Born in Oregon Always Yearning To Return: Although my performance life took me all over theUnited States and Europe, I never recovered from a vague homesickness for Oregon: the trees, the ocean, the smell of the air and the ferns. So that’s just what I did after singing all over the US and the world. I chose to come home to make a life in Oregon amidst the trees, the ocean, the wonderful air, and the ferns.
My studio is in the Forest Heights neighborhood now, and we call our home the “The Tree House”.
Life after Cheerleading. The Texas Years: When I was nineyears old, my Mother packed up my baby sister, Rosemary and me in the Ford Convertible and we drove home to live amid her ancestral Texas family in a small Central Texas town called Clifton. There amongst good hearted and caring people my sister and I grew up. I lived for my music class and my first solo in Texas was “Red RiverValley”, a song I adore to this day. I loved Cheerleading in High School and it was a difficult day when I was told I had a great voice, but needed to give up my cheerleading….had to give it up. My piano teacher, Mrs. R. O. Bass (to whom I owe my life, Bless her soul) told me “Nancy Judith, there is life after cheerleading! Pull yourself together!” And you know what? There was! And I did! I gave it up for art. It was a thrill to win best actress in the state several years in a row for the state One Act Play competition, but even more fun was that the Clifton High School Track team always went to State and so we all traveled down to Austin together to compete! I was voted most talented in my senior year book. They even had a Nancy Swenson Day at my High School sponsored by my Spanish Class and the Future Homemakers of American. I was National Officer in the latter.
I attended Baylor University on a full scholarship and studied under the tender and wise guidance of the great bass/baritone Andrew White (world famous Metropolitan opera Sherrill Milnes’ teacher). I sang the leading roles in the highly acclaimed opera program at Baylor as Cherubino, in the Marriage of Figaro. Elizabeth Proctor in Robert Wards Crucible, Desdemona in Otello. I sang the world premier of Ernst Bloch’s new opera Macbeth as the formidable Lady Macbeth to critic’s raves.
I married a wonderful Baylor classmate, the now very famous Lyndon Olson, Jr. and we were involved in Texas politics all of our young marriage. He won the coveted seat to the House of Representatives and we went toAustinto serve and make a difference. There I met my best friend, Liz Tankersley who was working at the House of Representatives while she received her Law Degree was my constant companion as I hiked the vast hills of the political wife and became the leading soprano in the prestigious opera program at the University of Texas at Austin. Note: Liz and I have remained friends since those Austin days and as I went on to complete my Masters Degree and to sing all over the world changing it one note at a time, Liz began to devote her life to changing the world in politics. Liz worked in the Senate for Ed Muskie, Joe Biden, and Barbara Boxer, all truly inspirational leaders. Lyndon and his great wife Kay are generous benefactors to Baylor University now, and do great good in the world community.
New York City and the Beyond: I also met one of the most important people in my life at the University of Texas at Austin. That was the great accompanist and coach David Garvey. He literally took me under his wing. He played for me as my accompanist, although I could not afford him, of course. I began to be sought out as an outstanding recitalist. He said very wisely, “It doesn’t hurt to have the pianist for Leontyne Price as your accompanist, you know?” He guided me in the choice of repertoire and encouraged me to think beyond Texas. He believed like I did that you change the world through music and he never thought I was unrealistic about this. I loved him, so. He helped me meet great artists and to get opportunities to work with them. He wisely supported me to enter many competitions and I began to win them and the awards and accolades that went with them. I continued my journey by moving on to New York City to study with the famous teacher Ellen Faull. While in New York I was able to participate in Master Classes at The Julliard School of Music where Ms. Faull was a faculty member. I was there for the first revolutionary Alexander Technique classes. I worked with soprano Elly Ameling, mezzo Marilyn Horne, and the great pianist Dalton Baldwin. I also worked with the great French performer Gérard Souzay and and with the great teacher Gwendolyn Koldofsky.
Home to Oregon, Motherhood and Teaching: To be continued…