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Nina Kennedy performing at Dixon Place Theater

Q&A with Nina Kennedy, author of Practicing for Love: A Memoir


Q: Why did you write this book?


NK: Well, since the day it was discovered I was a child prodigy, I’ve been pretty non-verbal. In fact, as I was zoned by law to attend a segregated public school, I had to speak black slang during the day, and was forced by my college professor parents to speak the King’s English at home. So I pretty much kept my mouth shut. When I started writing in a diary at 16, I realized I had a lot to say.


Being forced to practice turned out to be a convenient excuse for not having a social life, which enabled me to stay in the closet. I couldn’t really “come out” until I left home for college.


Q: How did you come out?


NK: The only way I could think of was to go to women’s bars and make friends there. I even met writer Rita Mae Brown at Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, at a book signing there. I’d read every book I could find on the subject: The Female Orgasm, Sapphistry, and of course, RubyFruit Jungle. I approached my sexuality the same way I approached performing: study and practice.


Q: How did being a lesbian affect your career?


NK: I certainly didn’t flirt with conductors or artist managers, so that limited the number of contracts I got. Most of them are gay, anyway, so flirting with them wouldn’t have made any difference. But my gay male colleagues certainly did. Many of them didn’t survive the AIDS crisis. But I knew of several male heterosexual conductors who were inappropriate with young females, and some recording executives as well. Those stories are all in the book.


Q: What does “Practicing for Love” really mean?


NK: My mother was a very frustrated woman, because of the sexism and the racism she had experienced. She became depressed and turned to alcohol for comfort. I learned very early that my playing the piano seemed to make her happy. And she had perfect pitch, so she would call out the right notes when I made mistakes. But she couldn’t mother me, so I went out into the world craving a woman’s love.


Q: Is this only a professional memoir?


NK: No. My love life is inextricably linked with my professional life. I wrote about coming out of the closet and claiming my identity as a woman who loves women. I wanted to share how my budding sexuality helped develop my understanding of the tensions, build-ups, and climaxes that classical music is famous for.

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