When Maggie Jackson speaks, it’s as though she is singing. The words ripple and frolic. There’s the Irish lilt and a pause, followed by the tumble of soft, dancing words. Her bright blue eyes sparkle, her hands elaborate and her smile welcomes you into her world.
We catch up for coffee in the little country town of Maldon, here in Central Victoria. It’s an old gold mining town with beautifully restored buildings, a wide main street and cafes aplenty.
We hug. I sit. Coffee is ordered. Maggie starts to talk about music and her life as a professional musician. I’m immersed in another world. Her words spill out, chasing each other, rich in metaphor and imagery. I scramble to keep up. In a pause, I take a breath and while scratching out notes my mind does cartwheels in the rich, lyrical imagery and the story being told. This is wonderful but what about my questions…..? The structure…..? I take a deep breath. Then I sit back and relax. This is Maggie’s story. She will guide the conversation where it needs to go. You don’t need and Q and A structure here. Maggie is a natural storyteller and performer…she needs no help to let the words flow………Your role, I tell myself, is to be still, present and soak up the richness and beauty of her stories. It’s a gift she is giving me.
Maggie says that music is the language of giving. At a recent workshop she told students that “music is not a series of chord progressions. It’s the unique sound of my voice- my sound.” She talks about storytelling in song.” Voices are like colouring in the story.” Maggie talks of the book she has written, A Woven Cloth of Life – memories of growing up in an Irish family of 4 sisters and 8 brothers and our conversation turns to family life.
Maggie is in her 70’s now and has been married to Bill for 51 years.” I still see the boy in him.” Retirement is not in her vocabulary and never once does she mention older age or this later stage of life. It’s just LIFE without any need for metrics or defining stages. She composes music, performs, writes, and runs a B&B, records music and travels overseas to perform. But back to her childhood…….
Maggie was born in Ireland and at the age of 3 the family migrated to Australia. “There were 6 of us then and a big black trunk with a white shamrock painted on it.” It was a musical family. Dad was an Irish tenor and her mother had a beautiful singing voice and wrote as well. What did her family teach her? Maggie smiles and the love for her family is potent. “Hard work, having a responsibility to truth and standing on top of the hill against the wind.” She was a spirited child and saw things totally differently from other children. At 19 years old and firmly convinced she wanted to be a nun.She even spent a week living in a convent but she knew straight away a different career path called!
Maggie’s family went professional. The O’Dowd family Showband produced 2 LP’s, appeared on TV specials and concerts all over Australia including the Myer Music Bowl and the Arts Centre in Melbourne.. After some years Maggie went solo and as she says explored different “rooms” of music- Celtic, Jazz and Classical. She has made 7 CD’s and 3 of them went on to be the ABC CD of the week. She’s also made 2 DVD’s.
Maggie recorded The Gershwin Affair CD live at Mietta’s restaurant in Melbourne. This was the scene of many wonderful music events. Her son Michael, wrote all the arrangements and played piano and double bass on the CD.
Maggie recently returned from playing in New York. (Check out the YouTube clip below.)
I ask Maggie about life in these years. She says “You’ve only got this minute. You’ve got to find the best in you. You don’t know what’s coming around the corner.” She mentions love and God in her conversation and I want to explore this more. Her belief in God is woven into the fabric of her life. The power of love and God means that “I don’t have to carry this life on my own.” I ask whether she belongs to any particular church or creed. “I own my own spirt “she says smiling. “ It’s the ministry of the heart.”
I ask her about the things she wants to do with her life. Her story of the future includes orchestrating her own compositions, (“Trusting my fingers”), finishing 3 books, and inspiring young musicians through her workshops. “They are the flowers of the forest.” Maggie also wants to take every opportunity to travel and play overseas and pursue collaborations with other musicians.” Just open the door and let the breeze blow through. Something is created if you let go.”
Our coffee was finished a long time ago but I am holding on to the cup as I am trying to hold on to every word, knowing our conversation needs to close down and the rest of life calls…..
“Music for me is a window to the soul. I thank God for the ability to look through that window and to be able to express what I see through music.”
It’s time to move on. I feel so blessed to know Maggie and hold this conversation in my thoughts and in my heart for time to come. Perhaps she did become a musician AND a nun after all!