Nancy Rogers luxuriating in her West Tisbury daylily garden earlier this summer. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Nancy Rogers luxuriating in her West Tisbury daylily garden earlier this summer. Photos by Ralph Stewart

How do you keep her down on the farm after the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society?

By Wendy Arnell Brophy - September 7, 2006

A mule, a horse, a teenager, a husband, and a garden full of daylilies - no chamber music poking through Nancy Rogers's new life after retirement from the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society.

Nancy, a native of Martha's Vineyard, is the daughter of Patricia and the late John Rogers of Vineyard Haven. A product of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music where her instrument of choice was the organ, a complex and demanding wind instrument with which to become proficient.

It was during her studies in Boston she heard that the Montagnana Trio would be on the Island, thanks to the late Sydna White who invited the group to perform for the Tercentenary celebration in Tisbury. The Montagnana Trio consisted of Caroline Worthington, cello, Delores Stevens, piano and John Gates, clarinet. They were a California-based group who toured Europe and the United States.

Nancy continues her duties as organist and director of music at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Edgartown. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Music is still a big part of Nancy's life; she continues her duties as organist and director of music at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Edgartown.

To hear chamber music on Martha's Vineyard in 1971 was a rare treat but their original success led them to return to the Island where they played for a select group of aficionados at the Chilmark Community Center. The audience was seated on the floor - please bring your own cushion - for those first concerts. The trio continued to play for small gatherings at the Chilmark Community Center throughout that summer and the next, their popularity increasing with each performance.

The Island worked its charm and with the help of Caroline's mother, Eleanor Piacenza and other supporters, the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society (MVCMS) came into being.

Through John Rogers's connection with Caroline and John Gates, Nancy was asked to be the page-turner for pianist Delores Stevens. "And I have been involved ever since," said Nan. "I started a wonderful relationship with Dee and finally in 1984 I was reaching a point in my own personal life where I was trying to decide if I was going to be a full-time musician. Do I have what it takes? It was crisis time." Although Nancy had been an organ major, she was looking at the piano as her new instrument of choice. Even though both are keyboard-based, they are very different to play.

With Caroline's encouragement, Nancy spoke with Delores and her husband James about her dilemma and they invited her to come live with them in California. "They put me up for two months in their studio. I had lessons twice a week with Delores and was practicing six hours a day. I was having a great time, I was even turning pages for Dee out there!" This was a chance for Nancy to meet composers, musicians, go to concerts, and to be in the thick of the music world. It's something she will never forget.

After all that glam and hard work, Nan came back to the Vineyard and decided not to become a pianist! In hindsight she feels this time with Delores was the turning point that allowed her to look at a life in music and to make a clear decision as to which direction to take.

After Nan's return to the Island, there was a long stint in retail as manager of Tashtego in Edgartown and later as a carpenter with South Mountain. During that time she found the MVCMS was growing. A board was formed in the mid-1980s to help with the business aspect - planning concerts, rehearsing, plus the nuts and bolts of giving performances was becoming too much for Caroline and Delores. The first board president was Martitia Tuttle. She was followed by Ray Kellman who, after a few years, was finding the task overwhelming; enter the new Administrative Assistant, Nancy Rogers.

Nancy worked for several years in this capacity and finally became a member of the board. In 1995 she became the executive director and remained in that position until this past January. Dorothy Pierce has taken on the position of executive director.

When asked what her day-to-day role was within the organization she replied, "Putting out fires!" Nancy did all the administrative work, "I sent out contracts to the guest performers, gathered the bio information, put together the program book along with Tisbury Printer's Janet Holladay handled all the mailings and did the subscriptions, wrote and sent out the newsletters, did the books, produced monthly treasurers reports, and sometimes I went to the boat, in the pouring rain at midnight, to guide musicians up to Chilmark - that's where the 'putting out the fires' came in." Nancy also was the point person for setting up the schedules with the Chilmark Community Center and later at the Whaling Church. Concerts can be heard in both places, in Edgartown on Monday evening and in Chilmark on Tuesday evening; both performances begin at 8 pm.

During Nan's tenure one of her most memorable moments was the Ned Rorem concert in 2000. It was Delores's passion to have new composers commission works not only for the trio but also for the chamber society. Mr. Rorem is a prominent American composer who has written hundreds of songs, and he is an author of many books. This concert was a sell-out, with people lined up down the street hoping to get in. Nan admits it was not her concept to invite Mr. Rorem, but she put in lots of work to make sure it was the success it turned out to be.

One of her biggest frustrations is that young people, students of music, do not avail themselves of the wonderful talent that comes to the Island through the MVCMS. All students are admitted to the concerts free of charge.

The Island Strings Program was instituted some 20 years ago by the MVCMS when Ray Kellman approached the Martha's Vineyard National Bank for a grant to purchase 30 violins. At first it was an after-school program, but now it encompasses well over 200 students who may participate as part of the in-school curriculum. There is also a scholarship program for those who would not otherwise be able to take private lessons.

After all of this work in the world of music, what is Nan doing now?

When she and her family moved into their new home on Oak Lane, in West Tisbury, she realized getting her hands dirty was what she really wanted to do. "Being on the farm with the chickens, fish, horse and the mule, was a dream come true that I didn't know I had." Now Nancy's summers are very different than they used to be, but full of many new things - selling her daylilies at the Wednesday's Farmer's Market in West Tisbury and from her home, tending her garden, enjoying her family, and yes, of course, going to chamber music performances as an audience member.

For more information on the Martha's Vineyard Chamber Music Society visit

Wendy Brophy, former Times Calendar Editor, lives and writes in San Francisco.