NMS Alumni

As a former student at Neighborhood Music School, you know better than anyone that the benefits of arts education extend far beyond the studio and the stage.

We recently spoke with a few of our alumni who have gone on to professional careers outside of the arts. It is fascinating to hear them recall their own time with us and how it has contributed to their success. 

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In the picture from left to right Alumni: Colin Dooman, Jack Riotte,
Rody Conway, Andrew Fermo, Myles Higgins.

A photo of NMS Alumna Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

Brady-Johnson Distinguished Practitioner in Grand Strategy at Yale University
Senior Counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group

Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs
Spokesperson for the US Department of State
US Ambassador to NATO

“I didn’t play team sports, so playing in the chamber music ensembles at NMS with Grace Feldman was my first experience of working in a team, creating something with peers. It felt so great when it worked, when it clicked, when we were listening to one another. When you think about Government work - it’s also about teamwork. In diplomacy, you have to hear the other side, you have to meet in the middle.”

Before Victoria Nuland’s distinguished career in the State Department, she was just another young student hanging out with friends in the hallways of 100 Audubon Street - reading, doing her homework, waiting for her class. When recalling her NMS experience, what stands out is the sense of community and creating with others. She took piano, and later oboe, but her favorite NMS activity was chamber ensemble with Grace Feldman. She still remembers Grace’s joy and enthusiasm when the group “got it right." Starting at the age of 7, Toria would take a public bus down Whitney Avenue from North Haven to Audubon Street with her brother. After finishing their classes, they would head over to Clark’s for ice cream “as a reward."

A photo of NMS Alumni Aaron Mitchell

Aaron Mitchell

Director of Talent Acquisition at Netflix,
Los Angeles, CA

Head of Talent, MassMutual
Senior Vice President, Citi
MBA 2011, Harvard Business School

“Arts education has made me a better, more well-rounded individual. Musicians and artists are emotionally intelligent, they have a better understanding of human nature. Many professionals I’ve met in business tend to think in frameworks that are limiting, that don’t embrace the human and emotional aspects of leadership. The arts teach people to think in ways that are more innovative and improvisational. The approach of “Yes AND...” enables us to engage with ideas in ways that are more fluid.”

Aaron Mitchell grew up in The Hill neighborhood of New Haven. His grandmother and older brother still live in his childhood home. In 7th grade, he began clarinet lessons with Miles Freeman at the satellite branch NMS operated in The Hill. He recalls his first recital, in which he “squeaked more than I played he right notes.” Aaron got his first saxophone through a program called “Horns for Kids” and started studying with Chris Herbert at our main branch on Audubon Street. He was also admitted to study music at Co-Op High School by the late Dr. Regina Warner. Aaron recalls how his mentors at NMS were warm and friendly, but never patronizing.

Taking part in the Jazz program at NMS with Jesse Hameen II provided Aaron with extensive playing experience, including professional caliber gigs like the summer jazz fest on the New Haven Green. “They put us in this environment where we got to explore the limits of our musicianship,” Aaron recalls. “We played in ensembles, but also got to create our own band. We got to immerse ourselves in our craft." He recalls performing with the 8-year-old Christian Sands. One of today’s top Jazz pianists, Christian, at the time, was just a young prodigy who “wanted to be in the mix with the older kids."

After moving to California following college, Aaron joined a Salsa band to keep up his music and make friends. Because he was comfortable transcribing and arranging music, he eventually took over as the band’s leader. This gave him valuable experience with difficult conversations, making budgets, booking performances and having to let people go. When it came time to apply to business school, Aaron wrote about this in his essays. “I feel like I was admitted to Harvard Business School because of these experiences that were afforded to me by music.”

“Music has opened so many doors for me. In my interview for Netflix, I talked about jazz players, who just seem to be making it up as they go along. In fact, they’re applying decades worth of theory knowledge in the exact moment when it’s required. The audience is none the wiser. I used that analogy to explain how thinking like a musician is a useful quality in a corporate environment.”

More stories coming soon!