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New orchestra director fosters positivity and student-focused curriculum

Having six years of orchestra experience at Maine South, Matthew Nix is ready to take on New Trier’s program
Orchestra Director Matthew Nix and orchestra students at the Symphony, Chamber, and Concert Choir performance on Nov. 9

Editor’s Note: Mara Saltzman is involved in the performing arts program through choir and theater. 

New director of orchestras Matthew Nix is eager to have a positive impact on New Trier High School. He succeeds beloved director, Peter Rosheger, who retired last year after leading New Trier’s orchestra program for 29 years. Having already conducted two concerts, Nix is settling into his new role by connecting with students and colleagues.

“I’m so lucky to work with these fantastic music and theater colleagues of mine,” Nix says. “They’re really focused on providing a high quality experience for all of their students.”

I’m just so tickled that I was chosen for this position and I’m really looking forward to nurturing this orchestra program even further than it’s already been, because it’s quite a storied program already.

— Matthew Nix

Nix, who has participated in several national and international masterclasses and workshops, comes to New Trier with over 10 years of experience teaching high school orchestras. He spent the last six years working for Maine South High School, and has also directed and conducted for schools in New York and Michigan. There are several unique things about New Trier Nix has noticed, especially its strong sense of school pride that helps maintain its positive reputation.

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“I’ve learned over my career that each high school has its own ecosystem,” Nix says. “When I walk through the halls, it’s very striking to me to see how many people wear a New Trier outfit. I think people here are just very proud to call this place their academic home and that they understand that when you take care of a place and nurture it, it’ll give positive things back to you.”

Music & Theater Department Chair Elizabeth Bennett, who was on the committee that hired Nix as director of orchestras, understands the importance of his role and how much the school cares about its students.

“It was a big long process, because this is a role that is very public and important to the community,” Bennett says.

The hiring process started in the fall of 2022, with committee members attending events and conferences to look for candidates. Interviews took place in January, and Nix was hired as the new director in March. That was a very involved undertaking, consisting of several rounds and weighing factors.

Orchestra teacher Patricia Rohwer, who co-teaches the Concert and Freshman Orchestras with Nix, says that students helped contribute to the hiring process.

“We’ve always hired our music teachers by having them come in and teach the classes that they would be teaching if they got the job,” Rohwer says. “We’ve always listened to student input. We had Google Forms so that the students could give us their reaction to the rehearsals.”

Students seem to be enjoying Nix’s fresh perspective on the program. Sophomore Colin O’Brien, who plays in symphony and chamber orchestra, appreciates how Nix changed the seating arrangements.

“Before it used to be a big thing, you would get your chair and it would be that one place but now he’s sort of mixing it all around,” O’Brien says. “Personally, I think it’s good because I think it is how professional orchestras do it and everyone needs to be seen.”

While Nix is very invested in making the program more student-led, he is also incorporating social-emotional learning into the curriculum.  

“He wants us to get to know each other and to work as a team,” Rohwer says. “There are a lot of times where instead of just telling students what to do, he’s asking them to look to a [music] stand partner or colleague of theirs and talk about what they think they should do.”

Chamber Orchestra played most recently at the Nov. 9 Symphony, Chamber, and Concert Choir performance without a conductor. Instead, students were tasked with staying true to the music on their own, while Nix played the double bass alongside them.

“I also think Chamber Orchestra has changed a lot, I like what he’s done with it,” O’Brien says. “Sometimes we get to lead rehearsals and learn to work more on our own, developing skills.”

As Nix settles into New Trier, he will continue to bring a fresh perspective to the orchestra program.

“He has a lot to be mindful of but is definitely a presence out in the community and is already working on that, connecting with our sender school teachers and future Trevians,” Bennett says.

His emphasis on student leadership has benefited the program, leading it in a new and exciting direction.

“The students seem to enjoy it and that’s the main thing. We’re only just getting started so it’s hard to claim victory already, but I think we’re going in the right direction,” Rohwer says.

Nix has enjoyed making music so far with New Trier students and can’t wait to make a lasting mark on the program.

“I’m just so tickled that I was chosen for this position and I’m really looking forward to nurturing this orchestra program even further than it’s already been, because it’s quite a storied program already,” Nix says. “As we are working through this post-pandemic world, fostering the power of music and theater in our schools is something that I’m really looking forward to. I’m really excited about the possibilities moving forward for our students.”

This story was originally published on New Trier News on November 29, 2023.