Biography - The Early Years

Portrait of Erik Chisholm

One of Scotland's most outstanding composers, Erik Chisholm was born at 2 Balmoral Villas, Cathcart into a family in comfortable circumstances, owning a car and running their own home cinema. When they moved to 28 Corrour Road, Newlands,they added an extra story to hold a full-size billiard table. Chisholm's father, who was a master painter, ran the family firm; his mother had been a singer. "My mother is a McLeod, thus giving me descent from two Highland clans", he wrote proudly.

Erik was the middle of three brothers. He had buck teeth, poor eyesight, suffered from migraines and was not strong. His mother once declared that "you could blow peas through Erik's ribs". But he overcame these disadvantages and behaved like many another little boy, playing "kick the can, ringing doorbells or tying opposite door knobs together. and pushing younger and weaker lads into beds of stinging nettles".

At Queen's Park Secondary School "Our mistress was a Miss Polly White who during a rehearsal by Class 1a. of which I was a rebellious pupil, of "A hundred pipers and a' and a" said to me,' Erik do please stop singing. You are dragging the whole class out of tune".

Whatever Miss White's opinion of his singing, Erik left school at 13 to study at the Glasgow Athenaeum School of Music (now the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) and was taught organ by Herbert Walton, and piano by Philip Halstead. he also gave a performance at a British Music Society concert of one of his own works - a piano sonatina. He then travelled to Hull to study composition with a Dr. Eaglefield, performing the Liszt Piano Concerto in public aged only 17. Still in his teens, he went to London and Cornwall, studying piano with Leff Pouishnoff, living with the Pouishnoff family and composing when he was not practising.

In 1926, Chisholm took up posts as organist and choirmaster at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and music master at Pictou Academy in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. But old Glasgow, and an appointment at the United Free Church of St Matthews, soon called him home. He put on a concert for the Spanish Society, and he also began to study with Professor Donald Tovey towards his M Mus (1931) and D Mus (1934).

Chisholm Tartan
McLeod Tartan
Programme for school concert involving the schoolboy Erik
Erik's parents. Elizabeth and John, with a family friend in the centre
Professor Donald Tovey at his home "Hedenham Lodge", August 1935
The Spanish Society Programme