A Songbird Comes Home -Spring 2016
by: Lindsay Pykosz
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Greta Feeney’s ties to the Nantucket Community Music Center extend back to her high-school years when she took lessons from Holly Cluett, a soprano, harpsichordist and organist at the Coffin School on Winter Street.
It is a relationship that has remained strong since she graduated from Nantucket High School in 1993. She went on to become an instructor and choral conductor of the organization in 2014, and in July 2015 became the associate director, as well as the content curator, editor and host of “Live at 56 Centre: NCMC” on the island’s National Public Radio affiliate.
Last month, the relationship flourished even further when she was named executive director, succeeding Barbara Elder, who retired from the post.
“My immediate goal is to make sure the staff and faculty feel really excited about their work here, and there’s room for them to develop as professionals,” Feeney said of the island organization whose mission is to “enrich the cultural life of the island by fostering and supporting music education and performance opportunities for young people and adults.”
“I think what Greta brings to this organization is her musical background and her extensive professional experience off-island. So it’s a win-win,” said Elder, who came to the island in 1981 with her husband Jim Sulzer and their family to serve as the NCMC's director. “And there’s the third thing of knowing the island. I think those three things are just knock-out qualities.”
Feeney is no stranger to the music scene. After graduating from Nantucket High School, she studied voice at the Mannes Conservatory in New York. She started singing professionally at age 19, and made debuts with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Ohio Light Opera by her early 20s. She also performed at the Juilliard Opera Center while attending Juilliard.
After completing an Adler Fellowship with the San Francisco Opera, of which she was a soprano, Feeney made her debut at the esteemed opera house as Janno in Chekhov’s “Jenufa.”
But her musical roots are on Nantucket. Feeney discovered her love of voice while appearing in a Theatre Workshop of Nantucket Production of “Amadeus,” Mozart’s life story.
In 2008, she went back to school to complete her master’s in music from the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, and from there she received a doctorate in musical arts from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Feeney said she knew she wanted to teach when she went back to graduate school, but she also wanted to keep the option of working at a nonprofit a possibility.
“I suppose it was strategic. I thought, if I make this investment in time and effort and money in graduate school, and subsequently wound up getting my doctorate, there would end up being a career in higher education or a nonprofit," Feeney said of the decision to go back to school.
“You have to observe what’s going on around you, in your community and your municipality, your country and the world, and balance those sources of information when you make those decisions.”
Having the opportunity to come back and teach at the Nantucket Community Music Center was a dream come true for Feeney. Being surrounded by her friends and family, and working in a newly-renovated building at 56 Centre St. were added bonuses.
“It was people, friends and family, that drew me back. It wasn’t necessarily a job, although I was curious how things would evolve here knowing that the building had manifested,” Feeney said. “But it was more the sense that I wanted to be around the people who loved me the most.”
Elder and Feeney have been working closely together since October, and the two have been trying to set up regular meetings with parents, faculty, board members, the NCMC events committee and others that make up the underpinnings of the organization to see them through the transition.
Feeney said her short-term goal is to work on being a good listener to those around her so she can understand what people need from the organization. An immediate programming goal is to implement an early music education program for children newborn to 5 years old.
“That discussion has been going on for a few months, and I think I feel pretty good that we’ll have the architecture in place for the summer,” Feeney said.
Jessica Heuser, a voice teacher at NCMC, will be spearheading the program.
Feeney said NCMC wants everyone to have access to private music instruction at an affordable price if they want it.
She will cut back on the number of students she teaches as she moves into a more administrative role.
“The way I feel about it is, for my teenage girls, those are the ones I would save a couple of hours a week for because I feel that mentorship is critical and that time that I’ve come into their lives is critical,” she said.
Feeney is confident in the skills she's bringing to the job, but acknowledged she will be learning others along the way.
“The skills I’m going to be learning are ones I want to learn, and I think that nonprofit leadership is a specialty,” she said. ///
Lindsay Pykosz is a staff writer at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket's newspaper since 1821.