MUSIC MAN: Pure passion spurs senior’s love for music


Kathy Luan

BUGLE BOY. Ever since he was little, singing and playing music has been a huge part of Nathan’s life. He learned piano when he was 5, trumpet at 9, and guitar 10 — all while playing with his family and even at his synagogue.

Caledonia Abbey, Reporter

Nathan Appelbaum is no stranger to performing, but even after years of experience, it can still be nerve wracking. 

“When you’re up on the stage, and you’re nervous and scared, you revert to the highest level of practice that you put into that,” he said. “You go off your natural instincts, and when that instinct comes from hours and hours of practice, that’s how you put on a good show.”

He began teaching himself how to play the piano at the age of 5, trumpet at 9, guitar at 10, and singing all the while. Since then, he’s been a part of various music groups in and outside of U-High, and has attended rigorous summer programs. Nathan’s wide range of instruments and musical influences pushes his playing beyond genres and quite eclectic.

“I’ve been doing music since pretty much the very beginning,” Nathan said.

Growing up, music was constantly playing in the house. His parents both wanted to expose him to music from an early age.

When you’re up on the stage, and you’re nervous and scared, you revert to the highest level of practice that you put into that.

— Nathan Appelbaum

“My dad was in an a capella group and plays guitar, and my mom has a great ear,” Nathan said. “Between them, we’re a very musical family.”

He’d sing alongside his dad’s guitar playing to old folk rock like Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

From there, he and his dad began singing with their synagogue

“I’d sing at the holidays. I knew all the tunes and I became a natural harmonizer,” Nathan said. “My dad would start with the melody, and I’d sing along with the harmony.”

After he started singing, instruments naturally followed. When he first started playing piano, Nathan quit after two lessons because he didn’t like the teacher. That didn’t stop him from coming back and learning how to play on his own.

But self-teaching isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. 

Nathan said, “When I first started I would just mash on the keys until something sounded good.” 

It’s a far cry from classical and rock pieces he can play today.

He didn’t pick up guitar until age 9 or 10 but was nonetheless inspired by his dad to do so. 

“I was like ‘this is a great instrument.’ My dad taught me the first few chords and then I learned the rest for myself,” he said. 

Nathan likes guitar because he can play it and sing at the same time, and he can play it with other people, something that he hadn’t been able to do too much before.

In 4th grade he played the trumpet in his school band and by 7th his skills had exceeded his school’s limitations and began studying at the Merit School of Music. 

Last year, Nathan played in the school jazz band alongside fellow trumpet player Max Polite.

“Nathan was more classically trained,” Max said. “He had all the technical skills and just had to apply it to the jazz setting. There were definitely parts that I had trouble playing that Nathan could cover for our section.” 

He went on to become the only junior in the Senior Jazz Combo, where he performed at several school events and the Hyde Park Jazz Club.

Aside from jazz, he plays genres including classical when he’s training at Merit, and his favorites of country and classic rock when on his own.

“I love old sounds like country rock and classic rock,” he said. “Billy Joel is by far my favorite musician, Elton John, those types of people.”

At Lab, he enjoys collaborating with other students and playing music together. After school, he can be seen hurrying to the practice rooms with other students for casual jam sessions.

While he didn’t have experience as an actor, he picked it up as swiftly as his instruments, playing a leading role in “Mamma Mia!” using his musical background and support from the cast and crew to make it happen.

He’s been composing music in his free time and hopes to stay engaged in the music scene as he goes on to college and beyond.