Kathleen Duff of #Greality magazine sat down with our Executive Director Nick Kenny to talk GPO, community, and hockey!
Pick up the November 2018 #Greality or check out the full article below or here .
What do ice hockey, Rocky Mountain National Park and perhaps the best live, local orchestral performances you’ve ever heard have in common?
The answer is Nick Kenny.
Kenny has been the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra’s executive director since January. And his diverse, if not eclectic, passions are helping to breathe new life into the 108-year-old institution.
“I like to be challenged. I like adventure. If I find an interest, I will invest in it 100 percent,” explained the 30-year-old, sitting in his office decorated with a photo of a World War II bomber plane, a Star Wars poster and a violin wine-bottle holder on the corner of his desk.
One night, Kenny may be playing ice hockey with his adult team. Another day, he is teaching visitors about elk while volunteering at Rocky Mountain National Park. Perhaps he is spending an evening teaching private music lessons or playing trumpet in a pit orchestra. But all those interests only inform his “day job” of organizing performances, marketing the GPO and making new connections with the community.
“You have to be able to adapt,” he said.
And adapt he and the GPO have. Last year saw a GPO concert dedicated to Beatles music. A children’s and family concert this spring featured Mozart, as well as John Williams’ music from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” This fall’s lineup includes a performance featuring Mandy Harvey, an “America’s Got Talent” singing finalist who is deaf.
“We can do anything,” he said. “Well, maybe not rap, but just about anything.”
He encourages audience members to be comfortable. “Wear jeans and T-shirts, if you want.” At the same time, he is asking his musicians to introduce themselves and engage with the crowd. “It’s just a 4-foot riser separating us from our audience,” Kenny added.
Kenny may not be considered a traditional orchestra executive director, but he knows and values the important place the Greeley Philharmonic has in the community. It’s a trust he holds dearly as he recites several musical organizations with roots in the GPO.
“He … epitomizes what we are doing with the GPO,” said Glenda Haines, treasurer of the philharmonic board and co-owner of Eves & Haines Wealth Management. “The GPO is a wonderful organization with depth and history, but at the same time, how does it apply to today?
“We have a new tagline, ‘Old Orchestra, New Attitude,’ and Nick is a perfect example. Nick is very passionate about music, but he’s really passionate about life.”
Running a small nonprofit with such a huge community footprint is a daunting task. Kenny said, “It’s like running a full corporate business. It pulls you in every direction, but it keeps me energized to get me through all these roles.”
The executive director meets with official groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and with teachers and students in Greeley, but he also is known to start up conversations at the coffee shop or grocery store to learn more about what audiences would like to hear from the GPO.
“I like being able to recognize what it takes to make us culturally relevant in today’s world,” Kenny said, understanding that attention spans are shorter and entertainment choices are more accessible.
“That’s kind of Nick. The GPO is historic, classical, special. That’s something you don’t want to lose, and yet, at the same time, it has to apply to the age we are in now. He can personify that and help us,” Gaines said.
Kenny wasn’t always focused on the administrative side of music. Or even on music itself. Although he played trumpet from sixth grade in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, he intended to pursue a double major in college: biochemistry and music performance. Eventually, he focused on music because that is where he felt most natural. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Manchester University in Indiana, he came to the University of Northern Colorado to get his master’s degree in music education.
While enrolled at UNC, he worked as a shop foreman building practical effects and began volunteering at Rocky Mountain National Park. He also taught music at a private studio. He eventually was hired as an administrative assistant at the Greeley Philharmonic — a job that clarified his decision to pursue arts administration as a career rather than teaching.
Haines said, “We knew everything he had done for us was spot on, and he had done a great job. I truly wondered if he was experienced enough. I, like other members of the board, got to know him, and he really had a pretty impressive background.
“He brought great ideas. He brought that passion. He has gone above and beyond what we’ve had before as far as getting to know the community. He is having exchanges with people who never thought about the orchestra. That’s exactly what we wanted and needed. We saw this spark … and he won us all over,” she said.
An ardent proponent of the live music experience, Kenny said a philharmonic performance is where “music explodes with power and weight.”
“So many defining moments in our lives come from music. I see people who come to our concerts have emotional responses to the music. That’s why I think harmonic music will become even more relevant.”