Dr. Andrea McCrady, Dominion Carillonneur

Dr. Andrea McCrady, Dominion Carillonneur

 

Andrea McCrady at the practice keyboard

Dr. Andrea McCrady at the practice keyboard in her East Block office at Parliament

I first saw a video of Dr. Andrea McCrady, describing her position as Dominion Carillonneur to the folks at Ottawa Chamberfest, in Part Two of their Walking Tour Video Series.  I could tell by the sparkle in her eye that she thoroughly enjoys her work: playing the Peace Tower Carillon at Parliament Hill.

I did some research and sent Dr. McCrady an e-mail, requesting an interview with the busy carillonneur for our Faces of Ottawa series. To my surprise and delight, despite being in the midst of her busiest time period, Dr. McCrady graciously agreed to do the interview after receiving the go-ahead from the higher-ups in the House of Commons.  “However, there is one condition to the interview: you have to be my guest in the keyboard room at one of my hour-long summer recitals” she told me.

After I finished jumping up and down from sheer excitement, I was given the unenviable task of choosing one (just one!) concert to attend from the stunning array of 8 choices.

On July 15, 2013, my husband and I were Dr. McCrady’s guests high up in the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill.  We saw first hand how the Dominion Carillonneur makes her way through a fantastic hour-long performance of a programme entitled Spectrum which contained musical pieces with a nod to the colours of the rainbow.  ***As a side note, Dr. McCrady performs these hour long recitals from Monday – Friday throughout July and August in hour-long recitals that begin everyday at 11 a.m. (Guests artists are sometimes featured during these summer recitals. From September through June, she plays every weekday (noon – 12:15 p.m.).

Since this interview was pretty extensive, we met in person and had a great time going through the questions together. Enjoy!

Getting to Know Dr. Andrea McCrady

DOMINION CARILLONNEUR

What is one thing that you think people would be surprised to know about your job as Dominion Carillonneur?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Most people are surprised that being the Dominion Carillonneur is a full time job. Even people on Parliament Hill don’t realize that. I play year-round whether Parliament is sitting or not. Even for the season of September-June when I’m playing for 15 to 20 minutes each weekday at noon, people say, `Oh, you play for 15 minutes a day, what do you do the rest of the time?’ The rest of the time I’m researching music, arranging music, preparing it, and especially practicing it so that I can play it to the best of my ability to match the magnificence of the Peace Tower.

Tell us what the interview/audition process for becoming Dominion Carillonneur was like.

Dr. Andrea McCrady: When the previous Dominion Carillonneur announced his retirement, the government (the House of Commons) posted the job on the government website. They were rather chagrined to find that no qualified Canadians applied for the job. At that point, they had to expand the search to the websites of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America and the World Carillon Federation and that’s how I heard about it.

The trickiest part of the application process was not only sending in the usual biographical information and so forth, but they wanted a 30 minute recent recording of your playing – it is very difficult to record the Carillon. I happened to be in the situation where I was completing a degree in music in Carillon at the University of Denver and one of my classmates had recorded one of my juried recitals. I listened to it and it sounded pretty decent so that’s what I could submit on short notice. The deadline was early April. I didn’t hear anything until June at which point, as I was packing up to leave Denver and go back to my home in Spokane, I decided to take a peek at my computer one last time before I put it in the box. There in my junk mail was the invitation from the House of Commons for an audition. So that’s an object lesson — always check your junk mail before you delete it.

I contacted them and they wanted me up here in Ottawa to play an audition within about 3 weeks – not a lot of notice. Originally, they wanted us to play a 15 minute programme for a jury as well as have an hour-long personnel interview. The personnel interview obviously was not anonymous, but the audition for the jury was anonymous. The jury wasn’t supposed to know who was up in the Tower playing and we weren’t supposed to know who the jury was.

About 10 days before I actually came up here, they changed the criteria and said they wanted a half hour programme. So, yes, you just say `OK, I’ll add music’ and do it. When we came up here, it was almost like something out of a James Bond movie where to stay completely anonymous, we were told ‘Do not go out and visit friends’ and stuff like that. They came to fetch us from our hotel for the interview and take us up the Tower. We had perhaps 20 or 30 minutes on the practice keyboard and only about 15 minutes on the Tower instrument before we had to play our audition.

