Smart Neille knows how to be seen and heard

Composer and performer Neille Williams… “I like concert bands, I am first and foremost a clarinetist. I sometimes play sax and nowadays I play jazz more and more.”

WHEN Canberra-based composer and performer Neille Williams both won first prizes in the Australian Women’s Wind Band Composition Award for two original pieces, it was a coup not only for the Lyneham native, but also for the Canberra art scene.

The conductor of the John Agnew Band, clarinetist in the Canberra City Band and lead singer of the big band Spectrum, is also a teacher, published author, blogger and mother of two lively boys. She’s not resourceful.

Daughter of renowned Sydney jazz player Tom Williams and a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with a degree in music composition. She worked in Sydney as a musician and singer, performing with musicians such as Jon English and Natalie Bassingthwaighte, before moving to Canberra in 2013.

As a child, she tells me, she spent many long hours in the light box, looking at her father from a distance. “He then picked up his girl and his instruments and brought them home – it influenced me a lot,” she says.

Here in Canberra, the scene becomes more alive and she points out with relief at the recent explosion of activity.

“There is still covid and a lot of cancellations, but the music community is active.”

Like many writers and composers, she found solace and productivity in solitude and Williams took the opportunity to write two pieces that won her the Australian Women’s Wind Band Composition Award, which, supported by the Queensland Wind Orchestra, is the brainchild of Rachel Howley , from Maestro’s on a Mission.

Her winning pieces were judged through a “blind” judging process and were “Concerto for Egg Shaker” for young players in Category 1 and “Scary Clown Theme” in the more advanced Category 2.

The award includes performances of both works, but as music students at Brisbane’s Grace Lutheran College got ready for the premiere of “Concerto for Egg Shaker,” covid struck, so that’s all on hold.

Composing music and writing literature can be considered an unusual combination and Williams, a paid member of the ACT Writers Center, has also achieved exceptional success in the second field.

“I’ve always been a good writer and worked at an advertising agency for a short time, so I’ve developed good writing skills,” she says.

“While music is my main career…I found an income stream that was writing a bit. When the lockdown came, I wrote some blogs, brushed up stories and my writing took off again. I got second prize in 2021 in the International Human Rights Art Festival literary category for my story ‘The Light and the Shade’. It’s something different that happened and I’m very happy.”

Lately, she earns most of her income through her website, nwilliamscreative.comon which she declares herself “quite proud”, with which she sells music band arrangements.

In the evenings she performs with Spectrum and finds time to lead her own jazz quintet, Nice Work If You Can Get It, which can be seen regularly in venues such as Molly’s and Hippo.

Her day job is as the musical director of the John Agnew Band, part of a Canberra City Band adult entertainment and development band.

“We do a lot of cool performances and have a lot of fun at places like the Floriade,” she says.

“I like concert bands, I’m mainly a clarinetist. I sometimes play sax and nowadays I play jazz more and more.”

As for her grand prize, it’s a fairly new initiative: “It really champions diversity in both composing and conducting and I’ve come across a lot of sexism in both…and with the organization called Maestros with a Mission, I thought : ‘ I go for it’.

“I’m really into writing things for kids and I love seeing the little people create, and in my ‘Concerto for Egg Shaker’ I proved that it can be comedic and fun.

“’Scary Clown Theme’ is a work I love and the idea that clowns are funny but a little scary has interested me for a long time.

“Kids joke about it, but they’re interested.

“I believe my composition shows the laughing clown side, but has an undercurrent of ghostliness. I think I did that very well.”

So, what instruments evoke fear? I ask.

“I think that each individual instrument can be used in both a dark and a light way,” she says.

“People think the lower registers are dark and ghostly, but I think any instrument can be used that way.”

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