“There is no basket large enough in which to carry my tune,” jokes 74-year-old Nick Nash of his lack of singing ability, as we sit in a local bakery sipping coffee. “I cannot read music, but I have a very good ear because I’ve heard so much music in my life.”
No truer words have ever been spoken. As a boy, young Nick grew up in a home filled with the wonders of music, art, theater and dance. His father Edgar Nash worked for the holding company of Nash Finch (yes, that Nash Finch), but his heart was in the arts. “He wanted to be a music critic, but there wasn’t much interest out there, nor opportunity,” says Nick of his father. “He had to change that vocational interest into an avocation.”
So there was Fred Astaire, there was the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, there was the Guthrie Theater. Edgar Nash volunteered on arts boards and indulged his love of opera. He penned more than 100 romantic sonnets to Nick’s mother and, frequently, engaged in several of these activities at once. “One Saturday afternoon I walked into the living room and he was shining his shoes, listening to a live performance of Aida from the Met and reading a book on the intricacies of choreographing Swan Lake,” says Nick. “He had a remarkable intellect, and a profound passion for the arts.”
And so, as a sponge absorbs water, all of this filled the youthful Nick. With music in his blood, at 16, Nick had dreams of becoming a conductor. He reveals that one of his friends still recounts walking to Nick’s house and, through the living room window, seeing Nick, pencil in hand, conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni as if it were the marbled halls of the Vienna’s Musikverein or the Metropolitan Opera.
After switching gears and earning an undergraduate degree from Harvard College in social relations, followed by teaching in Ohio and earning a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Nick landed a job at Minnesota Public Radio as program director in 1978; he headed up the classical music department, where he met luminaries like Sir Neville Marriner. It was a music-lover’s dream.
A Christmas Eve phone call later that year to his parents’ retirement home in North Carolina set him on a new path. “My father picked up the phone and I could tell he was crying,” says Nick. “He said he was listening to a recording of the Christmas Eve service from King’s College in Cambridge, England. And when I asked why he was crying, he paused and said, ‘It was the innocence in the boy’s voices.’ I knew in an instant we needed to bring that program here.”
Nick hung up the phone and called the producer of the program at the BBC—while the program was on the air. After a brief conversation, it was a done deal. And in 1979, “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” was broadcast to 77 radio stations across the country. Now the service is aired on 300 stations and heard by millions; it is the most widely heard Christmas program in America on public radio.
Nick left MPR in 1985 and started a music gift business. He chatted with Paul McCartney’s people and Broadway greats like Stephen Sondheim, Frank and Jo Loesser, Charlie Strauss and a host of others. But his love of conducting came back into play, so he began selling conducting batons, presentation batons, specialty batons, custom batons; batons galore. Now, his batons fill the gift shop shelves in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world, including the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Chicago Symphony Center and the Hollywood Bowl.
“I’ve learned somewhere along the line that the cloak of [Marcus]Aurelius is participation,” says Nick. “I never want to be just an observer in life; I want to participate. And music has been a great way for me to do that.”
The Nash Company, 2129 Second St., White Bear Lake; 651.653.3979.