Heather Bills


National Music Camp 1975-78

AYO 1976-78

In September 1978 I took up postgrad study with the aid of the University of Adelaide’s Elder Scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London where I studied with Christopher Bunting and Amaryllis Fleming, and won the Australia Prize in the Overseas League Competition. Having fallen in love with chamber music during National Music Camps, I was keen to participate in courses both abroad and in the UK and was lucky enough to meet and play to two further inspirational teachers, Jacqueline Du Pre and William Pleeth. A highlight of those years was being chosen to perform unaccompanied Bach in front of the Queen during a service in Westminster Abbey to mark Commonwealth Day.

Freelancing in London and yet knowing my holiday visa was due to expire, I was offered the post of Co-Principal Cello in Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra. Experience gained through earlier years with AYO evidently weighed in my favour! However my work visa application was declined not once but five times over the course of the following three years. I finally gained the right to remain in the U.K. in 1986.

My time with the Hallé lasted until 1990 when, newly married to composer Bill Connor and pregnant, I learned there were no job-share positions available for a young mother. I seized the opportunity to begin a new phase of life and the family moved to a house in the middle of the Isle of Anglesey, overlooking the sea and mountains of Snowdonia. There I set out on a pilgrimage to encourage string playing, becoming a travelling cello teacher, director of a string ensemble and consequently the Welsh representative for the European String Teachers’ Association. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the first string tutor of the world’s oldest youth orchestra, that of Wales, was none other than Jimmie Whitehead – my cello teacher for so many years at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide!

Following a return to Australia for a year in ’96 as guest principal cello in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra which sparked a period of indecision about where to settle, I finally chose the UK at the end of 1998, and began performing with a newly-established chamber group, Ensemble Cymru based at Bangor University. The experience was not only invaluable but also life-changing, as in 2008, having separated from my husband, I moved back to Manchester with the group’s pianist, Harvey Davies. I then re-established a freelance career and teaching practice, and together with Harvey, whom I married in Adelaide in 2010, have formed our own chamber group, The Pleyel Ensemble.

On the verge of entering my seventh decade, proud of my song-writing, guitar-playing son Tim, and my actress/singer daughter Josie, step-son Gwyn and his lovely family, I count my blessings for having been introduced to the cello so long ago at Rose Park Primary School by John Bishop’s son David, whose encouragement started me on a life-long journey in music which I wouldn’t have changed for the world!