Advanced Search | Search A!:
Volume 24, Number 7 — July 2017

Nancy Arnold: teacher and performer

Nancy Arnold
Nancy Arnold

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 26, 2017

Nancy Arnold is an artist who radiates music throughout a wide region of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. She has dedicated more than 50 years to the arts. Her mother would often say, "Nancy sang before she could talk." She was born with a musical talent and love of the arts, which has brought joy and the love of music to thousands.

"I was hooked on singing when at age 6, I sang my first solo, "Rudolph, the Red Nose Reindeer.' Mother brought me a red sweater with a reindeer on the front. I loved every moment of practicing the song, and I had great fun singing for the audience. Those joyful emotions, at age 6, for singing, rehearsing, learning music scores, studying vocal skills, have only increased throughout my life. I want to reach out to the audience and say "thank you,' as I am most thankful that they have come to listen. It is not to say that singing is easy. No, the voice is personal. The instrument is in the body and sickness, anxiety, being tired and many other things can affect the voice. It is a challenge to keep our instrument healthy. Our voice is like a fingerprint. Growth and improvement are possible, but each voice is unique. I have been blessed with excellent voice teachers who have encouraged my desire to practice and learn," Arnold says.

Arnold grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she was involved with church music, school and All-State choirs, sang for community events, performed at UT's Carousel Theatre and was a voice performance major at University of Tennessee.

"For four years and two tours of Europe, the UT Singers were my family," she says. "In the midst of all this fun singing, my practical father told me that he was not paying another dime for my education if I did not get a degree in something that I could get a job in. So I began music education classes, but I was never going to teach. My last semester, I did student teaching in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, schools and loved it.

"I did desire to perform and sing professionally, but I also wanted to pass along and foster this love of music to young people. It was rewarding to work with students, who could not match a pitch or feel the beat of music; and I worked hard to find creative methods to accomplish these goals. Listening skills are most important in music development. Children and youth can sing well, learn and perform music that challenges their music skills and abilities, and I continued to attend music workshops and seek more education," she says.

She taught in the Kingsport school system, Colorado public schools, Sullins Academy and Bristol Tennessee public schools.

"When I was 10 years old, my parents took me to New York, and I saw my first Broadway play, "The Music Man.' I was overwhelmed at the opening scene, the energy, excitement, movement, music and the actors. I wanted to be a musical performer, and I have had many opportunities to perform with our own Theatre Bristol, develop lasting friendships and at the same time teach and raise a family," Arnold says.

That love of musical theater is perhaps no more evident than in the creation of "Grace Moore: The Tennessee Nightingale," a musical biography, which premiered at Barter Theatre's Stage II in 2003. Conceived and performed by Arnold, Barter took "Nightingale" on tour to the Chattanooga Performing Arts Center, and to the high school auditorium in Jellico, Tennessee, where Moore spent her teenage years.

Arnold was inspired by Moore's life when she earned the Grace Moore Scholarship at the University of Tennessee and spent countless hours researching biographical information about the performer. It was her determination and passion for the performer that convinced Rick Rose, producing artistic director of Barter, to co-author the book for the full production of "Grace Moore."

During the "70s and "80s, Arnold was cast in the lead female role in many local theater productions. Some of those plays include "The Music Man," "An Evening at the Opera," "Brigadoon," "Oklahoma" and "The King and I."

"Working with Barter Theatre as a member of the Trustees for many years, I know how blessed we are to have this professional, resident company of artists who are dedicated to serving and enriching our lives by creating live theater in repertory in our backyard. Everyone who attends is amazed at the quality of Barter's productions.

"It was indeed a highlight for me to have a taste of performing with a professional theater when I collaborated with Rick Rose to present, "Grace Moore: The Tennessee Nightingale.' Before the actual production, I had spent years of research and many hours at the University Of Tennessee Specialty Library, where I was able to see Grace Moore's written comments on her music and learn from reviews of this unique woman in history. There are many stories left to tell and through the arts stories and visions are told," she says.

In 2011, Arnold was presented with House Resolution No. 88 signed by Beth Harwell, speaker of the House of Representatives, to commend her outstanding efforts to improve the quality of life for all Tennesseans.

"I am proud of the Bristol community, my home. State Street United Methodist Church is a major force and interest in my life, and I have participated in the music programs at all levels for more than 40 years. In the early "90s I joined the YWCA Board of Directors, and I believe in the mission and the many outstanding and vital programs that sustain our region.

"The arts promote a "oneness,' which is open to everyone. My goal is to continue to work to support our many fine arts organizations," she says.

READ ON: Meet Schéry Collins