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  • Writer's pictureJoe Gehrke

Nelson Oakley: Soloist in Sensational Soloists

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Nelson Oakley’s 42-year music career has taken him around the world, as a member of the Australian Army Band Corps and as an independent “gigging” musician, performing alongside many high-profile artists including James Morrison, John Farnham, Hugh Jackman, and Marina Prior.

Nelson will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat (1st movement) at the Sensational Soloists concert on July 16 at 2pm, at The Events Centre Caloundra.

Nelson says music is in his blood. “My parents were musical. Both my mother and father sang in Adelaide choral groups and my mother was a church organist and makeshift accompanist for my early solo performances.”

Talent, a great love for brass music and a series of serendipitous coincidences and introductions led Nelson to start a career in music at a very young age.

“During my teenage years my cousin joined the Army as a musician and recommended I audition as an apprentice at the Army School of Music. I liked the idea. By coincidence the Army Band had recently visited my school and I was impressed with their versatility and range of musical styles.

“I also lived near the police academy and would listen to the band doing marching practice and playing at the occasional open day. I spoke to the Bandmaster one day and he invited me to the district brass band which he also conducted. As a student he introduced me to Glen Madden, Principal Trumpet, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and the rest is history.

Five years later, in 1981, when I was 16, I was a first-year apprentice musician with the Australian Army.”

Nelson spent the next 23 years in the Defence Force. After graduating from the Army School of Music he held positions as Principal Trumpet/Group Leader in the North Queensland Army Band, 1st Battalion – The Royal Australian Regiment, Band of the Royal Military College - Duntroon, Australian Army Band Sydney, Australian Army Band Kapooka, and Australian Army Band Brisbane. During this time Nelson was selected for touring Army Band ensembles to China, UK and the Pacific Islands and supporting tours to East Timor and Bougainville, PNG.

Whilst maintaining his career as a Defence Force musician, Nelson established himself as an independent, freelance performer in Sydney. His reputation as a talented and versatile player across a range of brass instruments grew and he had the opportunity to perform with many renowned entertainers. He lists some career highlights as performing on stage with artists such as James Morrison, Ed Wilson, Marina Prior, Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham, Normie Rowe, Hugh Jackman, Don Burrows, Jackie Love and Grace Knight.

Nelson also spent time touring on cruise ships, departing from Sydney, as a resident showband musician. He spent time at sea on the Fairstar and Sea Princess before returning to give his military career top priority. This resulted in a promotion to the position of Band Sergeant Major in 1998. In that same year he was awarded the Gullidge Memorial Prize as the student of merit, after completing his Music Management Diploma in Melbourne.

Nelson left the Army in 2003 to focus on teaching and business pursuits. Since then he has maintained a busy performance schedule, continuing to play professionally in bands throughout South East Queensland. In 2017, Nelson moved permanently to the Sunshine Coast and shortly after, became a member of the Sunshine Coast Symphony Orchestra.

Nelson was the Musical Director of Sunshine Brass from 2016 to 2020 and continues his association with South Brisbane Federal Band and Brisbane Brass as a Solo Cornet player. Alongside his busy ensemble schedule, Nelson is also a Brass Instrumental Specialist in schools across the Sunshine Coast.

Nelson has been a member of SCSO’s Management Committee since 2021 and currently holds the position of Orchestra Manager.

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