The melody of bells chiming over Parliament Hill Monday rang in the start of a shiny, new career for a former medical doctor: Andrea McCrady is Canada's new dominion carilloneur.
"I've been a doctor all my life and basically on call and now I'm on call for the bells and that's a different stress level," said McCrady before her debut concert. McCrady takes over the carilloneur's job from Gordon Slater, who retired in June after 31 years.
At noon, she played her first 15-minute concert on the Peace Tower's set of bells or carillon, beginning traditionally with O Canada and later performing a piece by her former teacher, Ronald Barnes, whom she calls the godfather of the carillon.
Outside, listeners said the music was "wonderful" but were disappointed that it was unusually muted.
McCrady blamed that on a broken speaker system that helps her judge the sound. When working, the system allows her to hear the bells inside the cabin where she plays the keyboard that controls them. But on Monday it wasn't working, meaning she couldn't hear her own music and had to guess at the volume from the feel.
"I will get a better idea and produce a little more volume as the days go on," she said. "I don't want to pound the bells. This is a musical instrument. It's not just a machine."
McCrady heard in February that the government of Canada was holding an international competition for a new dominion carilloneur. She received the job offer a few weeks after a 30-minute anonymous audition in July.
Her response was "sort of an 'Oh my God' reaction," she recalled. The offer came with the prospect of a major life change, but she decided the opportunity to make music at Canada's houses of Parliament was too exciting to pass up, she said.
"Of course, its setting is magnificent," she said.
Started playing carillon in 1971
McCrady has been playing carillon since 1971, and has been the carilloneur at a number of cathedrals in Canada and the U.S.
But she said Slater's shoes will be hard to fill as she works the bells with her feet and fists via a large keyboard.
"I don't possess the same skill as my predecessor," she said. "He's very adept at improvisation."
McCrady studied medicine at McGill University in the 1970s and worked for 18 years as a family doctor in Spokane, Wash. Two years ago, she quit her practice to study music at the University of Denver.
McCrady gets ready for her musical performances on a practice keyboard in the carilloneur's office in the East Block of Parliament.
She said she will begin each performance with O Canada but the rest of each concert program is up to her, within reason.
"I don't want to dishonour the prestige of this instrument," she said.
She added that she is known for playing ragtime, finds jazz interesting on the carillon and has performed pieces by Miles Davis.