Mayna Avent Nance

Extraordinary Legacy

Longtime Sewanee resident and music festival supporter Mayna Nance passed away last week from complications related to a fall she suffered at the end of 2019.

Mayna, along with her husband Dr. Walter Nance, endowed the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition. The competition, established to honor Mayna’s sister Jacqueline, has helped hundreds of young musicians launch their professional careers, and support students in their studies at the festival.  Our annual concerto concert is a highlight of the summer season and a source of pride for our entire festival community. The annual post concerto reception at Walter and Mayna’s home was not only a celebration of the performers but a wonderful opportunity for all of us to reflect on the entire festival season.

Please take a moment to read Mayna’s incredible life story and learn more about the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition has impacted our festival. We will share more stories from our concerto participants and faculty as they become available.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations in Mayna’s memory can be made to the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition at SSMF.

“Participating in the concerto competition this past summer at SSMF was such a humbling experience as a young musician. Not many young artists get the opportunity to compete for such a prestigious honor as the Avent competition. I still to this day carry with me the impact that the performance left me. As a musician and person, that performance has left its mark as one of the most memorable experiences in my life. I am forever grateful for my time at SSMF and the knowledge I gained there, but it was made just so much more special with the honor of performing on Guerry Auditorium.”

Brandon Aguillon, C’19
Brandon Aguillon, horn, plays Horn Concerto No.4 in E-flat major, K.495, I. Allegro maestoso by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with the Festival Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Gene Moon, during the 2019 Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition Performance.

“The concerto experience is like no other. The musical landscape turns from its wide angle lens upon the entire orchestra and zooms to one soloist whose performance serves as a beacon of light. For most, the experience as soloist is a rare moment, sometimes once in a lifetime, but which creates an impression that lasts a lifetime. As a conductor, I become a conduit between soloist and orchestra which serves to curate a perfect balance between the two forces. The soloist learns to build a quick bond and trust towards the conductor, for which it is my greatest honor to serve in such capacity. The concerto competition at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival offers these experiences and more: to give young musicians the experience to create incredibly musical experiences while forging everlasting bonds that remain strong over time.”

Dr. Gene Moon, Festival Orchestra Conductor

Mayna Avent Nance


Mayna Rose Avent was born on June 17, 1932 in Tientsin (Tianjin) China, the daughter of Standard Vacuum Oil of China (later Mobile Oil) manager James Avent, Sr., of Nashville, Tennessee and Jeanette nee’ Nelson of Dekalb, Illinois. Apart from the interregnum of the Second World War, the Avents lived in a number of cities in China until 1949 including Tientsin, Tsingtao, and Shanghai. During the Second World War, Mayna lived with her family in New York and returned to Shanghai after the war and lived there until 1948. In 1949 her parents returned to the town of her father’s alma mater, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, purchased a grand house overlooking Lost Cove where the family settled making Sewanee a long-term family base from that time until 2020.

Mayna’s children grew up with stories of China of the time including the serious ones such as staying ahead of battles and epidemics or her father meeting local warlords. And more than once in the unsettled times that China was in then, her father’s life was in danger. Or the more light hearted such as how her father ended up in China in the first place in 1919 by going to the wrong personnel department at Standard Oil in New York; or when after the War, Mayna, her mother, sister and brother, arrived back in Shanghai via ship from New York to rejoin her father bringing a frozen turkey and an air conditioner – the latter they believed was one of the first in Shanghai. The summer heat and humidity in the city were so unbearable that Mayna, her sister, and brother would quietly sneak into the master bedroom at night where the air conditioner was. She could brag that she would pay 200,000 dollars for a hotdog in Shanghai in 1948 (hyperinflated Chinese dollars that is).

Katherine Butler plays Symphonie Espagnole, op.21, I. Allegro non-troppo by Édouard Lalo with Dr. Gene Moon conducting the Festival Orchestra for the 2019 Concerto Competition Performance.
Hsin-Yi Huang plays Concerto, Piano, No.2, op.21, F minor, I. Maestoso  by Frederic Chopin with Dr. Gene Moon conducting the Festival Orchestra for the 2019 Concerto Competition Performance.

Mayna was an active artist throughout her life. Drawing inspiration from her father’s mother, noted artist Mayna Treanor Avent, Mayna Nance expressed herself in a variety of media including oil painting, drawings, pastels, ink etching, watercolors, photography, and printing of various types using wood block, linoleum, and metal etching. She attended the Parson’s School of Design in New York.

Mayna met her first husband, Daniel MacKinnon of Oshkosh, Wisconsin while attending Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. With Dan, she had three children, Michael, Andrew, and Bryan, all born in Los Angeles. They later settled in Sewanee and then in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Mayna’s second husband is Dr. Walter E. Nance. The Nance and Avent families have been friends for many years starting from the days in China before the War. Walter is Professor and Chair (emeritus) of the Department of Human Genetics of the Virginia Commonwealth University. With Walter, they lived in Richmond, Virginia and finally Sewanee and traveled the world where Walter would lecture, conduct research, and photograph anything and everything and Mayna would pursue her artistic projects. And they both loved to cook and entertain friends and family.

Mayna is survived by her husband Walter, her sons Michael (Carol) MacKinnon and Bryan (Chikako) MacKinnon, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Mayna was also the grandmother of Julia Takano MacKinnon, who just graduated magna cum laude with a double major in Mathematics and Psychology, and a minor in Asian Studies from the University of the South. She is predeceased by her parents James and Jeanette Avent, her sister and brother Jacqueline and James Avent (Jr), her first husband Daniel MacKinnon, her son Andrew MacKinnon, and her granddaughter Tiffany MacKinnon Allen.