Music School was founded on a principle of inclusion and accessibility, which remains
as core to its mission today as at its origin.
NMS originated in 1911 as part of the settlement house movement to assist New Haven's new and growing immigrant population. The school was started in association with St. Paul’s Church on Olive Street in Wooster Square and began as a community-focused social services organization called Neighborhood House. By 1915, however, the demand for Neighborhood House music programs was so extensive that a separate entity known as Neighborhood House Music School was formed.
The school continued to grow rapidly and by 1929 the Neighborhood House Music School averaged 50 pupils per year. Even through the Depression era, the school flourished with fees of 25 cents to two dollars for a half-hour lesson. By the early 1930s, again facing space constraints, the school expanded into additional space in a beautiful old home at 612 Chapel Street. In 1945 Neighborhood House Music School officially became an independent entity known as Neighborhood Music School.
A change in admissions policies in the late 1950s allowing for the enrollment of private full-paying students and expanding the school’s reach catapulted the school into a period of aggressive growth. As both the student body and the curriculum expanded, NMS rapidly outgrew its space yet again. In 1964, NMS embarked on a building fund campaign for the present facility at 100 Audubon Street. This location would be the school's first facility to be designed with the appropriate acoustical fittings necessary for a music school and, when it opened in 1968, became the first building to anchor the newly designated Audubon Arts district.
Today, Audubon Street is a thriving artistic community home to numerous arts organizations and business ventures. The 30,000-square-foot NMS facility at 100 Audubon Street houses 33 studios, practice rooms, a recital hall and administrative offices. The school mounted a capital campaign in 2005 and raised $6 million to completely renovate the facility with major support from the State of Connecticut, foundations and individuals.
The student body is currently 2500 children and adult students and there are more than 150 weekly classes and 200 annual performances and events. The school also has a nationally renowned Ensemble Program with more than 100 ensembles from duos and trios to auditioned youth orchestras. Of the student body, 80% are children / youth; 20% are adults, one quarter of whom are senior citizens; and 37% represent minority groups. We have more than 220 public school students from the New Haven school system and 15% of our student population benefits from school sponsored financial assistance.
Neighborhood Music School (NMS) is one of the 10 largest community arts schools in the country. It serves more than 2,500 students annually from more than 80 cities and towns across Connecticut. NMS teaches more than 30 instruments and seven genres of dance, reaching students from infancy to 90+ years.
Programming ranges from private lessons, a preschool, early childhood music classes, group music, dance and drama classes for children and adults, plus more than 100 weekly ensembles with more than 450 participants.
· NMS is situated in one of the poorest cities (per capita; 32% of children live below the poverty level, 58% are eligible for free lunches) in one of the richest states in the nation.
· The breadth and diversity of the NMS community is far-reaching. A wide variety of programs brings together all generations of individuals living in our community and bridges the economic divide, bringing together low-income, underserved individuals with individuals from affluent communities to express themselves through the arts.
· NMS is a learning organization. Programming at NMS continually evolves with the needs of the community, as well as with best practices and innovation in the field of performing arts. Programs for individuals with special needs continue to expand and NMS faculty members are offered opportunities to develop their skills as teachers for special needs individuals. Our Dancing with Parkinson’s program continues to expand in Middletown, New London and New Haven. NoteAble Women, a songwriting workshop and concert initially funded by the Community Foundation Fund for Women and Girls, now includes men and partners with Chapel Haven and other community organizations. The City Initiative, in partnership with the New Haven Public Schools and the Yale School of Music, offers ensemble experiences to middle- and high-school students from underserved communities.
The NMS financial aid program, supported by individuals, foundations and the State of Connecticut, creates access to NMS programs for families and individuals with demonstrated need. In total, approximately $200,000 in financial aid is distributed to nearly 300 people annually. Increasing this financial aid pool is a major NMS goal.
The programming offered through NMS has a significant impact in our community. We break barriers:
Generational barriers: NMS offers programs for any age as well as opportunities for intergenerational play-ins, community sings and other activities to build a stronger community.
