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Shelter Island Friends of Music plans historic concert as a major artist returns

Her email landed in the Shelter Island Friends of Music inbox in the dark pandemic days of January 2021.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

With the change of leadership at the SIFM following the April 2020 death from COVID-19 of our president, Forrest Compton, and the cancellation of our season, our board was grappling with how to keep our 46-year history going.

“I am writing as a longtime friend of the Shelter Island Friends of Music, having helped to start the Concert Series … along with my father, Don Allen, resident of the Island, and Dorothy Zabriskie and Dorothy Seiberling,” Nancy Allen wrote. “Many of my friends performed on the series, including the American and Emerson Quartets. I am the principal harpist of the NY Philharmonic, and on the faculty of Juilliard and Stony Brook University. I am impressed that the series has continued for so many years.”

She wanted to perform here again, possibly as a celebration “of the grassroots beginning of this series which has developed so wonderfully.”

This coming Labor Day weekend, Nancy will perform on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m., with her Gossamer Trio, which includes her cellist daughter Claire Marie Solomon, and renowned flutist Carol Wincenc.

It will take place at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church — where Nancy, then in her 20s and already hailed by the New York Times as “a major artist,” first performed a solo harp recital the year before the SIFM was officially born. And where she performed with a trio in the first official concert. And where she performed the 100th concert in 1995.

Nancy grew up in Garden City and Carmel, N.Y. After her father bought a house on Shelter Island, she visited frequently.

Well known locally, Don Allen was an amateur jazz drummer and a professional medical photographer.

He was pals with Harold Schonberg, the late New York Times music critic who had a home on Little Ram Island, and with Sid Stiber, husband of Dorothy Seiberling.

Dorothy, who had been an influential editor at Life magazine, New York magazine, and the New York Times, became one of the SIFM founders and years later its president. Sid, director, producer, and aviator, became Don Allen’s flying buddy.

“My father called himself the Commissioner of Klenawicus Airfield,” Nancy laughs. He flew her in from the city for the first official SIFM concert (with the Les Trois trio) in 1977.

Her father was a show-off and a showman. Nancy and her two sisters studied harp — all are professional harpists. To wake them up every morning, he blared John Philip Sousa march recordings on the phonograph. “I have really good rhythm because of that,” Nancy laughs.

Her mom, a public school music teacher, was the major musical influence in her life. She credits her dad with “giving me the green light to do something alternative — it was OK to be a musician, not a lawyer or a doctor. He’d say, ‘Thank God you’re a musician.’”

Nancy and her dad were thrilled to share the talents of her friends and colleagues with Shelter Island audiences, many of whom, like her, have gone on to exceptional careers.

So yes, we will celebrate our grassroots history along with the memory of our two past presidents, Dorothy Seiberling and Forrest Compton. The Sept. 3 performance is free (donations appreciated) with a reception (wine and cookies) afterwards. We declare ourselves ready to keep the music going, no matter what else is happening in the world.

Lois B. Morris is president of Shelter Island Friends of Music. For more information, visit shelterislandfriendsofmusic.org