Wollongong Eisteddfod: Home found in music

It could have been 1960 again when Gerard Willems found himself looking out his hotel window to his old music teacher’s house on the corner of Bourke and Corrimal streets on Friday. 

“I felt the things I felt at the time,” the 68-year-old said. 

Back then, Mr Willems had just arrived in Wollongong after six weeks on a ship with his parents, three siblings and his grandfather’s piano. The instability in Europe caused by the Cold War prompted his parents to move from the Netherlands to Australia. 

“I felt like a fish out of water. It was an environment I wasn’t used to … the beer drinking and surfing environment was so foreign to me.”

But he felt at home inside Wollongong Town Hall, where he and his father used to attend the ABC concert series. They had meals with the artists and talked together with them in French and German.

“It brought me back to European traditions,” he said.

 Mr Willems said Wollongong in the early ’60s was a very different place to what it was today. School was more about conformity than individuality, he said.

But he was no outsider in the world of music. Mr Willems won the Wollongong Eisteddfod Grand Championship three years running.

 Returning to adjudicate this year’s piano section, Mr Willems said he had the chance to do more than judge. 

“You inform them of your ideals and philosophies about music teaching. It’s not just having music lessons, it’s having a relationship with an older person who takes absolute care of a younger person.”

After touring the globe, winning ARIAs and playing alongside greats such as Luciano Pavarotti, Mr Willems is now a teacher himself at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

“I feel very privileged I ended up in that role,” he said. 

His advice to all young musicians is to be joyful about making music.

“I’ve seen the greatest pianist at the end saying ‘I can do so much better’. Enjoy it. Even if something goes wrong.”

String Instruments, Thursday, June 5 

 10 years and under baroque strings solo:  1 Cedar-Rose Newman (Wombarra); 2 Lina Lee (Berkeley)  

11 years and under strings solo restricted : 1 Ashleigh Moir (Mount Kembla);  2 Heath Moir (Mount Kembla); 3 Cormac Carolan (Gwynneville)  

 12 years and under strings solo: 1 Elliot Winn (Mangerton);  2 Georgia Cartlidge (Engadine); 3 Heath Moir (Mount Kembla)  

12 years and under classical/romantic strings solo: 1 Cedar-Rose Newman (Wombarra); 2 Heath Moir (Mount Kembla); 3 Hannah Crinnion (Tarrawanna);  Hannah Roberts (Mangerton) highly commended 

14 years and under strings solo:  1 Kristopher Saad (Cordeaux Heights);  2 Caitlin Koloski (Flinders); 3 Cathleen Li (Keiraville)  

14 years and under baroque strings solo: 1 Kristopher Saad (Cordeaux Heights);  2 Georgia Cartlidge (Engadine);  3 Hannah Crinnion (Tarrawanna)  

 16 years and under intermediate strings championship solo: 1 Caleb Wong (Muttama);  2 Kristopher Saad (Cordeaux Heights);  3 Caitlin Koloski (Flinders)  

 12 years and under junior strings championship solo: 1 Lina Lee (Berkeley); 2 Cedar-Rose Newman (Wombarra); 3 Georgia Cartlidge (Engadine); Heath Moir (Mount Kembla) highly commended 

 Open age strings solo: 1 Caleb Wong (Muttama); 2 Klara Morrison (Engadine);  3 Georgia Roberts (Mangerton)  

 Open age baroque strings solo: 1 Caleb Wong (Muttama); 2 Timothy Talbot (Barrack Heights); Deeann Green (Lake Illawarra) highly commended 

 Open age classical/romantic strings solo: 1 Caleb Wong (Muttama); 2 Klara Morrison (Engadine)  

 Open age senior strings championship solo: 1 Caleb Wong (Muttama);  2 Georgia Roberts (Mangerton); Deeann Green (Lake Illawarra) highly commended; Klara Morrison (Engadine) highly commended 

Jan Baxter Senior Memorial Scholarship: Kristopher Saad (Cordeaux Hts) 

Jan Baxter Junior Memorial Scholarship: Heath Moir (Mt Kembla)  


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