Notable Neighbors: Nick Platoff & Jose Lara

Of all of the types of instruments, brass instruments are among the most physical to play.

As a young developing musician, brass players spend years diligently training the embouchure to produce a sound by coordinating hundreds of muscles in the face, tongue and body. Being prepared to physically play the instrument is critical. Colds, salty foods, and other challenges can take a toll. During my many years of performing professionally, I was always amazed at how much food my fellow band mates could eat between sets, while I had to pay close attention to staying “light”, loose, and fully hydrated. Some of the most well-respected brass pedagogies make direct correlations to the types of training that athletes undergo.

But the physicality of brass playing is only part of the equation.

Through hard work and preparation, I was accepted and enrolled into Manhattan School of Music. However, my early focus on developing the physical side of brass playing still left me struggling to develop into the musician I aspired to be. I heard a different sound in my head than the one I was able to produce.

After my time in MSM, I was fortunate enough to make my way to the studio of William “Prof” Fielder. Prof was a legendary teacher, who had taught Wynton Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard and many others and was known to be a “fixer.” I was sure he would help me develop a stronger physical approach to trumpet playing that would take me over the top.
But from my very first lesson, it was quite the opposite. Prof’s focus was almost primarily on the mental aspects of trumpet playing. From the start he said, “Trumpet playing is 90% mental, 9% air, and 1% lip.” Over the next two years, we proceeded to spend countless hours listening, absorbing the sounds of beautiful trumpeters, singing solfege and creating real mental clarity of what I wanted to sound like.

Once I approached the trumpet from this perspective, my technique began to develop much more rapidly. One of Prof’s favorite phrases was, “We play two trumpets, one in the hand and one in the mind. The one in the hand is a mirror of the one in the mind, so it is the mind that we must develop.”

Don’t get me wrong, Prof was a stickler for diligent focused practice, and I spent hours and hours playing long tones, scales, and lip slurs. He pushed me hard to develop technique and skill.

But like most aspects of life, when playing a brass instrument, our mental approach will greatly influence our ability to succeed. Develop the mind and the rest will follow.

In this installment of Notable Neighbors, we feature two brass musicians of the NMS family.

-Noah Bloom
Executive Director



Nick Platoff, Associate Principal Trombone of the San Francisco Symphony and proud Neighborhood Music School alum, stopped by NMS and recorded this wonderful message of hope for everyone in our community:

Nick was an NMS student from 1999-2010, when he left Connecticut for college. Nick started at NMS on recorder with Julia Blue Raspe, and then took trombone lessons with Jim Fryer and Terrence Fay. He studied music theory with Jody Rowitsch and participated in our Summer Jazz program led by Jesse Hameen II. He was a member of our Wind Ensemble, conducted by Mark Gahm, and played in the Greater New Haven Youth Orchestra under the batons of Kiki Kilburn, Adrian Slywotzky, and James Sinclair.

Nick shared his favorite NMS memories:

So many great memories….Seeing my friends on a weekly basis to do the thing we loved. Learning and just marveling in this most incredible magical thing we get to play with and study. NMS was a safe space to love music unconditionally and never feel afraid of judgment. It’s not that I was really bullied at my high school, but I didn’t feel seen in the way I did at NMS. I felt in control of my destiny. And free and adult enough to spend entire afternoons and evenings on my own, eating unhealthy amounts of Moe’s and Subway….

More memories:
    • Learning four-part chorale-writing with Jody Rowitsch.
    • Falling in love with trombone, thanks to Jim Fryer.
    • Learning what it means to really play with expression from Terrence Fay.
    • Joking around in the back row of brass players during Wind Ensemble and Youth Orchestra (a skill that serves me well to this day in my professional life!).
    • Having my mind BLOWN at Summer Jazz.
    • Coming back in 2017 to play a recital as a guest artist and seeing so many old friends!!!

In short: I’m not sure what I’d be doing today if it hadn’t been for my amazing experience at NMS. It goes without saying that music is the greatest ever. But that doesn’t mean that every child will have the right setting to figure that out, let alone have the space and opportunity to cultivate their skills enough to launch their career. I’m living my literal dreams today and it has everything to do with what I did every week from 1999-2010. 

We are grateful to Nick for sharing his beautiful memories and inspiring video with us. In Nick’s words: “We have Neighborhood Music School in common….I’m with you and you’re with me….We’re together.”




Trombonist Jose Lara is active in the music scene throughout New Haven and beyond, as both an educator and performer.

At Neighborhood Music School, Jose teaches trombone lessons year-round and has been a member of the Summer Jazz program faculty since 2006. He has led master classes, taught jazz theory, and coached ensembles.

Jose also has been a music educator and ensemble director in the New Haven Public Schools for nearly 15 years. He is currently the instrumental music teacher at John S. Martinez Sea and Sky STEM Magnet School.

Jose works closely with the Yale School of Music’s Music in Schools Initiative, a partner of NMS. He is a conductor and coach for the All-City Honors Ensembles and at the Morse Summer Music Academy.

At home in a variety of musical genres, Jose has performed locally, nationally, and internationally with ensembles playing everything from classical to jazz, Latin jazz, salsa, merengue, funk, and rhythm and blues.

Jose holds an M.S. in Music Education from the University of Bridgeport and a B.A. in Music with a concentration in World Traditions from Southern Connecticut State University.