April 26 2017 01:11 PM

Meridian Community Band premieres piece composed by local high school student

Had Meridian Community Band music director Tom Gillette not stood behind the Neeleys at a train station in Chicago, they might not have struck up a conversation. Had they not done so, then 16-year-old Ancel “Fitz” Neeley might not have shared his music with him.

“I was just at a point picking music for the spring concert, looking for composers, and his piece stood out,” Gillette said. “It was every bit as good as something that I was looking for, which was something more contemporary. It matched up very well with things that are published and sold for school bands, so I asked him if he would mind.”

Friday night, the Meridian Community Band’s spring concert, “An American Sampler,” will feature a world premiere of “Fantasy for Wind Ensemble” by the now 17-year-old DeWitt High School student. Stylistically, Neeley describes the four- minute piece as a journey for the audience to interpret.

“It starts kind of foreboding.

It’s not dark, but it’s slow, and it’s implying that something’s going to happen,” Neeley said. “It just takes the original motif, which is done in a sax solo in the very beginning, and it takes its own melody played by every different instrument back and forth at forth at a faster tempo.”

Gillette said the piece draws back on Neeley’s background as a percussionist in the DeWitt High School band. He also noted that independent study and private music lessons have helped him develop as a composer.

“I’ve always been very encouraging of young composers, because if we aren’t, our art dies,” Gillette said. “I’ve heard a lot of other things from young composers that are fairly immature.”

Gillette sensed Neeley’s passion and held him to a professional standard. He requested some alterations to the piece to better fit his ensemble.

“He came through,” Gillette said. “He’s very talented as a composer, and the output of the printed stuff was really outstanding.”

This might be because Neeley has some experience. He’s been composing for six years now, since he was 11, when he wrote his first piece for band. But his family saw signs of his musical inclinations even earlier.

When Neeley was a child, his mother would frequently play him videos of “Baby Einstein,” a classical music-driven children’s show, and he would draw pictures of the instruments. Years later, during a family trip to Washington, D.C., the interest in music cropped up again.

“I had Pricelined a hotel, and we got a room that was really disgusting so we asked to be moved,” said Concha Neeley, Ancel Neeley’s mother. “The only room they had was a big suite in a really old portion of the hotel, and it had a piano. We were checking out the room, and started hearing music. We thought that someone had turned the radio on, but this 9-year-old kid had sat down and was playing the piano.”

Immediately after the trip, Ancel Neeley received his first keyboard. He spent hours experimenting with creating sound.

“I’d hear it in my head, and I’d sit down and hit the keys,” Neeley said. “If it was the right one I’d know ‘Alright, that’s the right key’ and I’d do that until I got the full melody.”

Neeley said he aims to continue his composition work and hopes to turn it into a career.

“I started with band pieces, that’s my niche, that’s where I compose most of my stuff, and I do hope to branch out into chamber and orchestra maybe,” Neeley said. “I hope to be somewhere in the middle of composition, performance and education, because they all fit together.

They have a symbiotic relationship.”

“An American Sampler” Meridian Community Band 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 28 $10/$9 seniors/FREE for students and children MacDonald Middle School 1601 Burcham Drive, East Lansing, meridiancommunityband.org