Cecilia Cavaye 


Cecilia Christina Cavaye

musician, teacher and expert on Edinburgh

Born: 4 December, 1942, in Edinburgh

Died: 19 July, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 66


Cecilia Cavaye was born in Edinburgh and was the only child of the late Councillor James Stanley Cavaye and his wife Beatrice Hannah McKenna.  She lived all her life in the same house in Portobello.

Cecilia Cavaye was a true child of both her parents.  From her father, she took her interests in literature and history and an ability to expound matters in a clear and logical style.  From her mother, however, she took, not only her musical interests and abilities, but also a certain sense of drama, which made any talk she gave, whether in the classroom or the lecture hall, something much more than a mere recital of dry facts.

She was christened Cecilia Christina after both her grandmothers.  Cecilia McKenna was her maternal grandmother and Christina Cavaye her paternal one.  However, as her life was to show, the choice by her mother of the name Cecilia was to prove prophetic.

Cecilia was educated from the age of 5 at James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, then one of the finest of a number of fine Edinburgh schools.  Although then owned and ultimately controlled by Edinburgh Corporation, it made no bones about selecting on merit and striving to educate for academic excellence.  Cecilia thrived in the academic and musical atmosphere of Gillespies.   Gillespies had of course in an earlier generation educated Dame Muriel Spark and there was perhaps always just a touch of the better aspects of Miss Jean Brodie about Cecilia’s teaching and lecturing style.

She showed early signs of musical ability, strongly encouraged by her mother, herself a keen amateur pianist and occasional composer.  At school, Cecilia became Dux of Music as well as achieving general academic distinction. She was already progressing in her music and in particular on the piano, which she studied with two leading teachers, Miss Edna Lovell and Dr Colin Kingsley.  She also studied the violin with Miss Edna Arthur of the Waddell School.  In the Sixth Form she determined to enter Edinburgh University Music Faculty, then at a high point with many distinguished members of staff.

Cecilia sat the entrance examination for the Reid School and came out top student, winning the Guthrie Watson Scholarship.  The Reid School, from which she graduated as Bachelor of Music in 1964 with honours in 1965, had an enduring influence on Cecilia.  She particulary remembered Dr Mary Grierson, the biographer of Sir Donald Tovey.  Cecilia was imbued with the idea of music as an intellectual discipline.

Cecilia then embarked on a career as a free-lance pianist and music teacher.  However, she combined her musical abilities with a genuine and deep interest in teaching young people and after two years realized that she was called to be a school teacher.  Accordingly in 1967, she returned to study this time at Edinburgh’s famous Moray House College of Education.  Honours graduates traditionally had a somewhat ambivalent attitude to having to go to Moray House before they could teach, but Cecilia accepted it and obtained the necessary teaching diploma.

Her first job was at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, where she was greatly influenced by the head of the Music Department, Douglas Tees.  Cecilia very much enjoyed working with her boys at Robert Gordon’s. She had however kept up her musical interests in Edinburgh.  She became the Musical Director of the Melville Musical Hall, among other activities.  Perhaps because of that, she never completely settled in Aberdeen.  Accordingly, after three years she returned to work in Edinburgh, teaching for a term at Craigmount, before being appointed Assistant Teacher of Music at George Watson’s Ladies’ College.  In 1975, the girls’ school in George Square amalgamated with the boys in Colinton Road.  Cecilia accordingly could go back to teaching boys, as well as girls, and she remained at Watsons for the rest of her teaching career.  In 1989, Cecilia was appointed Assistant Principal Teacher of Music with particular responsibility for Junior Music, although she also worked with senior students.  In 1995, she retired early to look after her parents and to teach privately. 

