March 18, 2002 – Pianist Joy Cline, who'll perform with flautist Vanessa Holroyd at the St. John School of the Arts on Thursday evening, made her first Virgin Islands appearance in 1987. But her roots go back a lot farther than that.
Her great-grandfather, Charles Sumner Duke, was the supervising engineer in the Virgin Islands with the federal government's Public Works Administration 1946-51. "He administered a $10 million capital improvements project for the construction of a water and sewer system, the first highway across the island of St. John, hospitals for Frederiksted and Christiansted, and a hospital and the high school in Charlotte Amalie," Cline relates.
Those who can remember the Duke Catchment may also remember the man for whom it was named, she adds.
Born in 1879, Duke was the first African-American to receive a diploma from Phillips Exeter Academy (in 1901), graduate from Harvard University's Lawrence Scientific School (1904) and receive a master of science degree in engineering from the University of Wisconsin (1911). "I wish that I could have known him," Cline says.
In her own right, Cline also made history in the Virgin Islands — performing in the first-ever Arts Alive classical concert in Tillett Gardens. Little did she — or concert producer Rhoda Tillett — know that it would be the start of the Classics in the Garden series now in its 15th season. She appeared with cellist Evan Drachman, the grandson of Gregor Piatigorsky.
In 1989, just two months after Hurricane Hugo, Cline returned to the territory with another cellist, Joshua Gordon, with whom she would make her debut at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall a year later. The duo had been booked to perform in both Tillett Gardens and the Whim Great House. When Cline learned of the hurricane's devastation, she assumed the concerts were canceled, but a telegram arrived saying the shows must go on.
"It was truly a tour that I will never forget," she says. She and Gordon flew down on a plane carrying Federal Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross and other disaster aid workers, who were "amazed that the concerts were still on." Despite worries that people wouldn't get word of the performances, especially on St. Croix, "the concerts were packed" on both islands, she recalls, "and we had never played for such an enthusiastic audience."
Cline's third V.I. visit was in 1990, when she appeared with violinist Gary Levinson, a colleague from the Juilliard School. Her performances this week with Holroyd mark her fourth V.I. tour — but her first appearance on St. John.
She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Juilliard and a doctorate in musical arts from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Something else she has been doing since 1987 is serving as an associate member of the piano faculty at Florida's annual Sarasota Musical Festival. That's where she met Holroyd a few years ago. Not long after, Holroyd and her husband, jazz drummer David Miller, moved to Boston, where Cline lives with her husband, attorney A.W. "Chip" Phinney, and their almost-3-year-old twins, Lauryn and Lincoln.
Besides being good friends, Cline and Holroyd found that they worked well together, Cline says. "We have a similar artistic vision, cheerful outlook on life and a compatible focus and work ethic." And they are flexible in drawing from their repertoire: "We really try to tailor our programs to what we think people will most enjoy," she says.
For the audiences at Tillett Gardens and the St. John School of the Arts, that will be duets by J.S. Bach, Carl Reinecke, Philippe Gaubert, Aaron Copland and Francois Bourne.
Holroyd earned her undergraduate degree in literature from Yale University, while playing principal flute with the Yale Symphony Orchestra. She went on to complete her master's in flute performance at McGill University in Montreal and now is pursuing an artist diploma from the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. She has performed at various chamber festivals nationwide and appears frequently in the Boston area.
Cline has performed extensively in chamber music concerts with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra including cellist Owen Young, who has appeared twice on St. Thomas and St. John with Boston Pops conductor and pianist Keith Lockhart.
Cline and Young have collaborated on a work that is special to her, the Sonata for Cello and Piano by George Theophilus Walker. She did her doctoral dissertation on the "evolving compositional style" of Walker, who in 1996 became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.
As the mother of two toddlers, Cline has cut back on her touring and teaching schedules. "I can't play as many concerts at the moment, but I feel that the ones that I am able to schedule are more inspired," she says. "Being a mother brings all the most important priorities into focus. Certain things that I once worried about are not so important."
The daughter of a piano teacher (Eileen T. Cline, who was dean of the Peabody Institute in 1982-97 and served as a judge at the Van Cliburn Competition last year), Cline began playing at 4 and started formal lessons at 5. Her children are applying themselves informally already, attending toddler music classes twice a week. When she practices at home, they "demand" to play, she says. To ensure her more time on the Steinway, she and her husband bought the kids a Yamaha electric piano. "They have become quite adept at using all of the various buttons," she says.
For personal listening, Cline's musical tastes are eclectic. While classical is right up there, she also enjoys rhythm and blues, pop, folk, jazz and more. She dabbles in composing "just for fun … of the pop genre." She recently decided to change her professional name to Joy Cline Phinney but since people in the Virgin Islands know her as Joy Michele Cline, she said, that's who she'll continue to be for this tour.
Concert information
Joy Michele Cline and Vanessa Holroyd will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at the St. John School of the Arts in Cruz Bay. Tickets are $20, discounted to $15 for students. They're being sold at Connections in Cruz Bay and will be available at the door, space allowing. Seating is open and reservations are not taken by telephone. For additional information, call 779-4322 or 776-6777.
The duo also will perform Wednesday evening at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas. Tickets are $30 and $20; a pre-performance dinner with concert seating is an additional $30 plus bar service and tip. For reservations, call 775-1929 or e-mail to tillett@islands.vi.

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