William Neil’s compositions present the listener with an intense brilliant effect (FANFARE MAGAZINE) and represents contemporary writing at its most intellectual probing (CHICAGO TRIBUNE). Brilliant composer! (SEVEN MAGAZINE)

William Neil, composer-pianist


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Composing a First Symphony

(The text was from the pre-concert talk that I gave at the premiere of Sinfonia delle Gioie by the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra on October 26th, 2015)

The late Chicago writer, Saul Bellow said that creating art is seeking to know the unconscious and truth that it holds.

I think we hold a lot of truth about ourselves and those that we love in our souls that yearns to be awakened.   We seek the illumination that art can cast upon the world.

For me the grand gestures of melody, rhythm, and sonority generated by an orchestra of 40 or more musicians under the spirited guide of its conductor, is one of the most glorious sounds that human beings can make in this world.  It has such power to conjure the messages from the unconscious realms deep within us. It has the power to convey the rich narratives of the human experience.

So, composing for an orchestra like the La Crosse Symphony is an incredible privilege.   

Composing is a mysterious journey that I undertake for each composition.  It has all of the elements of travel outside of one’s normal life and entails the same kind of preparation like answering the simple questions:

Where am I going?    How long will it take to get there?  How will I get there?  What should I take on this journey?  Can I change direction mid-stream?  How will I know when I have arrived?

These questions are all addressed in my studio.  A method of operation is laid out, a modus operandi if you will.  References are sought in the the volumes of notes books where I have captured musical ideas over the past 35 years.

It starts with a vision of where I want to go musically and what sounds will take me in that direction.

So the vision for this symphony in one movement was simply to honor the unexpected joys in my life that have triumphed over darkness.  That is why I have titled the work, Sinfonia delle Gioie, Symphony of Joys in Italian.  I chose to title it in Italian because  Italy has an important place in my early family days and my recent concert projects.  And the sound of the sallow flute was my guide in taking the first step in this direction.  Here is a simple natural instrument that has no holes or keys that creates sounds through over-blowing through the mouth piece.  When it is blown, it reveals the wondrous harmonic world that the universe has gifted to us. Indeed, this instrument traditionally accompanies the singing and dancing associated with important ceremonies like weddings and christenings.

So much of the music in this symphony was derived from the hours of imagining and orchestrating this sound. This is the fun and seductive part of composing that caused me for months to rise every morning at 5Am and lose myself in creation.

But then something magical happens:  the sounds that I create begins to resonate emotionally and spiritually within me.  I find myself singing and humming melodies that yearn to be orchestrated.  It is as if I am being drawn down into a deep meadow of sound at dusk and then, feeling my way through a rich forest of sonorities, I walk toward the light.   Halfway through the journey I feel this overwhelming pull to return to daylight.  And it is this desire for clarity and illumination that compels me to precisely notate a score that can be performed by a symphony orchestra.

And so, tonight I invite you to take this journey where I have travelled and share the joy that I have felt from being alive in this world.  William Neil

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In the Silence of Music


Article by Lucio Francesco Masci, appeared in Jemi (We are), an Arbëreshë / Italo-Albanian Website. Translation by Nick Ceramella

In the silence of music

A rare thing can be precious for its uniqueness, but also for its high expressive value, or for both reasons.
On Saturday 27 June 2015, in Santa Sofia d’Epiro (Shën Sofi), an Arbëreshë (Italo-Albanian) town in Calabria, Southern Italy, a rare, and perhaps unique event took place, William Neil’s Concerto Verde, Bianco, Rosso (Green, White, Red Concert).
Besides some of his own compositions, he played on the piano some works by Alexander Scriabin, Johann Sebastian Bach, Burt Bacharach-Hal David, and Tom Gullion. Each piece was thematically introduced by six of his poems which were masterly narrated by the Arbëreshë scholar Nick Ceramella, who also translated them into Italian.
The title of the recital, Verde Bianco, Rosso, ‘is above all a homage to Italy and its culture’, Mr Neil says. But in more personal terms, each colour represents a different aspect: green symbolizes the balance between past and present, white the purity of voice and Neil’s trust in his creativity instilled in his music and poems, and, lastly, red expresses the spontaneity which he cultivates in his piano improvisations.
As soon as the music starts, one is charmed, and virtually feels physically wrapped in it, so one has the sensation of getting absorbed into a whirl of notes. Meanwhile, the Being is poised in a state of pleasant relaxation in which one can hear the sound of silence until the whole experience becomes an agreeable dream. During this trip between sound and words, music and poetry, where poetry is also music and blends with it, one can see little by little, or rather hear, a wide variety of colours among which the most evident ones are the relaxing green, the spiritual white, and the creative red.
Mr Neil. this ecletic and peculiar musician-poet, who rejects any particular genre, though he finds himself in all of them, in agreement with the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, confirms that Art has no genres. He does not only offer his works, but also those of composers of different periods, whose artistry he touches on with great inventiveness and originality. Thus making us perceive that Pure Beauty is timeless and does not belong to any genre.
By going from the romantic Scriabin and passing to the experimental jazz player Tom Gullion one can catch, however slightly, conscious or unconscious hints at some contemporary musicians such as Cage, Piazzolla, Glass, Jarrett, which confirms that music is basically an extreme elevation of human beings and that there is no genre distinction.
Through his amazing performance at Santa Sofia, Neil has not only shown his great expressive ability and talent, but equally important, as everybody has certainly noticed, also the courage of humbleness, a feature our World badly needs nowadays.
Now I would like to close this review by thanking our fellow-villagers, Nick Ceramella for offering us the terrific opportunity to delight in William Neil’s music and poetry, and Demetrio Ceramella, promotor of this initiative financed by the local municipality.

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