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Summerfield artist shares her passion for performance

by: TIMES PHOTOS: BARBARA SHERMAN - Nancy Vink, dressed in a concert-ready outfit, still loves playing the piano, which was the first instrument she learned to play as a child.If Nancy Vink’s friends can’t reach her, they know she is probably out somewhere playing the piano. Or the violin. Or the cello. Or the flute. Or singing with the Summerfield Singers. Or acting with the Summerfield Thespians.

And if she isn’t pursuing one of her many musical or theatrical talents, she may be busy designing a program for one of her performances or thinking up a clever name for one of the groups she performs with.

Nancy now calls Summerfield home, but she was born and raised in Palo Alto, Calif., on the Peninsula in the Bay Area. She started taking piano lessons at age 8 and played the clarinet, oboe and piccolo throughout junior high and high school.

“My mom loved music, and started me and my sister — who is four years older — on the piano when we were both 8 years old,” Nancy said. “At age 10, I decided I didn’t like to practice, but my mom made me. If something didn’t come easily for me, I didn’t want to do it. But I had a strict teacher who was good, and my sister and I had back-to-back lessons, so I kept at it. My sister and I have played duets together ever since — it was a wonderful background.”

Nancy started on the clarinet in the fourth grade and took lessons for three years.

“In the seventh grade, there were a zillion clarinets in the band, and the band teacher asked three of us to play the oboe, which I played throughout high school and college,” Nancy said. “I dropped the clarinet, and since you can’t play the oboe in a marching band, I switched to the piccolo to play while we marched. If you can blow into a bottle, you can play the piccolo.”

Musical opportunities

At the University of California-Santa Barbara, Nancy took classes in all the instruments because she planned to teach instrumental music in the schools. “I took a different instrument each quarter,” she said. “I loved the violin, and in college I also took up the flute, which has the same fingering as the piccolo.

“I especially liked playing the violin in the college orchestra and singing in several choral groups there. I sang in the women’s Repertory Chorus and with the University Chorus, which was thrilling because we sang major choral works with the Santa Barbara Symphony.”

Nancy said she was lucky to have supportive parents who encouraged her in all her endeavors and added, “College was wonderful because there were so many musical opportunities.” Nancy graduated from UC-Santa Barbara with a bachelor of arts degree in music theory-history.

“I ended up not teaching music because California phased out music in the schools,” said Nancy, and despite her love of music and performing, she admitted, “I dislike playing solos because I get nervous and hit wrong notes, but I love playing in groups.”

Nancy went back to school, got an elementary education certificate and taught second, third and fourth grades in Simi Valley for three years. She met her husband there, and they married in 1973.

He got a job in Seattle as a graphic artist, and they moved there for more than a year, but his job didn’t work out.

“We moved to Oregon in 1975, and I immediately got a job teaching remedial reading and math in Portland Public Schools,” Nancy said. “I did that until 1992.”

Lengthy resume

Artistically, Nancy soared as well and has established a lengthy resume. In the 1980s, she started playing the violin with the Jewish Community Orchestra and the Palatine Hill Symphony, and in the 1990s she started playing the violin with the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra, the Willamette Falls Symphony, the Singing Christmas Tree Orchestra and the Oregon Sinfonietta.

In 1992, Nancy and her husband got divorced, and her musical life really “took off.”

In the spring of 1992, she auditioned for the Portland Symphonic Choir and was accepted. From 1992 to 2004, she sang major choral works with the Oregon Symphony under James dePriest, Murry Sidlin, Norman Leyden and Helmuth Rilling.

“Singing major choral works such as Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony,’ Mahler’s ‘Second Symphony,’ ‘Carmina Burana’ and the ‘Messiah’ with a large orchestra was thrilling beyond belief,” Nancy said.

Her non-musical career continued too. In 1994, Nancy started working as a department administrator in the Dental School at Oregon Health & Science University.

“In 2004, I went part time and still work two days a week,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to work.”

Nancy has played both the violin and flute with the Portland Christian Center Orchestra since 1998, the violin with the Oregon Pro Arte Orchestra and the Hillsboro Symphony, the violin and cello with the Starlight Symphony, and the flute with MCO Productions and the Rose City Flute Choir.

Then there is the piano — since 1975, Nancy has provided the accompaniment for solos, ensembles and church choirs. She has also filled in on piano with the Jewish Community Orchestra and Willamette Falls Symphony. Sometimes, she even plays for her own pleasure.