I think one of the reasons I got the job is that the music I chose to play for the audition was a variety of music. The other 2 candidates, one of whom was from New Zealand and the other from France. They were very good players, perhaps better than I am. However, one had chosen rather esoteric carillon music and his own compositions and the other one had chosen transcriptions of classical music. My choices did include classical music and carillon compositions, but it also had music by previous Dominion Carillonneurs and Canadian folk songs so it had a broader appeal.

Two weeks later I got the phone call with a job offer. Since I was from outside of Canada, it was three full months before I could make it up here because of all the problems getting a work visa and making the long distance move, not only across the continent but across borders.

What is the most challenging thing about your job as Dominion Carillonneur?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: The repertoire! I call it `feeding the beast’… I am constantly trying to change the repertoire to keep it fresh and interesting both for the audience and myself. Those short programmes from September to June: each one is different. The longer programmes in July and August where I play for a full hour each weekday draws from all the music that I’ve been working up all year long. But the short programmes, the music won’t be repeated within that month or maybe even within 2 months. So it keeps it interesting and more varied.

There’s only one month in the year that I don’t do any arranging and that’s July. I’m so busy launching into the long programmes of July, hosting international guests, getting my students ready for the annual recital and playing these programmes myself, that I have no real time to do fresh music. That’s the one month I don’t (by choice) do arrangements. Now if something happened suddenly that, God forbid, some important character passed away and I had to play something, or I was requested to do something, of course I would do it. The rest of the year I do about one or two new arrangements a week.

Is that part of your job description to do arrangements for the Carillon?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: It’s an expectation that the skill will be there. There’s a huge amount of repertoire, not only my own collection, but a large collection already existing here. There’s plenty to choose from, but you always want to be on your toes and do something different.

What went through your mind when you found out you were awarded the post of Dominion Carillonneur?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: That was the OMG moment. Up until then, it hadn’t been real. I thought `This is all very exciting. And this is kind of a lark’ because I had another life going on. I had been a full-time family physician for close to 30 years. I had left that full time job to go back and get the music degree. It was my intention to go back to Spokane, WA and continue half-time in medicine. I would continue as the Cathedral Carillonneur there and continue in music to get a Masters in music and teach the carillon at Eastern Washington University. So it was all planned.

Probably one of the reasons that I succeeded in the interview and audition was that it wasn’t the “be-all-end-all”. It wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t get this job. It was all quite the adventure until it became very real and I said, “Oh my, now I will really have to leave medicine for good” because being the Dominion Carillonneur is a full time job and I’m going to have to uproot myself and move to a different country, possibly permanently. It was a big shock, but a very exciting one.

PT Belfry solo bells

Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King stated the Dominion Carillon was the “voice of the nation” in the 1927 dedication. Do you feel this statement is true? How is it true?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Oh absolutely. In fact, that’s why I take this job very seriously. I feel this is a heavy responsibility. Shortly after I came here, my boss, the Curator of Parliament (a delightful gentleman with a great expansive knowledge in history) told me that there had been a poll done and that after the Maple Leaf, the second most recognizable national symbol to Canadians was the Peace Tower. All Canadians know what the Peace Tower is.

Even when I was crossing the border into Montana to get my work permit, I handed the letter from the House of Commons to the border guard and said, `I’m here to get a work permit to become the Dominion Carillonneur`. They stood at attention and saluted! Their supervisor came out and I said, `Yes, I’m going to play the bells at the Peace Tower` and they went: `Wow! The Peace Tower’.

Any Canadian I meet, when I tell them my job, they say: `Awesome!’ Yankees don’t understand it in the least, but for Canadians the Peace Tower is big. I am playing for not only Parliament (although it’s rare actually that the Members can hear me because you can’t hear it inside the building). I am also playing for anyone who comes up to Parliament Hill: Canadians, tourists from all around the world, lots of schoolchildren, and so forth. This is their impression as they walk up the Hill if they are hearing the Peace Tower, they will hear `O Canada‘ (You better not mess up the National Anthem!) Then they will hear music that has to be good and has to speak to them. Just because it was installed as a War Memorial doesn’t mean I’m going to play dirges and hymns and classical music. I play every possible genre to speak to everybody on the ground of many different generations. So it is the voice, not just of the nation of 1927, but going forward.