Economic barriers: At any given time at NMS a student from a low-income family who is funded by financial aid programs offered through NMS may be sharing a music stand or paired as a dance partner with a student from an affluent family. Each equally collaborates in the creation/discovery of art.
The demand for financial aid has continued to increase, making it especially challenging for NMS to meet its commitment to currently funded students, let alone expanding our support to a larger group of students. Our goal is to become more inclusive of students taking classes and ensembles, in addition to those taking private lessons.
To better serve a broad spectrum of our community, NMS seeking collaborations and partnerships with other community and arts organizations in the Greater New Haven area and along the Shoreline to create operational efficiencies, develop new programs and increase contributed and earned income.
NMS must stay at the forefront of technology so that we can continue to foster innovation, test ideas and create opportunities for our students. Our teaching studios require up-to-date hardware and software. We must also maintain and expand our inventory of instruments.
When I returned to New Haven in 2012 and joined the Neighborhood Music School team as the Director of Programs, it fulfilled my life-long dream of giving back to my community through the arts. I was born and raised in New Haven and vividly remember the role that NMS played in enriching my life and keeping me on track. But I also remember how many people in this area didn’t know about NMS, didn’t come here and were deprived of the transformative artistic experiences that happen here every day.
I have viewed this impact through many different lenses: first as a student, then as a collaborator and now as a parent, teacher and director. I love NMS and feel so honored to be here, because it plays so different roles for so many people. We build community through the arts for students, parents, teachers, staff and the community at large. At 9am we welcome toddlers and seniors, in the afternoon the teenagers congregate in our halls and studios, and on the weekend we offer Suzuki and dance. There is something for everyone at NMS, from viola di gamba to Rock Guitar to Shakespeare to hip-hop to Dancing with Parkinson’s. We’ve got it all.
Since being named Acting Executive Director, I have found an ideal platform to articulate my artistic vision, one that I have refined since 1991 as an educator and a performing musician, while also drawing on my greatest strength: uniting people for a common cause through communication and collaboration.
Having grown up in New Haven I have a first-hand understanding of the vital role that the Neighborhood Music School can play, I hope to expand on the School’s great success of the last century by strengthening existing programs and developing new offerings and finding new and exciting ways to connect to the diverse New Haven community.
I have been lucky enough to be involved with the Neighborhood Music School for many years, nearly half a century – as a faculty member years ago and then, more recently, as student and as Board member, now serving my second term as Board chair. It is a privilege to serve an organization that touches -- and often indeed transforms -- the lives of so many.
Much of the success of Neighborhood Music School lies in its capacity for outreach to the most diverse student populations. We are proud of our most accomplished and prodigious students who often go on to conservatory study and professional careers but take equal satisfaction in providing the same excellent instruction to the more casual student who becomes a lifelong music lover and amateur musician. Perhaps the most inspiring stories are of the numerous underserved students who participate in programs such as the City Initiative and who discover not only the joy of music making, but a warm, welcoming and supportive community and a whole new world of possibilities in their lives. (It often amazes me that so many of these students also become top performers!)
Against this backdrop, the school's mission to deliver the highest quality of instruction while ensuring broad access is not without its challenges. As with any business, we must ensure that our offerings and teaching methods stay current with the public’s needs and expectations and that our income – both from tuition and from donations – is sufficient to sustain us over the long term.
NMS is fortunate to have a dedicated Board and strong, expert staff leadership who are collaboratively addressing our key strategic initiatives, soliciting input from staff and faculty, families, adult students and loyal donors. We will continue our mission of quality and access, with the clarity of vision and direction to sustain us into our second century and beyond.
NMS offers individual and group class instruction in over 30 instruments and 7 genres of dance. Its 149 faculty members are both professional educators and active performing artists. More than 2500 students participate each year. These students range in age from infants to over 90 years and include beginners to advanced and professional level artists, and many adult students who are returning to instrumental instruction after a long hiatus. NMS has one of the largest ensemble programs in the country with over 100 ensembles performing together weekly including the renowned Greater New Haven Youth Orchestra, Concert Band and Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Instruction is on an academic cycle with two regular semesters running 18 weeks each, though rolling admissions are accepted.
