By: Laurel Kutz
Based on Nina Feeney’s musical inclinations, you would expect her to be a music teacher, encouraging students to surround themselves in the arts and expressing themselves through performance.
It stands to reason: every Sunday for the past four years, Feeney plays the organ and directs the choir at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Highland.
However, she chose a path in teaching math, which led her to educating at Glenelg for 16 years.
“I love working with young people, teaching by example, and being a good role model,” says Feeney.
Modeling how students should act and showing how to be a good person drives Feeney as a teacher. After falling in love with Calculus 1 class at Atlantic Union College, she decided to pursue mathematics as a major. However, once graduation was coming close, Feeney didn’t know how her love for math would translate to finding a job. This is when her father suggested teaching.
As a Massachusetts native, Feeney remembered how ordinary Harvard University seemed. However, like the rest of America, the Ivy League school was still daunting or intimidating. So, after hearing about the one-year teaching program that Harvard provided, Feeney decided to apply, hoping to become a math teacher. She got in, although she thought it was a longshot, and the rest is history.
Or so we think.
With Feeney’s mathematical credentials and a certificate of teaching from Harvard, you wouldn’t expect anything other than intellectual and academic accomplishments. Nonetheless, these assumptions leave out another part, and a very important one at that, of Feeney’s life: her proclivity for music.
Feeney said she has always been surrounded by music, which led to an extraordinarily unique childhood.
“I have older and younger siblings who all play instruments,” Feeney says. “My sister plays trumpet and is a music teacher in Iceland, my older brother is a percussionist, and my younger brother is a French horn player. My dad was a trumpet player and we played trumpet trios in church regularly. My dad was also a band conductor of the Woburn City Band, a community band, and the first I played with.”
Music has been, and continues to be, one of Feeney’s greatest passions.
“Music is a job you do for life – you don’t really retire from it,” Feeney claims, with the experiences to prove it.
For Feeney, those experiences began at a young age.
Given her family’s involvement, it seemed a given that Feeney would join an ensemble group. She auditioned for a spot, following in the footsteps of her family members who had been part of ensembles before her. At 12, Feeney became part of the New England Youth Ensemble, a group she was introduced to from her Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
“I thought I might as well join because of being at rehearsals all the time,” Feeney recalls.
Suddenly, her life changed, and music became nearly everything. In addition to her schooling, Feeney was playing trumpet with the Youth Ensemble across the country and across the world. Completing homework on buses, Feeney traveled every weekend with the Ensemble, playing four shows every Saturday, creating experiences and memories that no one her age was having.
“I didn’t have a normal childhood,” Feeney says, chuckling.
Getting sick from traveling at times she wished for just one weekend at home, to be like other people living a semi-normal life.
In addition to continental travel, Feeney had the extraordinary chance to travel the world through music. Some of the places she played include South Africa, Australia, the Pacific Northwest, Hawai’i, Israel, and all over Europe. She’s also had the chance to play at iconic international venues, including Notre Dame, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and Carnegie Hall. The rest mostly consist of churches and cathedrals, many of which also had a lasting impact on her.
“South Africa sticks with me,” Feeney reminisces, when describing her favorite country to perform.
She says she experienced a profound and powerful spirituality from the people in the congregations, who she says truly felt the music and sang with such passion. Feeney had never performed with a crowd in that way before.
Because of her unique experiences with touring, Feeney has used skills she learned from childhood, and translated them into the classroom to teach students. Feeney revealed that “being able to think on my feet, learning to be able to work with many types of people, keeping a positive outlook, and being on a schedule,” are lessons she had to learn quickly on tour.
As she thought back to her days on tour, Feeney especially remembered how having good study habits helped her through such a rigorous schedule. She tries to instill good study habits by telling students, “once you go home, take a thirty minute break, but then get right back to your studies.”
Feeney practices what she preaches by remaining continuously involved in what she loves.
She plans on being at Glenelg for another five to ten years, continuing to encourage students. Afterwards, she hopes to have a greater focus on music than she already does. Along with being the organist and choir director at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Feeney intends to expand her knowledge and practice of music by taking classes and organ lessons. Also, after a hiatus from playing the trumpet, she plans to pick it up again and join an ensemble where she can reconnect with her craft.
“There's a whole world out there,” says Feeney.
And there’s no doubt that it’s a better place with Feeney in it.