After 35 years, Dr. Nina Nash-Robertson, Director of Choral Activities is retiring from CMU. During her tenure, Nina has directed the Concert Choir, Chamber Singers and the Festival Chorus in addition to teaching choral literature and conducting. Before joining CMU, Nina spent 11 years teaching K-12 music in Wisconsin where she also directed four high school choirs.
Where it all began
Born in Ireland, Nina's love of the performing arts started at a young age. She was first known as an accomplished Irish Dancer and then, in the second grade, started to compete in vocal competitions. At age nine, Nina ventured to the United States with her parents and brother, seeking a stronger economy and better educational opportunities. Sponsored by her aunt and St. Rita's Church, Nina's family established themselves in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is there where Nina became known for her Irish Dancing and performed regularly in a weekly local TV show. She had always thought she would be an Irish Dancer who could sing, but as the years progressed, Nina set her sights on becoming a vocal educator reflecting, "I just knew this was what I was supposed to do."
It is not just the 'Luck of the Irish' but, determination and hard work, that propelled Nina to earn her Ph.D. in Choral Music from the University of Illinois. From there she took the job as Director of Choral Activities at Central Michigan University where she met her husband, John Robertson on the first day of faculty orientation in August 1982. They married in July 1983. John was there for Nina's first Festival Chorus performance in 1982, as she conducted this town and gown collaborative ensemble comprised of CMU students, staff, faculty and community members. He has been to every performance since which includes both on-campus, national and international tours. "I have been privileged to accompany Nina and her choirs on many tours." John says, "Our daughter Jenny became an international traveler many times over starting at the age of two. No matter the venue, it is a joy to witness Nina's combination of rhythm, power, grace and mastery as a conductor."
Travels & Teaching
Beginning with her K-12 teaching, Nina has always included travel into the curriculum. Her choirs have toured China twice with performances in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and the 2010 World Expo. They have completed five successful tours to Europe and her fourth appearance at Carnegie Hall is scheduled for June 2017.
Nina strongly believes instruction extends beyond the classroom and rehearsal hall, which is why she devoted considerable time preparing her student and community choirs for their international tours. "These trips encourage our student musicians to dream big." She explains, "Some have never traveled outside the state and it is powerful to witness their initial exposure to what opportunities are available to them." The chance to travel and perform in incredible venues was also extended to community members. Sam Staples, Festival Chorus participant observed, "I started singing with Nina and the Festival Chorus in 1982, before her daughter was born. I was later able to travel to China and Carnegie Hall. These were incredible experiences, with a wonderful director, who knows the job perfectly. It has always been a pleasure to sing for her."
Nina's colleagues in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) of Michigan awarded her the 2013 Maynard Klein Choral Award, recognizing her artistic excellence and lifetime of leadership in the choral music field. Nina served on the ACDA board of directors for 20 years, two of those as president, and made a powerful impact as Dr. Michael Mitchell, President, ACDA-Michigan and Director of Choral Activities at Oakland University testifies, "The ACDA was proud to present Nina with the Maynard Klein Award. She has been a leader in our profession for many years at the state, national and international levels. Nina is a wonderful teacher and a respected conductor who I am proud to call my friend and colleague."
On campus, Nina received the CMU Excellence in Teaching Award. Her dedication to her students is unwavering, says former graduate assistant, Ted Brauker, Director of Choral Activities, Ranger College. "Nina taught me so much about what it means to be a musician. She was a professor that always strived for musical excellence and sensitivity. Whether a student was a 70-year-old Festival Chorus member or a freshman music student, she treated both with respect, genuine care, and a gentle hand. I think about her teaching every time I get in front of students of my own." Allan Riggs, a 20-year member in the Festival Chorus echoed Ted's sentiments. "Nina directed community and CMU singers from teenagers to octogenarians, and connected with each of us. She taught us both choral music and the history of the pieces. She has enriched the lives of hundreds, probably thousands of singers."
Daughter, Jenny described her mother as "a singing, dancing, completely selfless, incredibly nurturing, tiny Irish ball of non-stop energy." Therefore, it is no surprise that in 2015, Nina was honored by the Milwaukee Irish Dance Festival for her work as one of the founders of the event as well as running her own school of Irish Dance.
Nina has not only carried on the sacred tradition of Irish Dance and the treasured community outreach and camaraderie of the 100 year-old Festival Chorus, but has also helped shape the future of performers and music educators across the nation. These choral directors are now carrying on the tradition of Nina's endless energy and tireless work ethic. As her daughter explains, "While she is beyond musically talented, I think what inspires me most is her endless positive energy. She is constantly encouraging you to be the best version of yourself and her enthusiasm is infectious. She is my inspiration as a working woman and mom."