Participation in NMS music, dance and drama programs creates an appreciation for the arts as well as building valuable life skills like confidence and discipline, focus and experimentation. With some commitment to practice outside of the lesson or class time, students can expect to continuous progress their skills and proficiency. Due to the growth of our most rapidly expanding programs, our summer Audubon Arts and Rock and Contemporary Music Program, we have been bringing in new participants and expanding our reach to broader audiences. For example, the Rock Program has grown by more than 25 percent the past two years. Our Preschool continues to offer positive alternatives to traditional early childhood education and immerses students in a play-based and artistic learning environment from the beginning stages of their development.
Research has shown that involvement in the arts can improve cognitive ability, critical thinking, social and psychological development, creativity and concentration. Studies such as the one reported on in the September 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal show that not only does music education help advance high-level academic performance but it also is an important platform to help point students with learning disabilities toward early intervention. NMS is striving to be at the forefront of initiatives serving special and underserved populations as well as people of all ages who share common interests and activities. NMS helps build community engagement, provide mentoring opportunities and facilitate dialogue among community members of all backgrounds. We believe that providing access to high quality instruction to people of all ages, means and backgrounds will benefit the individuals and the well being of the community.
Parent and student feedback as collected via surveys at the end of the semester, qualitative focus group research, classroom and lesson observations by senior administrative staff (program heads and department chairs)
Established over 20 years ago, the Preschool at Neighborhood Music School offers children ages two through five a state-licensed, arts-based preschool and toddler program. Both full-day and half-day options provide a warm and loving environment that promotes creativity, individual expression, cognitive development, and community spirit. This supportive mixed-age approach is suited physically and developmentally to the needs of young children and offers social experiences with other children. Staff are trained and experienced in early childhood education and the curriculum includes a mix of free play and teacher-supported activities, both indoors and out. The school is uniquely situated within the main facility of the Neighborhood Music School and uses that proximity to its advantage. Students are exposed to all of the resources of the school and its community, including dance and music performances and events.
Graduates of the Preschool at NMS continue to thrive both within our school through participating in various lessons and classes and winning spots in ensembles, but within their school systems, many of them getting accepted into some of the region’s finest schools.
NMS is working to adhere to new state initiatives for early childhood education and will continue to monitor our efforts.
NMS partners with a number of organizations to offer additional programming for community members both on campus at NMS and on site at the community facilities. Programs include the City Initiative, which provides free tuition for New Haven public school students to take individual instruction and ensembles in collaboration with New Haven Public Schools and the Yale School of Music. Another NMS collaboration, PACK, involves the Children’s Museum, the Eli Whitney Museum and the Yale Center for British Art, who work together to create family programming centered around music theater and community building. Outreach and programming is an area of continuous growth and evolution at NMS and a critical part of our mission to ensure accessibility to the highest quality instruction for students of all ages, skill levels, backgrounds and financial means.
This year, for the first time since its inception seven years ago, the City Initiative has brought more students than ever before into our auditions for the Greater New Haven Youth Ensemble. Eight students graduated from the program last year and were admitted to colleges to continue their music studies.
With public school funding for the arts under severe threat, access and exposure to the arts is particularly at risk for youth in underprivileged communities. NMS's community programs are designed to provide easy access to music, dance and theater experiences and training for students of all backgrounds and means. It also creates opportunities and outlets for those who may be struggling with the broader challenges that are rampant in disadvantaged neighborhoods. NMS has many success stories of students who came from very challenged situations, found inspiration and focus in their artistic studies at NMS and gone on to notable professional accomplishment in all manner of careers.
NMS’s director of programs along with faculty and staff working with these programs regularly review and evaluate student performance through public school teacher evaluations, NMS teacher evaluation forms and monitoring students’ self-made goals and progress.
