Tucked away in the Audubon Arts District, right behind the popular hangout Koffee?, is a New Haven arts treasure few Yalies know exist.
The Neighborhood Music School celebrated its 90th anniversary Friday with a party at Horchow Hall on Hillhouse Avenue. Faculty members and students of the school played in jazz ensembles throughout the evening to provide entertainment for the night.
Guests included members of the NMS faculty and board, students of the school, and public figures, including Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Eleanor Chung ’02, who worked at the music school last year, said she thinks it’s a shame more Yale students don’t know about the opportunities at NMS.
“I couldn’t believe how most Yalies haven’t been aware of the impressive variety of high-quality classes, programs and concerts that go on every day, every week, within that corner of the arts district,” Chung said.
NMS serves over 3,000 students each year from New Haven and surrounding areas with a broad range of music and dance opportunities.
“We have everything from jazz vocal, to violin lessons, to salsa ballroom, to group piano, to African drumming,” Public Relations and Program Manager Michelle Maitland said.
NMS has a generous donor base and offers financial aid to more than 10 percent of its students.
The school was founded in 1911 as part of a church outreach program to acclimate immigrants by bringing people in the community together. In 1968, the school moved to its current location on Audubon Street, on the site of what used to be a bird cage factory. It was the first building in what became the Audubon Arts District.
Christian Sands, 12, began taking lessons at NMS when he was 4 years old. This summer, he was featured at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas as a young jazz musician of exceptional ability.
Sylvestor Sands, Christian’s father, said he had his doubts about taking his son to lessons: “A friend told us about [NMS] and she said, ‘You ever think about putting him into music?’ I said, ‘No. He’d never sit still long enough.'”
Christian’s current teacher, Rex Cadwallader, introduced him to jazz and taught him to improvise. Christian now says he wants to be a professional musician when he grows up.
Mark Weinstein, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said he is one of the almost 700 adult students NMS serves each year.
“I played the clarinet when I was a teenager, and I hadn’t touched a clarinet for 38 years,” Weinstein said. “So I decided to take clarinet lessons.”
Now Weinstein plays in a clarinet choir at NMS, as well as in a chamber music ensemble and a civic orchestra.
Weinstein said many of the adults at NMS are professionals like himself who played instruments when they were younger but then moved on to pursue other careers. The school gives them the opportunity to rekindle their love of playing music.
“It’s one thing to sit at the New Haven Symphony, but it’s another thing to actually play,” Weinstein said.
DeStefano said NMS provides a valuable complement to the professional arts of the city.
“The music school connects on a real neighborhood level different kinds of people in a way that celebrates not only skills and talents, but our shared enjoyment of the arts,” he said.