I think audiences would be surprised at the repertoire and recital schedule that you have as Dominion Carillonneur. How much work and practice time goes into creating one of your one-hour recitals?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: <laughs> All the music I play is posted on our website at the beginning of each month for the coming month. So if you’re wondering: “What did she just play — I recognize that tune?”, you can go to the website (www.parl.gc.ca/About/House/Collections/carillon-e.htm) and say, “Oh, that’s what it was!” Consequently, I plan these programmes a good month in advance. In fact, I’m always planning.

If I’m playing 15-20 minutes, the programme will have 4, 5, or 6 pieces in it. I may choose a theme or composer for that programme. I research the music. Some of it I may have to arrange myself if it hasn’t been previously arranged for the Carillon. Then of course I have to practice it.

I get into the office about 8 in the morning and fire up the computer to take care of correspondence. Then I practice for at least a couple of hours before I play in the morning. After I finish playing at midday, I come back to the office and have a little bit of lunch. Next, I handle correspondence and do whatever needs to be done. Then I’ll start practicing for the coming recitals. Finally, I stick around, because at the end of the day after my Dominion Carillonneur hours, I also teach. So it’s a long day.

THE INSTRUMENT

The Peace Tower Carillon keyboard

[Pictured to the left, the Peace Tower Carillon keyboard]

Tell us a little bit about how you practice the Carillon. What are some of the challenges?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: In my office at East Block is a practice keyboard. It is identical to the keyboard up in the Tower in its configuration and it was manufactured by the same company at the same time, in 1927. But, it does not make the same sound. Obviously, we don’t want to be destroying the neighbourhood much less the Senators next door with a lot of sound. When I press a key or a pedal down on the keyboard in my office, a little hammer hits a tone bar and it will give you a pitch, but it won’t give me the great resonance of a big bell.

The other huge difference with the practice keyboard is that I’m just moving little hammers so there’s no real weight to playing it, no resistance. That’s very different from the Tower instrument where the top bell weighs about 11 pounds and its clapper weighs a pound. The bottom bell weighs 11 tonnes and its clapper weighs 500 pounds. And so there’s a much greater weight difference across the keyboard.

I use the practice keyboard to work out arrangements and so forth. However, I do most of my arranging on my home piano on nights and weekends because there are no distractions or interruptions. I know from 40 years of playing what is probably going to work. I bring what I’ve done at home to the practice keyboard to modify it further. And then of course I take it upstairs. The very first time, it’s always `Aha—that’s what it’s going to feel like and that’s what it’s going to sound like”. All carillonneurs are constantly revising their arrangements not only for their own carillon but (if they are travelling) adapting the arrangements to play on different instruments.

So do most carillon players play other keyboard instruments?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: The vast majority come from a keyboard background: either the piano (which is what I came from) or organ. The advantage for keyboard players is that carillon music has two staves: the treble clef is the clef that indicates what you play with your hands and the bass clef is what you play on the pedals. You need the skill of being able to read two clefs. It is actually more like the piano than the organ because you can play the carillon with different weight, touch, and dynamics, depending on how much force you give to the key or the pedal.

What techniques have you learned from playing the carillon that are different from playing the piano, organ, or a percussion instrument–how is it the same?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Once you start a bell ringing, you can’t stop it. You only control the initial strike. So you control how loud and soft. The bigger the bell, the longer it rings. You don’t hold down notes to sustain them. They’re all sustained. It’s like playing the piano with the damper pedal permanently down. Consequently, you don’t have to hold notes that are half notes and whole notes and so forth. In fact, you do not want to do that. If you hold a key down, you’re pushing the clapper and holding it against the bell and dampening it. You will actually produce the opposite effect from what you think you are producing. If you hold a key down on a piano, it will sustain. If you hold a key down on a carillon, it will dampen. So that’s very different.