NMS hosts more than 200 public events and
performances each year. Most of these events are free and many are participatory. NMS has a wide selection of popular events and activities that have become community traditions, including favorites like the Twilight Tuesdays summertime outdoor concert series, participatory performance events like Spooky Suzuki and semi-annual Open House events that feature "instrument petting zoos," sample classes and free mini-lessons for all community members. Faculty and student ensembles participate in many more local community events off NMS premises including such popular happenings as the New Haven Jazz Festival. A new concert series, “NMS Presents,” will debut in FY15.
These events attract new audiences and potential students into the school who have traditionally not participated in tuition-based music, art and drama programs.
Our public offerings create an appreciation for the arts and an exposure to a wide range of genres, instruments, techniques and capabilities. For young people it may provoke an emergent interest that becomes a lifelong passion. For adults it may provide an opportunity to connect with others who share similar interests. For many it may open their eyes to new areas of interest and inspiration. For the community it is positive forum for building connections and strengthening the neighborhood.
NMS tracks the success of these “inreach” efforts through number of participants, ticket sales and enrollment growth, particularly new students.
This year, our popular summer music series, Twilight Tuesdays, attracted an audience of more than 500, a 25 percent increase over the prior year. The program also introduced the NMS community to new musical genres to “test market” for future programming.
NMS regularly collaborates with a number of organizations in designing and implementing new programming targeted at students with specific special physical and/or learning needs. Programs have included Dancing with Parkinson's, a program developed from the Mark Morris Dance for PD concept in partnership with the American Parkinson's Disease Association of Connecticut and the Yale Community and Beyond's Parkinson's Support Group. Other collaborations include Noteable Women/Men (with Chapel Haven), the Yale Child Study Center for children with autism and other behavioral challenges. Music and movement have been show to promote healing, improve mental and physical well being and enhance the quality of life for those dealing with ailments or disabilities. Here at NMS, we are continuing to expand our programming to include new music and dance applications and are grateful to the support and collaboration of so many of our partners and affiliates.
The best short-term metrics are the individual reports of participants in the programs and their repeated re-enrollment in the courses. A dramatic example is the group of students from our Vintage Voices program, a singing and modern dance program for seniors established under a grant from the Creative Aging Initiative, who when threatened with the discontinuation of the program at the end of the funding cycle collectively came together to independently write a letter and petition for additional funding from a corporate sponsor that ultimately saved the program.
Research has demonstrated the power of music and dance to promote healing, improve mental and physical wellbeing and enhance the quality of life for those dealing with physical ailments or disabilities. Here at NMS we do not offer certified therapeutic programs but we do offer targeted programs that are designed around the needs of communities with specific physical or developmental challenges. These programs have been created in partnership with leading research institutions like the Yale Child Study Center and innovative programs like the Mark Morris Dance Group. The programs are primarily about artistic and creative expression and the social and emotional benefits of interacting with others experiencing similar challenges though many report improvements in their physical competencies as well. Over time, we hope to develop a more robust assessment of the impact of these programs (as a complement to other therapeutic or medical treatments the students may be receiving simultaneously).
These programs are closely monitored by program coordinators, Laura Richling (Dancing with Parkinson’s), David Mills (NoteAble Men/Women), and Tracey Albert and Ingeborg Schimmer (Vintage Voices), with oversight by Noah Bloom, director of programs.
NMS is actively reaching out in ways that engage the community with hands-on experiences of the quality programs offered through our organization. From free mini-lessons at youth-focused festivals in the region's challenged neighborhoods, to our open house and active outreach to schools and community groups, NMS investigates the needs within our community that our programming will fill. Partners and collaborators include: Chapel Haven; Shoreline Arts Alliance; Arts Council of Greater New Haven; New Haven Symphony Orchestra; Yale School of Music Community Programs, with whom we work closely in the New Haven Public Schools to prevent any redundancy in schools or program, Jewish Community Center; and the Connecticut Parkinson's Working Group.
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Greater New Haven is home to a thriving arts community that includes theatre, music, dance and the visual arts. It is invested in its museums, historic preservation and the celebration of its members’ ethnic and cultural diversity.
Greater New Haven’s vibrancy is linked to its communities’ support of its neighborhoods, public gardens and sports, as well as its commitment to the protection of its people and pets.
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