Butterley,  Nigel

One of Beecroft illustrious sons, Nigel Butterley will soon celebrate his eightieth birthday after a career as a composer of classical music. He is regarded in the Australian music world with great respect for his body of work which can be seen in full on his website.

Nigel was born and lived in Hannah Street, Beecroft. He attended Beecroft Grammar School run by Mrs Booth and located in Copeland Rd. The school also had boarders, from Nigel’s recollection about twenty boys attended at any one time. He remembers being allowed to sit up on the circular lawn at the front of the property to learn his spelling, spelling books at the time were about three inches wide and about a foot long and could be carried up the sleeve of your shirt. Nigel remembers with affection the friendship he made at the school with Michael Slater with whom he is still in touch. Michael was a bigger boy than Nigel and walking home from school during wartime near the fire station Michael pushed him into one of the air raid shelters. He also remembers and likes to remind his friend that while at school Nigel answered a question correctly which annoyed Michael hoe promised to ‘bash’ him up on his way home. Nigel says he spent the rest of the lesson trying to work out why he should get bashed for getting something right. Mrs Booth was assisted in her school by her husband Rev. Booth who only used his clerical garb when he was to take a funeral,  otherwise he took lessons in his suit. Most children, at the time, had fathers away at the war. Nigel also remembers one teacher Miss Craig, a ‘powerful woman’ who insisted that any word which had an ‘h’ after a ‘w’ such as white, when or where must have the ‘h’ pronounced. Nigel says he still does this to this day and  thanks to his teacher. Another childhood memory is the blanking out of place names in the suburbs. The large sign outside the Epping Cinema had the word Epping blanked out so any enemy invader would not be able to identify where they were.


Nigel commenced music lessons with Miss Cain who lived at the top of Beecroft Road. He was five years old. Mrs. Butterley encouraged her son’s musical progress as she could play a violin and piano and his father could sing, was an excellent painter and had an excellent collection of gramophone records. Mrs Butterley was very active in the community and local church. She visited people at Chesalon to play scrabble with them. Miss Cain was a general music teacher who laid a good foundation. After several years with this teacher, when Nigel was nine, it was arranged for him to transfer to a city teacher located in Kings Street, named Shadforth Hooper. Mrs Butterley would pick Nigel up from school at midday and accompany him to the city. They would have sweet corn sandwiches in the park before going to the music lesson. This teacher had a student concert every six months which was an important event in the student’s lives. Miss Hooper had herself been taught by Madam Careno a most distinguished woman in her day. Also Miss Hooper was considered by Mrs Butterley’s adviser  to be a superior teacher to the ones at the Conservatorium(at the time)Miss Hooper introduced Nigel to twentieth century music such at Bartok and Hindemith. She also knew Nigel wanted to compose. With Miss Hooper he learned harmony and music theory.

Nigel spent the last year of primary school at Edgecliff  Preparatory School where his father was a teacher for forty years. His father travelled by train and tram from Beecroft. For secondary schooling Nigel attended Sydney Grammar School. He took music for a leaving certificate subject. At the time this exam focused primarily on music history and Nigel was delighted to find the questions asked were about his two favourite composers Bach and Vaughn Williams. Nigel topped the state in music. The second in the state was the sister of Charles Mackerras.  From school, Nigel went to work at the Australian Broadcasting Commission, helping with the “Pianists of Australia’ programme. Work as an accompanist was plentiful, particularly at eisteddfod time and for recitals. This provided good experience. One song was particularly favoured by sopranos at the time. Called “The Singer’, by Michael Head, it could be sung unaccompanied or with piano. When Nigel went to London he saw that Michael Head himself was giving a recital so Nigel bought a ticket. However he was disappointed when the famous man came on stage in a brown suit because Mrs Butterley had always said never to trust a man in a brown suit-an old saying. Before 1970 there was a small Anglican church on Beecroft Road at Cheltenham, St. Andrews where Nigel played the harmonium.

Sometime in the 1970s (NB to research date) Nigel Butterley composed a piece of music especially for the children of Beecroft Public School. At the time junior schools had mainly groups of recorder players so it was written for these children with parts for flute as there were two flute players. The piece is called  ”Music for Sunrise” and was published by Albert and Son and sold many copies. The school’s music teacher at the time was Jennifer Adam and she was assisted by Nigel to prepare the piece. Music has also been composed for Beecroft St. Johns Anglican church to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the present church building. The words were composed by local poet, Maryanne Sansom.

These notes may be read in conjunction with the information on Nigel Butterley’s website where a full list of his commissions and compositions, together with his many awards and prizes.