The Current

Dominion Carillonneur ready to play one last chime before Peace Tower renovation

For 14 years, Dr. Andrea McCrady has been playing melodies on the Peace Tower's carillon. But Friday will be her last performance for the next few years, as both the Peace Tower and the carillon get set to undergo renovations.

Dr. Andrea McCrady hopes people will 'listen, smile, think about it and just enjoy'

Dr. Andrea McCrady, Dominion Carillonneur, sits in front of the keyboard she uses to play music from the Peace Tower's carillon on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Friday will be her last performance for the next few years, as the carillon goes dormant due to construction, both on the Peace Tower and on the carillon itself. (Roberta Gal/Public Services and Procurement Canada)

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Update, Feb. 18, 2022: On Friday morning, as police began making arrests in downtown Ottawa, Speaker Anthony Rota tweeted that the planned Peace Tower recital has been cancelled. The original story follows below.

The honking horns coming from the truckers' convoy in downtown Ottawa have made life a little challenging for Dr. Andrea McCrady. But she said the loud noise is something she's used to.

"My life as Dominion Carillonneur has been accompanied by lots of noise on [Parliament Hill] over the last 13 years, whether it's protests or celebrations or lots of construction noise," she told CBC Radio. "So I deal with it."

Since 2008, McCrady has been the creative mind behind the music emanating from the Peace Tower. From her workspace in the tower, she's played everything from O Canada to Puff the Magic Dragon on the carillon's 53 bells.

But Friday will be her last performance for the next few years, as the carillon goes dormant due to construction, both on the Peace Tower and on the carillon itself.

"Carillon is turning 95 this year, and like any 95-year-old, it needs some upkeep," McCrady said. "Some of the bells, the smallest bells, are going to be taken out because their clappers need to be replaced.

"All of this work, we sincerely hope, will be finished well before the Peace Tower and its carillon turn 100, which will be July 1, 2027."

LISTEN | Dr. Andrea McCrady talks to Ottawa Morning about her plans for Friday's program:
The Dominion Carillonneur is playing a series of noontime recitals all week to celebrate the Peace Tower Carillon before it goes silent for renovations.

From doctor to carillonneur

Originally from Pittsburgh, McCrady first began playing the carillon in 1971, as an undergraduate at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

"That instrument, which you could hear all over campus, was played by a student club."

She said she "went up the tower and was just completely captivated by the beautiful sound of the bells."

That initial captivation led her to study the carillon in Europe while on a fellowship in 1975-76.

McCrady then came to Canada in 1976 to study medicine at McGill University in Montreal, where she was carillonneur at Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal. Her passion for the instrument continued during her residency in Toronto. While training in family practice at St. Michael's Hospital, she played at the University of Toronto and the Canadian National Exhibition.

Back in the United States to practise family medicine, McCrady co-ordinated the carillon program from 1990-2008 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash.

Some of the Peace Tower bells that McCrady plays. She uses a special keyboard connected to the bells through a wire transmission system to play everything from O Canada to Puff the Magic Dragon. (House of Commons)

But it was upon her retirement in 2006 that McCrady took her playing to the next level, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor of music degree from the University of Denver in 2008.

That same year, Gordon Slater, the Peace Tower's previous Dominion Carillonneur, retired. An international competition was announced soon after to find his replacement, and she entered.

"I said, 'Geez, this isn't going to come up as an opportunity again in my lifetime.' And lo and behold, I won the competition," said McCrady, who is an instructor in the first carillon studies program in Canada, at Carleton University in Ottawa.

A dream come true

As Dominion Carillonneur, McCrady says that one of the biggest parts of her job was designing daily programs that were not only interesting but reflected the tone of the country on a particular occasion, such as Remembrance Day and the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

"That is a great responsibility, to try to represent in music what Canada may be trying to express as well," she said.

McCrady holds the sheet music to Silent Night as she sits at the carillon in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in December 2014. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

McCrady says she also takes great pride in playing music that represents all Canadians, with the national anthem ranking at the top.

"People often ask me, 'What's your favourite piece to play?' And I'm not being flippant when I say O Canada,' she said. "It is such a privilege to play O Canada and open every recital with it."

In a statement obtained by the CBC, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota, called McCrady's music "transcendent" and reflective of the vision that architect John Andrew Pearson had for the Peace Tower.

"During the happiest and most painful times of our nation, Dr. McCrady gave voice to our emotions," the statement said. "Through her artistic talents, her compassion and her love of music, she has not only marked our history, but also told our stories, no matter where we come from."

I always had considered Canada my second home, and once I landed in Ottawa, I said, 'It's now my first home.'-Dr. Andrea McCrady

Although she had lived and studied in Canada for many years, McCrady wasn't actually a Canadian citizen when she took on the role of Dominion Carillonneur. But she was determined to get it.

"It was my dream that on some Canada Day, I would play O Canada on the Peace Tower and then come down on the ground and swear in as a Canadian citizen," she said.

That dream came true on July 1, 2017, Canada's 150th birthday. After playing O Canada on the carillon, she marched down the steps of the Peace Tower and took her citizenship oath on Parliament Hill during a special afternoon ceremony.

It was a "fabulous" experience, she said. "I always had considered Canada my second home, and once I landed in Ottawa, I said, 'It's now my first home.'"

WATCH | Dr. Andrea McCrady receives her Canadian citizenship: 

Andrea McCrady's citizenship ceremony

6 years ago
Duration 0:39
Canada's Dominion Carillonneur, Andrea McCrady, celebrates her new Canadian citizenship during a ceremony on Parliament Hill on Canada Day.

A positive farewell

McCrady will not retire when the carillon goes on hiatus. Instead, she'll be working with a practice keyboard from a second office — which is not in the tower — to maintain her skills and a "huge library of carillon music."

"We're going to be digitizing these ... and uploading them on our website to share the carillon while the Peace Tower's not being heard," she said.

In the meantime, McCrady says she hopes listeners will enjoy the program she has prepared for Friday's send-off, which will include music representing all Canadians and a personal retrospective.

"What I'm trying to do is engage in a positive way, in a peaceful way," she said. "I'm hoping people on the ground will stop, listen, smile, think about it and just enjoy."


Written by Mouhamad Rachini, with files from Ottawa Morning. Produced by Kate Cornick.

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