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HEM Artistic Director Emerita

Nancy Ellis

Nancy Ellis first became involved with Houston Early Music (then named Houston Harpsichord Society) in 1992 when she performed as vocalist and instrumentalist with Ensemble Mariposa (Becky Baxter, Dir.) in a program of Renaissance works for the organization’s annual Festival Concert. In 1996, she was named Administrative Director, assuming the responsibility for managing the annual concert series productions. In 2002 she was appointed Artistic Director of HEM, which entailed engaging the artists for the season, overseeing the creation of season brochures and other print materials, and managing all production issues for those performances. Upon her retirement on June 30, 2020, she was granted the title of Artistic Director Emerita.


Ms. Ellis grew up in a music-loving family in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where she sang in her church choirs and school chorus, studied piano and played in her high school band (flute and tuba). She pursued her musical studies at Mars Hill College (NC), and in 1970 received a Bachelor of Music degree in voice with an emphasis on sacred music. After graduating, Nancy returned to her hometown of Franklin, NC, where she served as organist/choir director at First Presbyterian Church and taught private piano and voice lessons. In 1973, her musical life took a bit of a turn when she began working at Radio Station WFSC as a country music DJ and, later, as the station News Director. 


In 1976, Nancy decided to fulfill a dream of living in her father’s home state of Texas, and she relocated to Houston. Upon arriving in town, Ms. Ellis began singing with the Houston Grand Opera Chorus (1976-1978). She joined the choir of Christ Church Cathedral as an alto soloist in 1976 and continues to sing with the Cathedral Choir. She also sang with the Houston Symphony Chorus from 1978-1980). 


Through her college years, Nancy was drawn to the music of the Baroque Era, but truly discovered her love of early music when she joined the vocal ensemble I Madrigali in 1980. She performed with that ensemble for many years at the Texas Renaissance Festival and other venues in the Houston area. In 1983 she became co-director of the group. 

As her interest in early music grew, Nancy began attending music workshops around the US, where she became fascinated with historical instruments. She subsequently learned to play viola da gamba, recorder, crumhorn, shawms, and cornetto. Early music luminaries Nancy has worked with include: Rosamund Morley (Parthenia Viol Consort), Bart Spanhove, Han Tol (Flanders Recorder Quartet, Tom Zajac (Piffaro), Richard Campbell and Wendy Gillespie (Fretwork) Bob Wiemken (Piffaro) and Paul Elliott (Hilliard Ensemble)


Nancy is a member of the Houston Chapter of the Viola da Gamba Society of America. Through that organization’s “Circuit Rider Program,” which supports communities where there is no regular viol teacher, she had the great privilege of studying privately with artists Mary Springfels and Sarah Mead.


Nancy and husband Kevin started their family in 1982 with the birth of a daughter Amanda followed by the birth of son Will in 1986. She spent several years devoted to the role of a stay-at-home mom, a full-time job which, with her musical activities, kept her fully occupied until 1992 when she became active with HEM.


In addition to her musical interests, Nancy has a lifelong love of the natural world and is a keen birder. As soon as social distancing is no longer required, she plans to enjoy her retirement by spending more time with her four grandchildren. She eagerly anticipates joining the local viola da gamba community again to explore the vast viol consort repertoire and take camping trips to the American Southwest.

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