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Alumni, Director of Jazz Ensembles, New Trier High School
Nic Meyer was hired as the Director of Jazz Ensembles at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL, beginning in the fall of 2009. He was previously the Jazz Program Director at Midwest Young Artists, where he directed the Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Orchestra, Big Band, Jazz Combos, and taught the jazz theory and history classes. He maintains private saxophone studios at New Trier High School and the MYA center in Fort Sheridan. Nic also teaches at the Birch Creek Music and Performance Center in Egg Harbor, WI. He is formerly the Director of Instrumental Music at The Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth where he spent three years rebuilding the band, orchestra and jazz programs. He is also a former faculty member of the MERIT School of Music, where he taught private saxophone lessons, jazz improvisation and an honors chamber ensemble. Nic is an active adjudicator for solo and ensemble festivals and has directed ensembles for the IMEA All District festival.
Nic attended DePaul University on a saxophone performance scholarship and received his BM in Music Education. He also holds a masters in Music Education from Northwestern University. In addition to his busy teaching schedule, Nic performs regularly in the Chicago area, appearing at Pete Miller's, Martyrs, The Park West, The Green Mill, The House of Blues and other local venues.
I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, and my musical training began when I started Suzuki Violin at the age of 4. I had wonderful teachers who helped me develop proper instrumental fundamentals, and the Suzuki method was instrumental in developing my aural skills. I learned to make music by listening to music, which I think is enormously important. In fifth grade, I started the saxophone, and because of my Suzuki training, I was able to have a lot of fun playing with virtually no formal training. I eventually left the violin and focused solely on the saxophone, although I certainly wasn't taking it seriously. I continued to play in high school and discovered that I enjoyed improvising. My high school band program was not spectacular by any means, but we had a lot of fun. My main musical mentor in high school was an upperclassman who was also a saxophonist. He was two years older than me, and he took it upon himself to bring me out of my shell, musically speaking. He was an incredibly natural player, and my main goal was to be able to play like him. I was lucky to be able to go to Interlochen Arts Camp during the summer before my senior year, which was an eye-opening experience. I left there with a much more realistic sense of my own abilities in reference to other students from around the country, and I began to realize how behind I was. As I got closer to graduation I came to the conclusion that I couldn't really imagine myself not being a musician, so I looked into music schools. I really wanted to move to Chicago, but I knew I didn't have my playing together enough to get into a serious music school. There weren't many resources available to me in terms of high school guidance, and I was a pretty lousy student academically, so I decided to start college at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. The saxophone professor there is great, and he got me pointed in the right direction.
I knew all along that I really wanted to move to Chicago, so I began checking out Chicago music schools almost immediately. DePaul struck me as the best balance of dedicated faculty, serious students, and practical, real-world experiences. Most of all, I was excited about living in Chicago. I wasn't certain what my major was going to be, but I was confident that I would figure it out. My first concern was getting my playing together. My audition at DePaul really made my decision easy. Susan Cook, DePaul's saxophone professor, listened to me play, and when I was finished, she took out her horn and immediately began giving me some suggestions. I sensed that she was genuinely interested in me as a person and as a musician. I also played for Bob Lark, director of Jazz Studies, but my jazz playing at that time was horribly lame. He was gracious and explained that there might be a combo I could play in and that in time I could work my way into one of the jazz ensembles. I left DePaul that afternoon convinced that I would be both challenged and nurtured in that environment.
On Studying at DePaul
My experience at DePaul was both formative and transformative. I grew into a confident adult at DePaul, thanks to several faculty members who put their faith in me. My peers were equally influential in my music education, which is a point I try to instill in my high school students. It's important to place yourself within a group of musicians who will challenge you and force you to grow, which is what happened to me at DePaul. I was pretty behind as a saxophonist, and especially as a jazz saxophonist. Luckily, many of my friends at DePaul were incredible players, and being around them was a great education. Although I never got the chance to play in the top jazz ensemble at DePaul, I learned a great deal from Bob Lark. I used to sit in the back of the room and watch the Jazz Ensemble rehearse, picking up all sorts of information about what he was listening for and what the more advanced players were doing. Bob understands that when he's working with a group of college jazz musicians, he isn't thinking of them only as future performing musicians, but also as future teachers. His method of consistently explaining concepts was incredibly helpful to me as a player and as a teacher, and I put this learning to use every single day.
Susan Cook was also an invaluable part of my experience at DePaul. Susan is a phenomenal musician, and I couldn't help but be inspired in her lessons. She maintains extremely high expectations but remains supportive as her students work towards their potential. Aside from the great instruction I received from Susan, she also gave me my first teaching gig, which was taking over a studio of high school and junior high students from her. This opportunity not only provided me with some much-needed income, but also allowed me to discover my passion for teaching.
Mark Colby, DePaul's jazz saxophone professor, was also very supportive of me. Although I came into my first lesson not knowing a thing about jazz, he assured me that if I started working on some specific things, I could turn it around. Mark teaches through inspiration hes a great player, and you leave your lessons wanting to sound more like him next time.
Thoughts for students
Students interested in DePaul should be excited to live in an urban environment. If you're interested in frat parties, football games and wide-open spaces, DePaul might not be the perfect fit. However, if you're a bit more independent, are interested in building lifelong friendships and are serious about being a professional musician, DePaul has to be a school you consider.
DePaul prepared me to be successful as a performer and as an educator because of the practical yet rigorous training I received. I developed as a saxophonist because I spent a lot of time in the practice room, took both my jazz and classical lessons very seriously and played in great ensembles. I became an effective educator because I was given the opportunity to begin teaching before I was out of school. The music education curriculum is a thoughtful balance of theory and practical preparation. DePaul's fine reputation allowed me to student teach with remarkable cooperating teachers, which has led to unbelievable opportunities for me.
I would encourage prospective students to consider the fact that it is nearly impossible to predict, as an 18-year-old, what direction your life will take. Think about what your current professional goals are, but keep in mind that there are likely unforeseen opportunities in your future. Now consider how a collegiate music school can prepare you for both the expected and the unexpected. Look at what their alumni are doing. Many of my friends from DePaul are doing remarkable things within the music world. Many others have taken their lives in new directions but still draw on the artistic and practical education they received at DePaul. I run into DePaul alumni on gigs all the time, and I get the sense that we represent a large portion of the Chicago-trained musicians working in the city. Finally, as with almost any situation in life, the student is responsible for making the most of the resources and opportunities available. DePaul is a community rich with musical inspiration and experience, where a self-motivated, disciplined and driven young musician will thrive!