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News and notes from the world of classical music.

Meet Fitz, 16 year-old composer from DeWitt

Jamie Paisley
Composer and Percussionist Ancel Neeley rehearsing his piece with the Meridian Community Band

This Friday, the Meridian Community Band will play a concert of All-American composers. One of those composers, will be playing in the percussion section, after he’s finished going to High School in DeWitt. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley got to meet a remarkable 16 year old yesterday: Ancel Neeley, but everybody calls him 'Fitz.'

"My first piece I ever wrote," says Ancel 'Fitz' Neely "I wrote it out on paper first and it was for Concert Band. Which is kind of a---, most, like, you'd think you'd start pretty low and then move up to that, but I didn't see the logic in not doing that, so I just started with Concert Band."

That piece which Fitz Neeley will be debuting with the Meridian Community Bandis simply called Fantasy. This very local performance came about through a chance meeting in Chicago at the yearly  Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference… but Fitz needed a little nudge.

"My mom's a lot more social than I am, but we had gotten into the habit of seeing people dress nice, walking around and assuming they were music educators or conductors. And so, he was standing right behind us in our train station and my mom just started talking to him. We figured out he was a conductor and so I started sharing some of my pieces, very timidly. I showed him this band piece and he mentioned that he was the conductor of the Meridian Community Band, and we lived fairly near there [in] DeWitt, DeWitt, Michigan. So we live fairly near here. We saw the opportunity and Tom [Gillette of the Meridian Community Band] was nice enough to immediately pick up the piece and offer to play it."

"There we were! And the stuff looked good" remembers Tom Gillette. "It was very mature from what I could see, it hung together very well formally and his mother and he shared a little bit about his background. Right now he's currently studying at the Community Music School. He's been doing that for a few years, so he's very serious about it. Not only that, but he was courteous and polite and that counts for an old person like me, I guess."

About choosing Neeley's Fantasy, Tom Gillette says "Music published for bands like this, of late, is just some real dark nature. It's, I don't know, you know, the, uh, 'Thor's Thunderous Sword Coming Down' and you know, it's just not what I want to play. And then his piece came along and I listened to it and I thought 'Well, this is nice.'"

For Fitz Neeley, yes, he goes to MSU’s Community Music School, but he’s already completed a 6-week session for High School composers at Interlochen. But this summer, it’s a trip to New England.

"I'm going to Boston." Specifically to another program for High Schoolers at the Berklee College of Music, but it's more intensive. "Interlochen was six weeks and it was a total of five pieces I was tasked to write." says Neeley. "Boston is going to be two weeks and it's going to be the same amount of pieces. So I'm going to be pushing my limits a little further. Seeing what I can accomplish and maybe pump out some new repertoire."

Now you may be wondering if Ancel 'Fitz' Neeley’s musical upbringing came from his parents. Well, not really. To help explain, Fitz found a good comparison via his Dentist: "He gave me the fun vocabulary term of calling them 'Muggles,' kind of. They're not really musical, but they're in the kind of realm of music. My mom has kind of adapted so far."

The Meridian Community Band concert featuring the premiere of Ancel 'Fitz' Neeley’s Fantasy takes place Friday, April 28th at McDonald Middle Schoolon Burcham Rd, in East Lansing.

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