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Bonita Williams | Double Bass Player

Black and white portrait of Bonita Williams, playing Double Bass

Speciality time: Started playing bass at age 12

Inspiration for starting: Being around the bass when my second eldest brother started learning, he wanted to play something bigger than my eldest brother who plays the cello.

Full time, part time or hobby: Full time
I have a position in an orchestra, playing for operas and ballets. And I teach double bass.

What's your biggest claim to fame so far?
Being accepted as being part of the orchestra was amazing and so it's pretty wonderful. I love the opportunities that orchestral playing bring in terms of travel. I've seen so many places because of the orchestra tours, which I wouldn't have seen before and yet equally, being able to play at amazing performance venues like Royal Albert Hall in London.

Is it a competitive industry?
Yes, getting into an orchestra is very competitive, it's not as though they're a dime a dozen. You've got to be really good. When a position becomes available in an orchestra it'll be because someone's either retired, or moved to another orchestra. Once you get a place you keep it!!

Can you share your training journey?
Music was always a big part of my upbringing, my parents are musicians. I learned the flute from mum, and growing up my brothers and I played in orchestras.

I did my undergraduate at University of Melbourne, Victorian College of the Arts. Then relocated to the United States to undertake a Master of Music degree at Boston University, College of Fine Arts. I returned home when my visa ran out, and fortunately there was an audition.

Do you have a proud accomplishment?
The moment where I realised that playing double bass in an orchestra was something I really wanted to do. I think I was playing with the Melbourne Youth Orchestra, I would have been 16 or 17. It was a collaborative performance doing the full ballet of Romeo and Juliet. We were on the stage behind a sheer screen, so we could see the dancers. Playing that piece of music in that setting was just amazing.
I think it was then that I decided that I was going to really go for it, and see how far I could go.

The audition process is daunting, and the decision to try and make a life in music is a tricky one because it's not the easiest road, but I knew that and tried anyway.

How has COVID-19 affected your ability to do your craft?
It's absolutely decimated the audio industry out. The company I work for had to cancel everything. We haven't played together or rehearsed for about six months.

They don't have money coming in, and we're on JobKeeper. They cancelled everything up until 2021. Fingers crossed we have a vaccine, we can't social distance in the pit, not as musicians. And ballet dancers, singers can't perform properly.

When lockdown was first announced, did you have to cancel performances?
We were in the middle of an opera season. During the ballet seasons we generally perform one ballet for a few weeks, and a second ballet for a few weeks. In opera season, we usually do around four operas, at once, alternating nights. So we had about three offers going at that time which we just had to cut. We’ve done two performances this year, instead of the usual 21. Everything just had to immediately stop.

How do you feel that you're now not able to perform?
I think that's been very difficult for a lot of people, this feeling of loss of purpose. Particularly in the arts. You’re probably okay if you're in an area where you can use it to write songs I guess. It’s the same with instrumentalists, you can practice playing, but it's not the same. For me the joy is mostly the collaborative aspect.

Thankfully, I've been able to continue with teaching, which has been good for my mental health. I enjoy teaching a lot. It’s been really nice to still have that and also to provide structure to one's week.

What do you think would happen to society as a whole, if they couldn't have access to the arts for a long period of time?
Throughout this isolation period, I imagine if the population didn't have any finance to help them get through lockdown, that means no books, no music, no shows and movies. No listening to Spotify to your work.

If all of that was taken away, because it's a real way of removing yourself from a current situation, the way you do that is through the arts of some description.

Are there any positives that you've experienced during lockdown?
Teaching has been a blessing. And being able to spend time with my partner. It's been wonderful. There's a strange silver lining in that. Usually I'm working most nights of the week. We never eat dinner together, so this has been really new, deciding what we're going to have for dinner. Looking at the basics. It's something that we have never really done before.

If you could ask the politicians one thing to help the performing arts sector going forward, what would it be?
I feel like funding is the number one thing. Support and funding. Especially in Australia, we’re a very sports centric country.

The sports industry is always in the news and very rarely is the arts. It's awareness as well, but I think from the powers that be, I think funding and support is bigger.

One of the elements COVID-19 has highlighted is how little support there is for the arts. And we’ve found how important the arts is for everyone, and we all use it, yet in Australia we tend to focus on work, business and sports.

I think people forget, especially those in power, and often take it for granted. And I feel like it's important for people to realise that live performance is so important. Even for those people who don't really enjoy going to live performances they still utilise the creativity in the arts. Watching films and downloading anything, everyone is utilising this industry.

What improvements would you like to see made to the sector, if there was funding and better support?
Funding can go so far, in terms of supporting smaller groups, and in terms of authentication. I think a big thing that needs to be worked on in this country is music education. Bring that to everybody, so that more people are aware of what's actually out there. What they can enjoy and how it can enhance their lives. The Educational Music Service needs more funding, a lot of schools have those programs but there are few of them.

Have you worked with anyone famous yet?
A few opera singers, Human Nature and Delta Goodrem.

If you could wave a magic wand, where would you like to see yourself go within your speciality?
I would just love to continue performing opera and ballet and stage concerts. And I think I'm lucky that’s the job that I find myself in now. I just love it.

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