Now organists also discover that the pedal technique is entirely different from the pedal technique of the organ. On the carillon, because of the weight of those pedals, you have to get your foot on the pedal and pushed almost all the way down before you actually strike it. If you push down a pedal partway on an organ keyboard, it’s already sounding. You can’t “pre-play” a pedal on an organ, but you have to “pre-play” it on the carillon, so your timing, your motor memory is very different to prepare the pedals. Now I’m not an organist, but I find it easier to teach piano students who don’t have any different habits with their feet from the get-go of how to move their feet and prepare the pedals on the Carillon. Organists pick it up, just like pianists will pick it up. Plus you’re playing with all four limbs like an organist would, so again, the pianists have to learn two more limbs to add.

Peace Tower Bells in line Peace Tower: Dominion Carillon middle bells
Peace Tower bells all lined up in a row Inside the Peace Tower: the middle register bells

ARRANGING

You arrange music for the Carillon. Have you ever come across any music that can’t be played on the Carillon?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: All the time. Remember I said, how different the pedals are, and once you start a bell ringing, you can’t stop it. They are much heavier to play and they are more resonant. So if you take today, for instance, I played Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith which is a Theme and Variations. I did not play all the variations that Handel wrote because a lot of them will have all sorts of stuff going on in the left hand. You can’t do that on the carillon. You can’t have a very intricate and fast pedal line because it would just make a mush of sound and it’s physically difficult to do. So that’s an example with a classical piece. Even though Handel, Bach, Beethoven and so forth can be adapted to the carillon, you can’t play the same repertoire that you would play on another keyboard.

Another is when you come up to popular pieces, particularly rock pieces. I get asked to play rock music all the time, you know like Stairway to Heaven, Bells of Hell, etc. Rock depends on a really active percussion and often the melodic line is not that interesting—it doesn’t do much. You can’t have the feet doing that kind of percussion and you also have to have an interesting melodic line. So there are some pieces that just won’t work.

I had a challenge about a year and a half ago when the NCC approached me to select and play Juno nominees on the carillon the week before the Juno ceremony was going to be here in Ottawa. As soon as the nominations came out, I spent the afternoon on YouTube listening to as many nominated pieces as I could–dozens of them–listening to them, what if any of these are going to work, could I adapt these and make them likeable and recognizable on the carillon? I came up with a list. We had to approach the artists and the organization in Toronto that runs the Junos to see if I could get the music then. Because believe me I didn’t have the time to try to sit and transcribe them from listening to the music. I said, “I need a lead sheet, or best of all a piano score so that I can adapt it.”

What characteristics of the Carillon are interesting to use in arrangements?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: The ringing–that’s fun if you want some big sound. Often what we do is what I say “topsy-turvy” it, or flip it. I will put a simple melody into the feet so that comes through and everybody can really hear it on the big bells while you’re doing lots of embellishment and ornamentation and fun things with your hands on the little bells.

The other thing that makes it have a voice of its own: the bells have a unique set of overtones. Different than any other instrument, and that’s what gives it its own voice. So it is really fun to take into account those overtones.

Does choral music translate well for the carillon?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: With vocal music, you have SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) written for four voices. That’s usually too thick of a texture. The carillon, you can make it sound pretty just with a single line melody, but two lines are good, three lines is probably the maximum. Because of all those overtones building on top of each other that creates another voice unto itself. If I look at choral music, I will try to see if I can condense it into just a soprano line and a bass line or some middle voice in there, but not four voices. It doesn’t work very well. Same with fugues. You don’t want to have too many things going at once. It just becomes a mush. And very difficult to play.

TEACHING

You are an adjunct professor at Carleton University, now offering a two-year programme for a Certificate in Carillon studies–the first in Canada. What characteristics / skills do you look for in your Carillon students?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: First of all, we not only have a two-year programme but also a four-year degree, so there is the option to get a Bachelor of Music in Carillon at Carleton University. But there is the other option, which is a two-year certificate so that if someone already has a Bachelor of Music and they want to get further qualification in carillon, they can do it, or an undergraduate can also do it as a two-year certificate.

