at playing the flute in particular & recorders etc as well. We also had occasions when all the family (cousins, uncles & aunts) gathered with instruments and played together. I sang in choirs & my Mum played the organ at church for years, and for many years she played the piano where I studied ballet. My parents might not have made it to Bandstand, but they (Mum in particular) did pass on a love of music to subsequent generations. In my 20s I kept discovering "new" pieces of classical music that I loved, only to learn that it was something Mum used to play when I was small.
    - Kerry Farmer

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