Play It Forward is a forum for individuals who have been influenced by music throughout their lives to share their stories on how music education has shaped their experience as an educator and/or performer, as well as an individual.
Nadje Noordhuis’ journey has taken her from a youth spent studying classical music in her native Australia to a headlong dive into the world of jazz that has earned her acclaim in the music’s mecca, New York. She was one of ten semi-finalists in the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and was selected as a Carnegie Hall Young Artist to undertake a weeklong residency with trumpet great Dave Douglas in 2010. Noordhuis is a member of several big bands, including Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, the Diva Jazz Orchestra, and Kyle Saulnier’s Awakening Orchestra. As a composer, Noordhuis has been commissioned by the Sydney-based Baroque ensemble ThoroughBass and the new music ensemble ExhAust, and was awarded a small ensemble commission at the 2009 Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT). Noordhuis’ long-awaited self-titled debut, was released in 2012 on the Little Mystery Records label, and described as “a lucid, unified and deep first offering from an artist who reminds us that jazz has room for straightforward, accessible beauty too.” – Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen
“To play an instrument, you need to practice concentration, set goals, work with others, be patient, overcome problems – how can spending time on these areas be less important than say, Math or Science?”
MCB: How would you describe the role music education played in your developmental years as a musician and educator?
NN: My whole childhood was based around music, and the opportunities to perform, travel and teach were made possible through my school band programs. I started taking piano lessons when I was three years old at the Yamaha Music School in Sydney, Australia, so by the time I had begun school I was already very involved with music – I definitely had a head start. My public elementary school had a wonderful music program – every third grader played a band instrument, and we would rehearse several times a week and perform regularly. Because I had studied music longer than my peers, I also learned how to teach them. I had five private students when I was seven years old. Our conductor was also involved with an excellent all-ages band program in the area, so I would go from my school band rehearsal, where I played trumpet, straight to another rehearsal where I would be playing music with older kids and adults. I attended a public high school that specialized in music – at one point I was in five bands and vocal ensemble on top of my regular classes. All these bands were a giant network and family – my close friends were also students musicians. I probably spent more time rehearsing, performing, preparing for competitions, attending camps, teaching and touring than I did at home. So in a nutshell, it was incredibly significant. It took up most of my time. And I loved it.
MCB: Do you think your life would be vastly different now had you not had a music education program growing up?
NN: There’s no way that I would be playing trumpet for a living had I not had the opportunity to be a part of these education programs growing up. I don’t know what I’d be doing – designing furniture, maybe? It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like. The vast majority of my friends are all musicians, or people that love music, so I assume that if I wasn’t a musician, I would have a completely different set of friends. And I really love the ones I have! Maybe I would still live in Australia, instead of in New York. I’d probably be a different person, to be honest. I sincerely doubt whether I’d be having as much fun!
MCB: Has studying music affected other areas of your life, work or personality? If so, what skills and traits do you credit music education with helping to develop?
NN: I think that performing from a young age helped me in areas of life that require a certain calmness under pressure. For example, I did public speaking and debating in high school, so that was like performing without a musical instrument. But more importantly, studying music has taught me how to set goals. Every day, the goal is music. I have to be really organized in order to be able to play it as often as I can, and keep on top of my game so I get to play with the best musicians possible. Being a freelance trumpet player and educator for a living means that I have had to learn to run my own business, so I’ve had to develop skills in time management, scheduling, fundraising, teaching, practicing – all so I can actually get on stage and play music with fantastic people. There’s a common misconception that musicians get to sleep in all day and then just turn up at a gig, but I don’t know anyone whose life is like that! There’s always emails to be sent, people to contact, gigs to organize and promote, rehearsals to schedule, and music to write, arrange and format. You have to learn how to manage all of that in order to get to the goal – the gig! It’s really hard for me to separate myself from music since it has been such a big part of my life since I was so young. I don’t know what parts of me are just my personality, and what parts are influenced by music. It’s really just one and the same.
MCB: What are your thoughts on the current state of music education based on your experience and what you’re seeing out there?
NN: I often teach within New York City schools, both public and private, and feel so sad for the students who don’t have a music program. They are really missing out! Music education is such an incredible way to teach people how to be great human beings. To play an instrument, you need to practice concentration, set goals, work with others, be patient, overcome problems – how can spending time on these areas be less important than say, Math or Science? Which is going to prepare you more for life after school? I’ve taught clinics in schools that have a band program, and the students seem happy, respectful and organized. I’m not saying that having a music program will fix all social problems, but I do believe that it would significantly help.
MCB: Anything else you’d like to add about your views on music education, what it means to you, the current state, etc.?
NN: It takes a great deal of dedication, time, money and effort in order to create a program that delivers music to students in the school system. Anyone that takes on the task are my personal heroes! It is wonderful to know that there are a small but mighty bunch of people who believe that music should be a part of everyone’s life, especially those that really need it. I do believe that New York city students need it more than most! This is a tough place to live, and a tougher place to learn. In my opinion, the standardized testing and budget cuts that have been put in place have really taken a lot of fun and a lot of opportunity away from students. I am happy to know that organizations such as this one care enough to give it back, one program at a time.