Her work over 20 years at Watsons was outstanding. Perhaps the thing of which she was proudest was the creation and training of the Senior String Quartet, a very great achievement for a musician whose primary instrument was the piano.  The Senior String Quartet won through to the finals of the National Chamber Music Competition for schools in February 1990, where they played the extremely demanding first movement of the Shostakovich String Quartet No 2.  After winning two preliminary rounds, they were chosen to represent Scotland and the North of England in the Finals Concert at St John’s, Smith Square.  The Finals Concert is not a competition as such, all of the performers having won through to that stage being regarded as winners in their own right.  However, Cecilia could not forbear from pointing out that the Watsons Quartet was the only ensemble recalled to the platform to acknowledge what she described as a “sustained ovation”!  Thereafter, the Quartet represented the cultural side of Watsons on a tour to Canada with the sports teams, and performed 12 recitals there.  It is of course difficult to find in a busy non-specialist school four string players of appropriate and equivalent abilities to form a quartet.  However, she was able to form another group a few years later and this also achieved considerable success, once again winning through to the finals in London, this time playing Dvorăk and being invited to play at a number of prestigious occasions, including a dinner given at Holyroodhouse  by the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly.

Outstanding as her work with the quartets was, this was far from all that Cecilia achieved at Watsons.  She taught, accompanied, conducted orchestras and generally made a substantial contribution to the musical life of the school.  It has also to be said that she was an extremely popular teacher with all the pupils.  She was of course a fine musician and a good teacher, but she had something extra – that touch of character which makes a teacher stand out in the memories of her students.  Cecilia had that in abundance and she is fondly remembered by many Watsonians and many of her former colleagues.  Around this time, she also did much work particularly at the Festival accompanying distinguished musicians in rehearsals.  Cecilia was always a very fine accompanist.

She had many other interests, but one that must be mentioned is her love of Edinburgh.  She was a committed member of Council of the Old Edinburgh Club and took part in the arrangements for the Club’s Centenary Conference in November 2008, which sadly she was not able to attend through illness.  Perhaps her father’s greatest gift to the City of Edinburgh was his discovery of the unique collection of 453 photographic slides taken by the Victorian photographer Thomas Begbie.  Stanley Cavaye recognized the importance of these when they were about to be destroyed, preserved them over many years and presented them to the City, where they are now kept in the Edinburgh Room of the Central Library.  He was well known for his illustrated lectures on the slides, which he gave on many occasions over the years. Cecilia followed her father and gave many lectures on the slides.  She was preparing a new book on them when her final illness overtook her.  She was also much in demands for lectures on other Edinburgh subjects, including the Royal Mile, the New Town and the history of St Cecilia’s Hall, which combined her love of Edinburgh and of music.


Cecilia was a devoted member of Old St Paul’s Episcopal Church.  She enjoyed the music there and gained real spiritual comfort at the church, where she took an active part in the services.  She also gained much practical support from members of the congregation during her last illness.

All the above may tend to give the impression of a rather solemn intellectual and artistic figure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Cecilia Cavaye was an attractive and very vivacious dark-haired woman, who loved company and liked nothing better than a convivial chat with a gin and tonic and preferably a dispute about politics or some local issue such as the trams or the Scottish Parliament, on both of which she had very strong views.  She never married, but she enjoyed male company.  In 1972, she purchased a red Triumph Spitfire sports car, which remained one of her prized possessions until her death.  At school and in many other places, she cut a striking figure in Delilah, as she christened it, and many will remember it well.

Cecilia Cavaye with Delilah   

After her retiral, Cecilia looked after both her parents with real devotion.  Her father did not die until 2004 and all her friends hoped she would then have many years of happy retirement.  However, she only had about three years before she was diagnosed with the illness which eventually killed her.  At the end, she died in the loving and patient care of St Columba’s Hospice.  She is mourned by a large number of cousins, and hundreds of ex-pupils, their parents and many dear friends, in whose lives her passing has left a gap.


Cecilia Cavaye 
Portobello, Edinburgh
1964Cecilia Cavaye
Leith, Edinburgh

Cecilia at Cavaye family gatherings in 1964 and 2000






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