Nancy didn’t take up playing the cello until 2006, and she truly loves to practice because it has such a beautiful sound. “I took lessons for three years, which is proof that you’re never too old to learn a new instrument,” said Nancy, who now plays cello in the Hillsboro Symphony.

Although Nancy has had many accomplishments, two highlights stand out in her life — so far.by: TIMES PHOTOS: BARBARA SHERMAN - Summerfield resident Nancy Vink plays the piano, the violin, the cello and the flute among her many musical and artistic endeavors.

In June 2001, she traveled with the Portland Symphonic Choir and sang the Mozart “Requiem” in Carnegie Hall in New York City. “To stand on that stage where so many famous people had performed was an amazing experience,” she said. “We had 300 singers on the stage and a full orchestra.”

In 2002, Nancy sang Verdi’s “Defiant Requiem” with the Portland Opera Chorus and the Oregon Symphony directed by Murry Sidlin, but it was more than just a performance.

“Murry was touched by the plight of the Jewish people in Europe during World War II and heard of a man named Raphael Schachter who was in a concentration camp near Prague,” Nancy said. “He found a rickety old piano and taught his fellow prisoners to sing Verdi’s ‘Requiem,’ and performed the choral masterpiece 16 times.”

Between the performances, some choir members were deported to Auschwitz and other death camps, and each time Schachter recruited more prisoners for the choir, teaching them the notes by rote.

“Murry wanted to recreate these concerts as accurately as possible,” Nancy said. “We performed in a sparse space at the Expo Center wearing gray sweatshirts and standing on bleachers. He found an old grand piano that was out of tune and propped up one side on boxes, just as it was at Terezin. We did two performances, which were taped by PBS and shown across the U.S. It was a very moving and emotional experience.”

Keeping busy

Over the years, Nancy has had to drop some groups when rehearsal schedules conflicted, but she remains active in as many as she can. “Currently, I’m in 3.5 orchestras, and five chamber groups,” she said. “The neat thing about these groups is that I meet like-minded people and have fun forming new groups — like five of us cellists formed the Cellamigos in 2011 — we rehearse about once a month.

“And a violinist friend and I formed the Allegro! String Quartet about six months ago with the goal of playing short programs in nursing homes, which really brightens their day.

“I used to be in the Potpourri Trio — between the three of us, we played nine instruments — three each — which we dragged to our gigs. We almost needed to rent a U-Haul!”

Nancy has lived in Summerfield since March 2010 and likens it to a little piece of heaven. “It’s such neat place to live, and I’ve met such nice people,” she said. “Four of us ladies formed the Treblemakers, a vocal quartet singing in four-part harmony, and we have performed several times. We all joined the Mask & Mirror Theatre Company Singers and have fun.

“Two years ago, I met Carolyn Ward in the Summerfield Thespians and discovered that she also played the piano, and now we play duets together as the Dynamic Duo. We also play ragtime music and join in the Portland Ragtime Association jam sessions.

“Barbara Roth, Pam Lewis and I formed the Summerfield Singers two years ago, and we have a lot of fun singing at happy hours and for Christmas parties. I’m also in the Summerfield Thespians — I don’t like being the center of attention, but I like having a small part in a play and working backstage with lights and props. So you might say I’m kind of busy.”

Nancy also is active in the Just-Friends Summerfield Singles Group, and in the Social Club, whose leader Barbara Roth calls her “one of my right hands” in the group. “Nancy always has a happy temperament and is a real go-getter,” Barbara said.

Nancy writes a monthly article about the Social Club activities for the Summerfield Summary, admitting, “I’m not a writer, but I like to create programs and fliers and make them interesting. I’m always looking for ideas. I also like playing board games, card games, working word puzzles and doing Sudoku. I love to read and hope to be in the Summerfield Book Club when I’m not so busy.”

Obviously, music is an important part of her life, and as her piano teacher used to say, “You meet the nicest people in music.”

Nancy has made many life-long friends from her musical endeavors and looks forward to many more musical adventures.

“I admit I am pretty crazy and have taken on a lot, and it’s addicting,” she said. “I keep meeting people who need a violinist or a cellist, and voilá, another group is formed. But I have no family obligations, and I’m my own boss, so why not?”

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