Cecily Sheehy O.P.

Being Dominican

Cecily, we know that music flows from your soul and through your fingers.
We would love to know something about your musical journey.

When did your love for music begin?
It started at a very early age, singing Irish songs, and listening to my aunts and uncles singing around the piano. I remember at Teschemakers boarding school, aged 5, playing confidently with one finger, the tune “Don’t fence me in!”  The left hand mimicked the actions of a ‘stride bass’!

What is one of your earliest musical memories?
When I was ten years old and my father had re-married after my mother’s early death, our family moved back to our original home in Lawrence (central Otago). I was sent to the bedroom for something, and there, to my huge surprise and delight, stood a PIANO! Totally overwhelmed, tears filled my eyes.

Who was it that encouraged and nurtured your gift of music?
At the local convent school in Lawrence, I was given lessons from the Dominican sisters.
Sister M. Tarcisius was my first teacher, followed by Sister M. Clare, and I figured out how to play by ear.

As a boarder at St Dominic’s College in Dunedin, my first piano teacher there was Sister M. Aquinas, and then Sister M. Leonie, who will always have a warm and grateful place in my heart. When she heard me playing “Robin’s Return”, and “Remembrance”, her comment was, I believe, “If this girl can play those pieces, she can play Schubert” . . . . and so I grew to love Schubert, under her amazing tutelage. I did Grade 8 with Sr Leonie not long after that, and then later – ATCL and LTCL with Sisters M. Ceslaus and M. Gertrude, two wonderful teachers. By then, I had started learning violin, and finally, years later gained a Licentiate in that instrument.

At one stage in my life I went around all our larger convents and found in attics and crypts and cellars quite a number of violins, (signs of a past of gifted violin teachers).  They were all repaired by a wonderful man in Invercargill, Mr Stewart, after which I distributed them around our secondary schools, and taught various groups of students through the years.
While in Invercargill, in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, taking the upper school at St Teresa’s for singing was a highlight in my life at that time. Those beautiful children – how they could sing!
I later played for the Primary Schools’ Choral festival, and then conducted two or three of these festivals.  This happened in Dunedin too, and later in Oamaru and Auckland.  Great fun!

What creativity did you experience when you were linked with the ‘‘Family Living Programme?’’
In the late 1970s and ‘80s when I came to live in Auckland, I became part of the Religious Education Team, and worked with Father Con Kiernan and Mr John O’Brien on the Family Living Programme which aimed at educating adults and parents in their faith.  The goal was that families would take responsibility for nurturing their children’s faith. My work was to paste-up, lay-out and do illustrations (pre-computers can you believe!) for our monthly magazine.  I was asked to find a song on the month’s theme and include it in the magazine. Finding a suitable song on the theme, and then working out copyright permission was so daunting that I decided it would be much easier to write a song . . . . So I did, every month for about six years.

What has the opportunity to compose music meant to you?
It has meant a great deal.  In 1994, I was encouraged to do a music degree.  The Dominican Order supported me in doing this, part-time, and in 2000 I graduated with a B. Mus., majoring in Composition at the Music School in Auckland.
Since then I have written a string quartet, and a violin fantasia for Sister Mary Horn’s art exhibitions in Oamaru.  I have often written pieces for my music students in the lower grades, and a book of duets for two young pianists.  More recently, my friend Philippa Gravatt and I have written a duet book with a ‘Kiwi’ flavour for early grade flautists.
In the ‘90s, I was part of the NZ Hymn Book Trust, and during those years a number of my hymns were accepted for the various hymn books that the Trust has produced.
I love writing songs (music and words), and one area of interest has been writing a song for our four-yearly Dominican Sisters’ Chapters.  I think there are five or six of these now.  The sisters inspire me, and our collective work for the chapter seizes something creative in me. . . . and the music and the lyrics simply ‘take off’, not denying, however, the agony as well as the ecstasy!

What of your compositions do you most like?
That’s hard to say.  ‘The Violin Fantasia’ on Mary Horn’s painting of the braided Waitaki River would be one.  ‘The Silencing of the Rain Forest’ (string quartet) speaks of the despoiling of Mother Earth and concern for the future of life on our Planet.  After returning from ‘Culture and Creation Spirituality’ with Matthew Fox in California, I wrote ‘Beautiful Blue-Green Planet’, including ten or more songs with a focus on the beauty and fragility of Earth and its creatures.

As a conclusion, is there anything else you want to add, Cecily?
I am very grateful for the gift of a ‘good ear’, and the ability to play several instruments.
Through the years I have had the opportunity to introduce children and adults to the piano, violin, flute, recorder, guitar and ukulele. That has been such a delight in my life, and I am truly grateful.  For all my teachers and mentors and those who have appreciated my music, I am also very thankful. I salute them with a magnificent “Emperor Concerto” C major arpeggiated chord!