What am I looking for in the carillon students? They have to have a minimum Grade 9 Royal Conservatory keyboard background. And hopefully they will have a severe case of `bell fever’. In other words, as we often say in music, your instrument chooses you, you don’t necessarily choose the instrument. Inevitably, when I have guests in the Tower, they are just thoroughly impressed, not necessarily with me, but with how magnificent the Carillon is and the resonance, the vibration, the glory of the sound. So visitors will write: “Thank you. It was interesting, fascinating, awesome, etc.” But every once in a while, a visitor grabs my arm and says: “I want to learn to play this.”

The students that I take on, they now have to come through Carleton, because I have a limited time with the studio. They basically have a probationary period of about 2 or 3 months. I ask them a few questions. Is this really an instrument that, now they’ve realized what they’ve gotten themselves into, they are going to study it? Will they find the time to practice it? Are they going to progress with it? Do they have an ear for it? Can they adapt to a very different keyboard? Then they also learn what it’s like to take lessons with me and have to contend with all the extra protocol, security, and bureaucracy of working up at Parliament Hill.

Dr. McCrady at the practice keyboard in her office at East Block

PERFORMING

What do you enjoy most about playing the Carillon? You have bell fever, obviously!

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Oh, obviously. I have a terminal case of bell fever. What could be better than playing a magnificent instrument like the Peace Tower Carillon every weekday, year round.

Inside Guide to Ottawa: I’m so jealous!!

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Yes! I have what every musician would probably dream of having: a full-time job, playing every day, and teaching and so forth. But the best part of my day is that noon recital provided I’m in the groove and playing well. Every musician can also appreciate when things are just not working, but for the most part, it’s a true joy to play the Carillon.

When I’m up there, I’m not really thinking of people on the ground. I’m in my own space. And listening very hard to the music I’m producing. I think any musician who’s playing the instrument they love, that’s when they’re in their own groove. It’s a type of meditation really. I love practicing. I love feeling a piece coming alive and working through its problems and getting control of it and really having fun to play around with it. It’s the “zen” of carillon really. I love that.

And the second most wonderful part is now working with the students and seeing them come along. It keeps you young. It keeps you challenged.

What is the strangest song you’ve ever performed–one that you would never expect to hear on Parliament Hill?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: I think one of the big hits that nobody ever expected was K-Naan’s Waving Flag. It was the anthem for the FIFA World Cup when it was was in South Africa. I listened to that and I was thinking, it has a beat, basically a chaconne format. And I sat down, it was a New Year’s Day, in the middle of winter. I knew that February 15 is Flag Day and I thought, wouldn’t that be fun to play on Flag Day. The scary thing is that CBC happened to notice on the website when I was about to premiere it, so they went out and recorded it. Sometimes premieres they go really well, but I play it a heckuva lot better now. I’ve played it for Canada Day and of course other Flag Days, but it’s a great hit. It really gets the Tower rocking and it’s lots of fun.

You have performed all over Europe and North America. What was your favourite carillon to play and why (aside from the Dominion Carillon of course)?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Of course, you’re asking a loaded question there, “Who’s your favourite child, by the way?”

No two carillons are alike, they each have their own voice. To be called a carillon, you have to have 23 bells or more. Anything less, is called a chime and is played from a chime stand. And has a very limited kind of music.

So two to five octaves of bells: I have a very favourite carillon in Ohio that’s just a two-octave carillon, but it’s perfect for where it is. Then there are these great big carillons. Probably one of my other great favourites in North America is the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. It’s in the Gloria In Excelsis Tower and it certainly lives up to its name. There’s a just gorgeous carillon in the Netherlands which is a very historic carillon in Dordrecht. The one that I played for 18 years in Spokane, WA, I miss it. I love that carillon. But they all have different voices and they speak differently.

