When KFKA radio aired the first edition of “Nick’s Knacks,” listeners were warned: They were about to be “exposed to the brain of Nick Kenny and how it functions.” It was clear that Kenny, executive director for the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO), had something to say. Well, really A LOT to say, but he was eloquent and energetic in his execution. Possibly, these two qualities have fueled much of Kenny’s success driving the GPO forward. Now, as a pandemic has interrupted the GPO’s momentum, Kenny tells us how he plans to keep its future alive.
Q: Tell us a little about your history: Where you were raised and how you ended up as Executive Director of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra.
A: I was raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I grew up playing sports (baseball and football), spending time with family and kickstarting my music career in school. After graduating, I began a biology-chemistry major and music minor at Manchester University. I was fortunate to study abroad as often as I could, having visited New Zealand, Italy, Greece, England, Austria and Puerto Rico. I was also honored to have been selected to participate as a trumpeter in several national intercollegiate bands. I chose to complete a Trumpet Performance degree and pursue a master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado, packing up and leaving Indiana in August 2011.
In Colorado, I took a break from grad school to work in a practical effects studio where I helped to build and design Star Warscostumes and props. A lifelong Star Warsfan, I was on several teams for some top-A KNACK FORLEADERSHIPWhen KFKA radio aired the first edition of “Nick’s Knacks,” listeners were warned: They were about to be “exposed to the brain of Nick Kenny and how it functions.” It was clear that Kenny, executive director for the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO), had something to say. Well, really A LOT to say, but he was eloquent and energetic in his execution. Possibly, these two qualities have fueled much of Kenny’s success driving the GPO forward. Now, as a pandemic has interrupted the GPO’s momentum, Kenny tells us how he plans to keep its future alive.secret and exciting projects. After working in that industry for several years, doubling as a professional trumpeter in Colorado, I chose to return to grad school and earn my master’s degree in Music Education. I quickly learned that education was not for me. As much as I enjoyed teaching music, I could not bear to continue seeing the arts defunded and watch a whole generation of students be left behind, culturally. During that second stint of grad school I began working part-time for the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra, producing several fundraisers while dipping my foot into the world of business. Soon after graduating from UNC, I was offered the Interim Executive Director position at the GPO where I blossomed as a business and nonprofit leader and was offered the office E.D. title in January 2018.
Q: What does an executive director of an orchestra do during a pandemic?
A: As you may imagine, the worlds of nonprofit executive directors were flipped upside down when the pandemic hit. Orchestras and performance groups across the globe were among the hardest hit as they rely on ticket revenue and fundraising events to sustain them throughout the year. My focus shifted dramatically from networking and marketing to grant writing and, well, survival. It seems my meetings increased tenfold as my board of directors stepped up to the plate to begin formulating plans for our relief efforts and how to sustain us until we are back in the concert hall. New committees were formed, and board engagement went through the roof. Now I spend all day at my desk instead of bouncing around town from meeting to meeting, enhancing my grant writing skills and laying the groundwork for new partnerships, collaborations and business relationships.
Q: You seem to have settled nicely into the Greeley community: accidental good luck or by design?
A: I would say that my path to Greeley was accidental good luck, but my close friends would say otherwise. Perhaps my path to be the executive director of the GPO was a bit unconventional, but the passion and care I have for my community and its residents drove me to become as involved as possible. In return, I advocate as a strong voice for the arts and for businesses and nonprofits alike.
Q: You recently debuted a radio show where you invite us to crawl into the brain of Nick Kenny. What will listeners find there?
A: For the past year or so, I have been the chairperson of the Greeley Area Chamber Ambassadors. During our monthly meetings, there would always be a portion of our meeting designated as “Nick’s Knacks,” or “whatever Nick wanted to talk about.” That inspired me to pitch a radio show/podcast idea to KFKA—essentially a show about nothing (think Seinfeld), but a show where almost anyone can tune in and relate to what is being discussed. The guys at KFKA loved the idea and halfway through what I now call The Great Isolation we met and drew up the paperwork for the show.
Nick’s Knacks has covered topics ranging from my favorite Star Warsfilms to bourbon sampling to focusing on mental health. I bring in experts in their fields to help me cover these topics. My passions are boundless and my desire to continually learn something new helps me to keep the show fresh and relevant. I bounce around from topic to topic and I use my musical selections to better help tell a segment’s story.
Q: You have a wide variety of interests and pursuits. How have they funneled into your role as Executive Director for the GPO and the energy you bring to that role? (Note: You have been called a non-traditional E.D., but many view this as an asset to the GPO.)
A: Wait a minute, WHO is calling me a non-traditional E.D.?
When I find an interest or a hobby about which I become passionate, it is a little too easy for me to commit to it. I took up recreational ice hockey about six years ago and continually wanted to push and challenge myself while learning the game as a player and not just as a fan. After years of skating out as a center, I took up goaltending. I thought, “Oh that can’t be too hard, you just have to stop a few shots and then watch the game unfold around you.” Nope. I couldn’t have been more wrong—my first day wearing gear and training with another goalie left my legs so wobbly I could barely skate off the ice. It was a whole new level of conditioning. Before COVID, I was playing goalie in two to four leagues each season, loving the challenge and mental focus required of a goalie. I take losses personally and so it leads me to always try to do better.
I apply this mentality as an executive director. Whenever a bump in the road appears, I can navigate it in a variety of ways. I try to read what is happening in the industry, in board meetings, in our community, and I use that information to think two, three, maybe four steps ahead of what I think may happen and to prepare for every outcome possible. It is exhausting; my brain is never off, but I attribute this tenacity to my successes. My grandfather always refers to me as a Renaissance Man. Aside from the chain mail, I think he’s pretty spot-on.
Q: Obviously, a pandemic has derailed the GPO’s season. How has the GPO adjusted? Any idea what the future holds?
A: Our 2020-21 concert season is completely up in the air. I don’t anticipate having a concert like we used to have at the Union Colony Civic Center until Spring 2021 but will be pleasantly surprised if that date is pushed forward. The GPO is in the process of providing our musicians with as much work as possible, just in smaller venues and, of course, with fewer musicians.
Our industry will forever be changed by this as the age of live streaming is at its height, but with an orchestra of 60+ musicians, it is difficult to amass such a group of people to perform an exceptional piece of work. Additionally, orchestras around the globe are preparing for live streamed performances, so when we are able to do something virtually or in person, I assure you that it will be so unique that you will only be able to see it here in Greeley, Colo. I hold true to the foundations of classical music and its significance in today’s world, but I also recognize that our future successes are directly tied to our progressive programming to entice a new audience while not forgetting our classical roots.
I am confident that when the GPO returns, whether virtually or on stage, it will be in such a way that is unique to the GPO and our community.