Now in his ninth season as executive director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, J.L. Nave has overseen much change and growth, not terribly surprising at any thriving orchestra or established arts organization. It’s a career he hadn’t anticipated as he was growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, the heart of country music and Southern charm, but his willingness to adapt and his openness to change have served him well both in his own career and in his professional capacity. Although he says he enjoys a wide range of music, his own musical background wasn’t exactly steeped in the country sounds of Nashville. However, his job during high school and as he went to college in nearby Belmont University was the iconic Opryland theme park where he developed a deep and abiding respect for the performers who were legends of that genre.
“My primary responsibilities were in guest services,” says Nave, “but during my years there I had the chance to work with a number of country artists that were out there on a regular basis. What I found was that they were all just good people. It’s the opposite of what you sometimes hear or experience with pop and rock performers. Country artists were just humble, appreciative people. It was really refreshing. I may not have necessarily been a big fan of all of their music, but I had a huge respect for their talent and their graciousness.”
Growing up in a musical family helped form Nave’s musical interests from the beginning, and he began singing at the age of two. Both parents belonged to the church choir, and his mother was a music educator. He had access to a piano at home and began playing the trumpet in the fifth grade, the handbells in sixth grade. A photo of a young J.L. playing handbells hangs from Nave’s office wall, and he admits that, while he hasn’t touched his trumpet in 15 years, he does still play handbells and will occasionally sing with the Philharmonic Chorus.
Given his background, a degree in conducting was a natural, but as he moved toward graduate work at the University of Alabama, he began to question whether he wanted to pursue that vocation enough to invest the time and work required. He now has great appreciation for what people like Andrew Constantine, the Philharmonic’s musical director, do to reach that point in their career.
“I think about what Andrew and the 200-plus applicants for the music director position have done, and I realize now it was something I just wasn’t willing to do. But I couldn’t get away from music, and I began hearing about a degree in arts administration. I, like many people, had never given any thought to what it takes behind the scenes just to get to the point of putting a performance on the stage. People who have had the opportunity to peek behind the curtain, to see what it takes to put on one concert, realize how many elements there are to it.”
Earning degrees in arts and business administration from the University of Cincinnati, Nave says now that he’s never looked back, that he loves what he does. And since his arrival in Fort Wayne in 2006, he says he has loved the diversity of the job, not to mention many of the other perks.
“I get to go to 60 or 70 performances a year, and I get paid for doing it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
There are challenges, of course, but many of those come from the very variety that he enjoys about the job.
“I am the touch point for all aspects of the organization, and there are six parts to Fort Wayne Philharmonic Inc., or as we like to call it, Phil Inc. There’s the orchestra, the staff, the board of directors, the Friends of the Philharmonic, the chorus and the youth orchestra. There are 400 people under that umbrella. Most of the interests of all of those parts align, but sometimes they don’t. It’s my job to keep them all moving forward and in the same direction.”
He concedes that his job is made easier by the team atmosphere of those under that umbrella and points to the recent contract negotiations which could have gotten unpleasant but didn’t.
We ended up much better off than many of our colleagues where there have been work stoppages. As difficult as those negotiations were, our players kept playing. I have to give them huge credit because it wasn’t easy for them either. But we were all focused on helping to keep the Fort Wayne Philharmonic here in northeast Indiana for many years to come. We all have a common direction and a common commitment.
“You know, they say laws and sausages are the two things you don’t want to know how they’re made. Maybe orchestra management is the third thing on that list. It can be messy, but what’s important is that we all get there together.”
Since his arrival, he has overseen the change in musical leadership with the search that brought Constantine to the city. He has also been there as Constantine has hired a new associate director, Sameer Patel, a search which began again with Patel’s recent departure after a three-year tenure with the orchestra. Those kinds of changes bode well for the orchestra, oddly enough, since they demonstrate the demand for the talented conductors which have come to our area.
“It’s really our job to make sure that those assistant and associate conductors don’t get stuck, that they stay on a good professional career path. Sameer was guest conducting a great deal and was in great demand, which reflects very well on our orchestra.”
Nave is satisfied not only with his professional duties but with the area he now calls home. Having lived in larger metropolitan areas, he has a great appreciation for the small town aspects of Fort Wayne while enjoying the great number of advantages the city has to offer.
“I always say that there are a lot of Southern qualities to this area. People here are friendly and willing to help. They’re polite and a little more relaxed than people are in larger cities. I like not having a two-hour commute, and the infrastructure is here to make life easier. Synchronized lights were a huge thing for me when I came here. It may not sound like a big deal, but it’s definitely a quality of life issue. And we have the orchestra, Cinema Center, the zoo, the ballet, numerous theater companies, the Botanical Conservatory. You’re lucky if you find one or two of those in a community this size. The culture and recreation here is incredible. You have access to big city type activities without the hassle.”