The Nielsen legacy in Rockford and ‘Teaching Cheap Tricks of the Trade’

Music Academy student Leighton Barnes with her father and Rick Nielsen. (Photo by Susan Moran)
Music Academy student Leighton Barnes with her father and Rick Nielsen. (Photo by Susan Moran)
 Rick Nielsen, Milan Nielsen and Miles Nielsen at the Jan. 18 Music Academy event. (Photo by Susan Moran)
Rick Nielsen, Milan Nielsen and Miles Nielsen at the Jan. 18 Music Academy event. (Photo by Susan Moran)

By Marti Frantz
Executive Director, The Music Academy

Rick Nielsen, Miles Nielsen and the entire Nielsen family shared their love of music with The Music Academy family and friends on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 18. Theirs is a remarkable family legacy in our community. The footprint is large and many dimensional, but what is most impressive is the heritage of four generations sharing their love of music in our community.

In many ways, the Nielsens’ love of music and willingness to share it parallels what we do at The Music Academy. We aspire to create an environment where our students learn to love the music they hear and see modeled at the school.

When Miles Nielsen expressed surprise that his daughter, Milan, had learned his songs and wanted to sing them with her dad and granddad, we at The Music Academy were not surprised. Our students hear great music from infancy, and they learn the language of music in much the same way they learn their native languages. Our students learn to make and love music organically, in much that same way that Rick learned from his father, Ralph, and Miles learned from Rick, and Milan is learning from Miles.

Rick Nielsen and Dax Nielsen with Music Academy and RAMI students in a Q & A moderated by Steve Shannon. (Photo by Susan Moran)
Rick Nielsen and Dax Nielsen with Music Academy and RAMI students in a Q & A moderated by Steve Shannon. (Photo by Susan Moran)

Sunday, Rick offered six young, aspiring Rockford musicians his wit and wisdom as well as his love of music. Many thanks to Music Academy students Andrew Willette, Christian Collins and Trevor Tauch and to Rockford Area Music Industry (RAMI) students Ashley Bjork, Justin Gates and Travis Phillips for crafting questions for Rick and Miles that were described as “wise beyond their years.”

The students ranged in age from 15 to 20 years, and cumulatively have already studied music for 57 years. For the students and the audience (which packed the school’s auditorium), getting a chance to hear a world-class musician offer his take on the business of the music trade was entertaining, and an invaluable learning experience.

The afternoon was also successful for The Music Academy and its foundation and for the 1,600 students we serve. The Music Academy is a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, and as such, we are committed to ensuring accessibility and affordability to a comprehensive music education for our students. Each year, we must raise $15,000 to support the student scholarship and financial aid fund. The Nielsen family signed on to help us do just that.

Several times, Rick expressed his concern that “we make the most” of the time he donated to us. We did do just that — raising $10,000. It was notable that Rick’s advice to the students was to “stay focused on the fundamentals” and to “work till you make things sound great.” The Music Academy also must show that same commitment and “work till we make things great” to be successful in delivering on our mission, vision and promise to our community.

Many thanks for the incredible support of the entire Nielsen family, The Smith Charitable Foundation, Steve Shannon and WZOK, The Rock River Times, RAMI, Bruce Hammond, the Epperson family, the three boards supporting the work of the Academy, and the 30 artist faculty and staff members of The Music Academy who really sing when we are working together on behalf of the kids.

The Music Academy is at 226 S. Second St., downtown Rockford, and can be reached at (815) 986-0037 or online at musicacademyinrockford.com.

From the Jan. 21-27, 2015, issue

Share this story