Not Your Grandma’s Orchestra

Greeley's 110-year-old orchestra stays relevant as a pillar in the community

The Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO) has played an integral role in shaping Greeley into the unique  community you know and love – from 1911 to today. One might wonder how a 110-year-old orchestra has continued to draw crowds while staying relevant in the 21st century. Perhaps it’s the influence of the leadership of youthfully energetic Nick Kenny, Chief Executive Officer, and his partnership with Music Director, Lowell Graham. 

While in his master’s program at UNC in 2011, Kenny, now 33, looks back at what he calls his quarter-life crisis. He left graduate school to build himself a stormtrooper costume, design costumes and props for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, work in the commercial field in Los Angeles, and create at a practical effects studio. “It wasn’t very fulfilling because it was warehouse work, and I’m a very social person,” said Kenny. Seeking more, he returned to the two places he feels most at home: Greeley and music. 

When Kenny returned to Greeley to complete his Master of Music Education degree at UNC, he began working for the GPO as an administrative assistant. “I really fell in love with putting on events, getting to know donors, and becoming connected in the community.” Promoted to Executive Director in 2017, Kenny found the place where he thrives in connecting with others. “The GPO is not just an orchestra anymore - It’s a community builder that brings people together from different walks of life and hopefully eliminates some of the barriers that have built up over the past decades. I have a vision for a better world, a better community,” said Kenny.

Kenny believes one of his greatest accomplishments in leading the GPO was recruiting Music Director Lowell Graham. When Kenny was an undergraduate student, he joined an inter-collegiate honor college band where Graham was the Music Director. Kenny said it was a turning point for his musical career. “He [Graham] was so inspirational and challenged us so much. It was the best musical experience of my life. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” said Kenny. 

Graham is a Greeley native whose credits include, United States Airforce Colonel, conducting ensembles in numerous orchestras worldwide, and holding the title of  Professor of Music at The University of Texas at El Paso. Even after being away for 50 years, Graham considers Greeley his home. He said it was an easy decision to accept the role as GPOs Music Director, adding that the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra is “Greeley’s treasure.”

As a highly talented and award-winning Music Director, Graham was a rare catch for the GPO. “Who loves Greeley more than Lowell Graham who hasn’t lived here in 50 years? You’re never going to find that. We could do a thousand searches, and we’d never find a candidate like Lowell,” said Kenny. With a laugh, Kenny added, “His spirit matches mine. He’s 71 years old, and he has just as much energy as I do.”

Kenny and Graham are leading the orchestra with energy and enthusiasm, creating an experience that is entertaining, inviting, and fun, while bringing people together to celebrate our culture. Kenny explains, “We’re going to be telling our past, and we’re going to be creating our future. I hope people want to be a part of that.” The GPO hopes to eliminate the stigma that you must wear a suit or tux to enjoy the orchestra. Kenny said it’s no longer like that, “I’m really excited about where we’re taking this orchestra. It’s not your grandma’s orchestra anymore.” 

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