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Arthur Swan, voice coach and former Greenport resident, dies at 90

08/17/2015 5:55 PM |

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On Friday, former Greenport resident Arthur Swan called his close friend Patsy Rogers to tell her how happy he was in his new home in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.

“He was on vacation at the Black Sea and he was able to go into the water in his wheelchair,” said Ms. Rogers, a composer and music teacher who lives in New Suffolk. “That made him very happy.”

Mr. Swan, a longtime voice coach, teacher and accomplished flutist, died the next day in Tbilisi. He was 90.

The fourth of six children, Mr. Swan was born near Sioux City, Iowa, in 1925. The family later settled in Neola, a place Mr. Swan referred to in a 2014 Suffolk Times article as a “grubby little hard-weather town” in the northern portion of the Dust Bowl.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Swan studied English literature at Oberlin College in Ohio — but what he really wanted to do was sing.

“I was singing well enough in college that they allowed me to give a senior recital in the conservatory,” he said last year. “After that, I went to New York to become ‘wonderful.’ ”

In Manhattan, Mr. Swan studied with Edyth Walker, an internationally famous opera singer and voice coach, and Else Seyfert. He even sang a 15-minute piece from the Wagner opera “Lohengrin” at Carnegie Hall.

Around 1950, Mr. Swan joined a theater troupe, becoming an accomplished flute player and traveling the country. After briefly moving to Germany, he returned to New York City and soon got a job teaching at a nursery school near Columbia University.

Later, Mr. Swan worked as a third-grade teacher and principal at various Manhattan schools, including the experimental New Lincoln School and Professional Children’s School.

“He was a fantastic teacher,” said Ms. Rogers, adding that Mr. Swan was teaching English to students in Georgia until his death. “He loved teaching little children in particular.”

Mr. Swan discovered the North Fork through his friend and fellow teacher Elsa Barnouw, who maintained a cottage on Shelter Island that had no electricity or running water. The area quickly became one of Mr. Swan’s favorite places, he told The Suffolk Times.

“It was heaven,” he recalled. “Nobody knew we were there.”

It was around this time that Mr. Swan began devising “Wit Twisters,” a rather difficult game of anagrams that appeared for two decades in the Saturday Review of Literature and, during the 1980s, in The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review.

Mr. Swan moved to Greenport in 1973. Around 1981, he began teaching what he referred to as “enrichment classes” to local children.

During these classes, held in his home, Mr. Swan said he was “able to encourage the children, who were already just bursting with intellect.” In recent years, Mr. Swan’s livelihood had been giving voice lessons to students of all ages.

He and his wife, Gulnara Tserekidze, moved to Ms. Tserekidze’s native Georgia, in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, in September 2014.

“When he moved to Georgia, he acquired a family, which was a great joy to him,” Ms. Rogers said Monday. “[Gulnara’s] whole family loved him and took him in.”

In addition to his wife and her relatives, Mr. Swan is survived by his brother Jon of Yarmouth, Maine; his sister Kristin Lent Gros of Paoli, Pa., and many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brother Charles, his sisters Felice and Zaide, and his partner, Robert Hood.

Funeral services will be held in Tbilisi on Tuesday, Aug. 18. A memorial celebration of Mr. Swan’s life will be held locally at a later date, Ms. Rogers said.

Caption: Arthur Swan in his former living room in Greenport in 2014.

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