Neighborhood Music School’s origins date back to 1911 on Wooster Street in New Haven. Established in association with St. Paul’s Church as a settlement house and social services organization serving the local immigrant population, it was first known as 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’s first director was Susan Hart Dyer, a violinist and graduate of the Yale School of Music.
The school grew rapidly and by 1929 the Neighborhood House Music School averaged fifty pupils per year. Faculty came from the Yale School of Music and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Fees were based on ability to pay and ranged from twenty-five cents to two dollars for a half hour lesson. An orchestra was formed in the early 1920s.
Even through the Depression era, the school flourished. By the early 1930s, again facing space constraints, the school expanded into additional space in a beautiful old home at 612 Chapel Street owned by the Visconti family.
In October 1945, Jessie Clark Beecher, a loyal and beloved piano teacher and the then director of the school, purchased the house at 612 Chapel on behalf of the school. Later the same year, 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, broadened the school’s reach and 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. When it opened in 1968, the school was the first building to anchor the newly designated Audubon Arts district.
NMS began offering lessons on the Shoreline in the First Congregation Church on the Guilford Green.
The school is expanded and renovated with a five-million-dollar capital investment project, adding new preschool facilities and five new studios to the building.
Eighteen students from NMS participate in the White House Community Classroom Music Series program with First Lady Michelle Obama. The students participate with others from around the country in workshops and performances with noted violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, guitarist Sharon Isbin and pianist Awadagin Pratt.
NMS’s Centennial year began in July 2011. Special events, performances and celebrations took place during the year, including High C, a grand celebration at Woolsey Hall on June 10, 2012. It featured premieres of two works commissioned by NMS: Ingram Marshall’s “Eventide” and Thomas C. Duffy’s “Century Shouts.”
Today, NMS is an anchor on Audubon Street, and one of the 10 largest community arts organizations in the U.S. The 30,000 square foot NMS facility at 100 Audubon Street houses 33 studios, practice rooms, a recital hall and a library. The student body has grown to an annual total of more than 3,000 children and adults.