Fay-Ellen Schaw, ATDNZ, AIRMT

Fay-Ellen Schaw, front left
The tremendous contribution of Fay-Ellen Schaw to the accordion and her country was officially recognised in 1990 when she was awarded The New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal by the Governor General, as the Queens representative, for services to NZ.

Born a farmer's daughter, she started piano lessons at eight years of age but after hearing an accordion band at the picture theatre in the local town of Putaruru, she responded positively to her father when he offered to buy an accordion for her.

She was firstly taught by Mr Greenaway and then later by Gerry Schmits when he commenced teaching in Putaruru. At fifteen years of age Fay travelled to Hamilton for lessons and practice with the Con Brio Accordion Orchestra, during this time she also entered and won the New Zealand Virtuoso and Open Solo Championships. Then came the decision to move to Auckland for lessons with Allan William Jones.

Several years of concentrated practice and study bought Fay to where she along with Harley Jones represented New Zealand at the 1969 Coupe Mondiale International Accordion Championships in New York. This was to introduce them to a wider world of accordionists and accordion activities, solo and orchestra, and shortly after her return to NZ, Fay, with support from the Jones family, established the Major Musicale Accordion Orchestra.

A year later in 1971 she spent several months in Los Angeles studying with Anthony Galla-Rini. On her return Fay commenced full-time teaching and directing the orchestras she established. The orchestras were later incorporated as the North Shore Accordion Orchestra in 1976, and later the Air New Zealand Accordion Orchestra with co-directors Harley Jones and Heather Masefield.

In 1977, an overseas tour for the orchestra was first contemplated. This became a reality in 1979 and has continued on a regular basis ever since with 9 International Concert Tours by the Air New Zealand Accordion Orchestra, which is one of nine orchestras that Fay has the responsibility of managing.

Fay's enthusiastic personality and ability to transmit the atmosphere of many types of music to an orchestra, set her apart as an outstanding world class accordion orchestra conductor.

The Air New Zealand Accordion Orchestra owes much of their outstanding overseas success to her inspiring leadership and conducting, a quality which is equally evident when she conducts other orchestras. Her organisation of overseas concert tours further demonstrates her superb organisational ability.

Fay has developed a graded Music Appreciation Course for three to eight year olds. Her Junior Instrumental group tuition introduces pre-schoolers to the accordion and has proved most successful. Using small, light accordions, these young children give their items at concerts to the obvious delight of the audience and especially their parents.

With membership of the Accordion Examination Board of New Zealand since its inception and also lending support as a committee member on the New Zealand Accordion Association Fay is one of the strongest supporters and a driving force for the accordion in NZ.

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