“An Entirely Different Journey”

Phyllis Nordstrom
Alumna Phyllis Nordstrom ’71 shares the story of her amazing life after WMS.
by Phyllis Nordstrom ’71 – Executive Editor, Performing Arts of New England

I grew up in a musical family, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that I would someday be involved in what I like to think of as the family business.

In the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s, my mother was organist and choir director at Holderness School, and arranged several collaborations with St. Mary’s, including Messiah, Saint-Saens’s Christmas Oratorio and Haydn’s Creation. Some St. Mary’s girls will also remember my brother, Rusty, from the New Hampton/St. Mary’s productions of “Damn Yankees” and “The Pajama Game.” My younger sister, Ellen, is an opera singer and Voice Department Chair at the Concord Community Music School. My older sister, Chris, is a folk singer and song writer. During my four years at St. Mary’s, I spent many hours in the piano practice rooms, first instructed by Bill Rice, then Ed LeBlanc.

So naturally, after graduating, I went to Columbia University, then MIT, and became a structural engineer! After a few years in the oil industry, I realized that I didn’t actually want to be an engineer – I had studied engineering to find out how the world works and what control we have over it. Once I realized that, I was able to move into more artistic work. This began with fashion design, and later, costume designs for full length ballets for the Santa Barbara Chamber Ballet and The Academie Americaine de Danse de Paris.

I had moved to Paris for several years while my daughter attended an international middle school. While living in Paris, I became very involved with the American Cathedral, joining the vestry and “Les Arts George V”, an independent support group for musical performances at the cathedral. (Happily, I ran into Emily Lodge and Stephanie Parrish de la Rochfoucauld quite often!)

After returning to the US, I had occasion to visit one of my engineering professors. I sheepishly confessed that I was no longer practicing engineering, to which he replied, “The study of engineering is not vocational training. Its goal is to teach critical thinking and creative problem solving.” With that assurance, I took on a wide array of challenging projects that could be grouped under the term “business consulting”. And this is how I found my way back to the “family business”.

In 2006, my mother launched Classical Voice of New England – an online journal for classical music reviews, calendars and news (a 501(c)3). My initial participation was submitting reviews, primarily of ballets and piano recitals. The organization had a wonderful mission, advancing musical performance careers and expanding audiences, but seemed hampered by its business model. Volunteering my business skills, I created an organizational structure, optimized the product (website) and proposed a new business plan that focuses on individual New England states, and changed the name to Performing Arts of New England. I then took on the role of Executive Editor.

What I enjoy most is discovering classical music groups throughout New England – not only the larger established organizations in the larger cities, but communities of musicians like the North Country Chamber Players in New Hampshire. Writing about music and dance is a challenge in itself, concentrating the mind and the senses, finding words to express a non-verbal experience.

Performing Arts of New England is currently a re-work in progress. We are in process of developing boards of directors for each state, recruiting writers and interns, as well as soliciting financial support through advertising and donations. Anyone with an interest in supporting the arts in New England, please contact me!

I hope the “take away” from my experience is that wherever your path begins, you may find yourself on an entirely different journey.

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