What are some of the advantages to playing carillon that other musical performers might not have?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: One of the advantages is that I don’t have to memorize music, thank goodness, for all the variety I have to play. I was never good at memorizing–I just hate that. So that pressure is off. A lot of carillonneurs are up in the tower alone and nobody can see them. It’s fine, for all you know, they’re playing in the nude, and they’re making faces, or singing along, or have a metronome running with them or whatever. Well, we laugh about playing in the nude, but a lot of carillon towers are not air-conditioned and in the summer, it gets really hot. It’s like being up your attic in the summer. And people just do, kind of strip down to the bare minimum, but not their birthday suits. Fortunately, the Peace Tower Carillon playing room is heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. I do have guests in the room quite often, and then they can see if I’m making faces or commenting on what I just did or didn’t do. But down on the ground, they don’t know that.

How can you tell that there is a live human being in the tower?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: I tell my students there are ways you can prove that it’s a live human being playing up there. The first way is not recommended and that’s to make so many mistakes that you know a machine couldn’t do that. The second way is the way we have to do it, which is play such a variety of music so expressively that you know it’s not a machine. Now a lot of towers in this day and age also have video set-ups where people can actually see a monitor on the ground and watch the player. That’s kind of fun if they didn’t realize it’s a live human being and they can see how it’s played. It’s not ideal because there is a time lag and usually the monitor is too close to the tower. You need to be back from it to get the proper listening space.

We dream about doing something like that eventually on Parliament Hill, but that’s not going to happen in the near future with all the construction and so forth going on.

How do you interact with your audience members through your programming?

Dr. Andrea McCrady:You are carrying on a conversation with your audience in that you might program something they’ll recognize. So if they are just walking up to the Hill, they’ll stop in their steps and look up and say “I know that piece.” Maybe they’ll stay stopped till the end of the piece and maybe for the next piece. Maybe you’ll put something entirely different, like a carillon piece they wouldn’t recognize, but now they realize that it’s music and not a machine. So you can’t see them, they can’t see you, but you’ve carried out a conversation.

Is there standard repertoire for a Carillonneur? What are some of your favourite pieces to perform?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: The stock answer I give is O Canada. Every recital is opened with O Canada and thank goodness I think it’s a really nice national anthem and I enjoy playing it! My favourite music personally as a musician is music that is directly composed for the carillon because it takes full advantage of all the overtones and the possibilities and gives it its full voice and its full expression. It’s not that these pieces are going to be esoteric and not appeal to the audience though. The really successful ones are going to catch the audience’s interest. A lot of the music written for the carillon is very accessible. It’s not atonal or strange, modern music. So that’s my favourite genre really.

Do you ever do other arrangements of `O Canada’?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Oh, I have, not quite a drawer full, but I have O Canada in many different arrangements for many different keys. I use the arrangement I have right now number one, because it’s in the key of G, and our Bourdon which is striking the hour is the G so that “hum” is going on as I start O Canada and then we’re not fighting overtones, and then I can use the Bourdon at the end! And number two, it’s a very straightforward, immediately recognizable one—not too fancy. But I have one in the key of Bb, which is what I would play it in, in Toronto, because their carillon’s biggest bell is Bb. I have it in many different keys, some putting the melody in the pedal, and others doing fancy things with it.

A BIT OF PERSONAL HISTORY

You studied medicine and pursued carillonneur duties at St. Joseph’s Oratory at the same time. That’s like a double major in two difficult disciplines! What similarities can you draw between the two? How did you find time to do it?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: A lot of people notice that doctors have hobbies, often musical hobbies, and it’s a balance in your life between the science and the humanities and the music. Lots of people have their daytime profession, to which they are quite dedicated, and have what they enjoy at other times. Again, to keep them balanced. So there was no real difficulty, it was a joy to have that outlet at the Oratory when I was doing my medical studies at McGill. It continued to be my balance all the way through medicine.

What made you decide to leave your medical career and pursue your carillon studies?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Perhaps the balance was disappearing a little bit as I got older. Doing all-night hospital call was getting tougher and the pressures of the clinic were getting harder to do with paperwork and insurance work and so forth. I was never fortunate enough to get married and have children, but I really wanted to pass on my musical passion for this very different instrument to the next generation. I started thinking about going back to get further accreditation for teaching it. There are some marvelous carillons on University campuses both in Canada and all across North America. As those jobs came up, I kept thinking “Oh darn, I don’t qualify”. So I said when the time is right, maybe I’ll do that.

