A 2nd Act: Singing With Joy

Allan Naplan and Arizona Musicfest are igniting minds with music

As a young man, he played the trumpet. This wasn’t a surprise since Allan Naplan’s mother was a music teacher who started taking him to performances at a very young age. “And then I found an even more powerful instrument,” Naplan said. “My own voice.”

He pursued advanced degrees in voice performance and music education. Immediately after graduation, Naplan was one of the lucky few who find themselves on stage singing opera. It was a dream come true … sort of. The thrill of performing with an opera company comes with the monotony of being on the road. (Think pack, travel, hotel, repeat.)

In 1999, after seven years of opera singing, Naplan’s second act began. Step one was 13 years in arts management. He held key positions with the Houston Grand Opera (assistant artistic administrator), Pittsburgh Opera (director of artistic administration), Madison Opera (general director) and Minnesota Opera (president and general director).

Then, in 2013, Arizona became the recipient of Naplan’s talents when he joined Arizona Musicfest as the executive and producing director. That’s when his second act truly blossomed, as it has for the organization. Founded in 2001, the nonprofit was created to bring the joy of music to all ages, and that theme is prominent in everything they do. There has been dramatic growth under Naplan’s guiding hand in all three of its mission pillars.

First, Musicfest’s beloved concert series provides Arizona music lovers with a veritable who’s who of performers from a wide realm of genres. Michael Bolton, Rosanne Cash, Chris Botti, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Manhattan Transfer, The Ten Tenors, The Count Basie Orchestra, Steep Canyon Rangers and many more have illuminated its stage. Naplan has grown the concert series from just 14 events performed in January and February to 30, spanning seven months from November to May.

“We are fortunate to be in the unique position of earning 60 percent of our annual budget, rather than relying solely
on donations and grants for operating funds,” Naplan said. Its second mission pillar is music education, from Kindermusik for little ones to music education in area schools to being a destination for elite young classical musicians from late junior high through high school. Musicfest holds six Young Musician Competitions a year, featuring the best among them in the concert series. It’s truly the future of classical music being developed right here in Arizona. Plus, the scholarship program has contributed more than $110,000 to Arizona students pursuing college music degrees.

“I am so proud of what we’re doing with young musicians. But this isn’t teaching violin,” Naplan said. “They can’t just play in their instructor’s studio. They need experience if they’re going to perform on a stage. We provide them with the opportunities to compete, to receive feedback and to win prize money.”

Finally, Arizona Musicfest has expanded its “joy of music” philosophy to lifelong learning opportunities. Older program participants can enroll in Senior Strummers and Health Rhythms — drumming sessions that align with heartbeats.

Allan Naplan has another critical skill: composing. This side gig has garnered sales of more than a million copies
worldwide. It’s a crucial element as he programs all of the Musicfest concerts from a composing position. He speaks the language, and that matters in the final production.

When asked what makes his heart soar, Naplan said it’s the mere thought of the impact music can have on a child, especially when introduced at a young age. It opens their minds to empathy and other cultures. Their minds are
positively ignited by music.

That philosophy has come home as Naplan’s son is now playing the clarinet. Naplan sometimes dusts off his trumpet and the two play duets in the living room.

To learn more, go to AZMusicfest.org.

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