I met Nancianne when my grandmother, who also lived at Deupree House, invited us both to dine together. Though I was just humoring my grandmother, I discovered over soft buttered beets that Nancianne was the real deal. We discussed Shaw, and Brahms, and her work at Westminster Choir College.
Our friendship took flight over the next year or so through several coffees and one short-notice performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater which I asked her to play. That was the first of several times that I was lucky enough to work with her.
In that same year, she called me and asked if I wanted to attend a concert of a group she hadn’t yet heard since she had moved to town, and, since she had recently hurt her arm, I offered to pick her up and drive her, and we would have dinner after the concert. She was in a good deal of pain, but hadn’t taken her medication so that she would be alert for the program.
The concert left quite a lot to be desired, and Nancianne leaned over to me in the middle and said, “I should have taken my Percocet” quite loud enough for several rows of patrons to hear. She was most definitely not referring to the pain in her arm!
Nancianne had the unusual quality that she could be both a friend and a mentor at the same time. After any concert that I would give, she would congratulate me on the performance and then say, “I made some notes for you. Let me know when you would like them.” Not able to stand waiting days for the list, I would inevitably ask her to share her thoughts right there and then. No musician takes criticism well, but she had a way of delivering her thoughts that both lifted you up and gave you a few things to think about for next time. Knowing the giants of the industry with whom she had worked in her lifetime, compliments from her came with added importance, even as they flowed freely.
Nancianne defined what it means to be a collaborative musician. She had a lot to say about the art of accompanying, particularly in choral rehearsals. She also had a lot of stories to tell about her time working in the field with some of the world’s most prominent conductors. Conductors loved working with her. If I had to venture a guess as to why, it would be that she not only came impeccably prepared, but that she played the piano like it was an orchestra. She knew each detail of any score she was working on, and was learning right up until the end. She embodied the idea that music is a lifelong pursuit, and actively sought out opportunities to hear new performances and support the work of her colleagues, even those many years her junior.
A mutual friend gave us the idea that we should write a book together about her life in the field of music. From having Duruflé over for dinner, to spending much of her career working with Joseph Flummerfelt, to her many times on stage with the New York Philharmonic, she was a wealth of stories. The book was to be called, “You Can’t Just Play,” which was her mantra for teaching and coaching others in her field.
She called me last Tuesday to let me know she wouldn’t be able to be at the board meeting of Collegium Cincinnati. We planned to get together next week after I returned from my choir tour to New York to discuss the book. I am devastated that I won’t have the chance to hear any more stories from her.
When I visited her in the hospital last night, I also reminded her that she had promised to play several times on this year’s Collegium season. I know that if she could have, she would have.
Nancianne lived brilliantly all the way up until the last minute. Her loss is felt deeply by all who knew her, but I, for one, am grateful for the short time we did have together.
June 3, 2019