One of the other things that really pushed me towards it was I was on a plane headed to Boston for a medical meeting on 9/11. Fortunately, it was a plane that safely turned around and landed again. But as we all watched the horror of that day I said, “You never know what’s going to happen when not only your life, but the entire world’s life changes. I’ve got to really get at this.” At the time, I was looking after my mother, and after she passed in 2004, I said, “OK, I’ll get serious about this.” I didn’t necessarily want to leave medicine forever. As I mentioned, I was going to go half-time, but that’s when I decided to really seriously go back to it. I never dreamed that this would be where I’d land!

It made your decision easier?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Oh, it totally, I don’t want to say ratified the entire decision, but I could never have guessed that this was what would have happened. I mean, when you just come out from a Bachelor’s degree, who thinks that you are going to become the National Musician of your instrument and have a full time job. That’s very rare! I’ve been really, really lucky.

I guess the Guild members must have been jealous!

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Oh yeah.

 

OTTAWA

Andrea McCrady with RCMP officers at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill
What do you like about living in Ottawa?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: I love Ottawa. I’m so glad you asked that question. I really have lived all over the world, in many different-sized cities and I really like the size of Ottawa and the wonderful diversity of Ottawa. I think the CBC and the city uses this cliché: “The world in one city”, but it is true! I love the fact that it’s half French / half English. It’s a challenge. I love the diversity of languages, ethnic groups, and cuisine. I love the fact that it has so many musical festivals. There is absolutely no reason to be bored any time of the year on a weekend in Ottawa. I’m also an outdoors person, and it’s easy to get out to do things like skiing, skating, hiking, and canoeing and all those things that I love.

When do you have time?!
Dr. Andrea McCrady: See I’m very lucky, now I only have one job whereas before I had two. I was a family physician which is much more than a day job, plus on the weekends I was a church musician. I never had weekends free. Now I have my weekends free!! When I came here, the first year, all Canadians are so caring and communal and they were so worried because I didn’t have family in Ottawa. “What are you going to do on Christmas Day?” I looked at them and I said, “For the first time in 30 years, I’m neither on hospital duty, nor am I playing a church service… I am going to sleep in!!”

Back to Ottawa, I really love the diversity and the size.

What are some of the things you like doing around the National Capital?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: There are something like 29 museums?! I’ve been to almost all of them. I really enjoy going to the museums. I love all the music festivals. I don’t go enough, but I belong to the Ottawa Contra Dance Society (http://www.ottawacontra.ca). Contra dance is English, sort of a mix between country dancing and square dancing. It’s lots of fun. I sing in the NAC Chorus and there’s nothing more fabulous than singing in a fine vocal group behind a full symphony orchestra on the NAC stage. Isn’t that cool!? Lot’s of great things to do.

To someone visiting Ottawa for the first time, what places do you recommend they visit or see?

Dr. Andrea McCrady: Obviously the Parliament Buildings. But they all know that. It all depends of course, the time of year they’re here and how much time they have, or how mobile they might be. There are some great walks just within the space of Parliament Hill. If I have a person who is only here for a day or two, they can walk to the National Gallery and the Museum of Civilization. They can walk up and down Elgin Street and go to the NAC (National Arts Centre). I love the different neighbourhoods, Elgin, the Glebe, Westborough, Rockcliffe Park—you know all those fancy places. If they can go further afield, the Diefenbunker is really cool. Almonte and Perth are lovely little towns. If they are stuck without a car, the Bixi bikes are a great option in the summer. You can skate up and down the entire Canal in the winter. One of my favourite parts of Ottawa is the section of Carling Avenue (between Pinecrest and Bayshore) that I travel on my commute every day. In those few blocks are stores and restaurants from all over the world: Turkey, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, China, Italy, Lebanon, and the pedestrians’ garb reflects this too. A great cross-section of Ottawa’s diversity!

This interview was completed in August 2013. For more information about the Peace Tower Carillon, please visit their website http://www.parl.gc.ca/about/house/collections/carillon/dominion_carillonneurs_of_canada-e.htm to read more about the instrument, upcoming recitals/programmes, and the carillonneurs.


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