300 Toast The Zukof Era At Neighborhood Music School

At first blush, Polly Rosen and Julian Shively didn’t appear to have much in common. One is 77 years old, retired and a grandmother. The other is 13 and still in middle school. On Sunday evening they celebrated a common experience: having benefited from Larry Zukof’s tutelage. And they weren’t alone.

Rosen and Shively were two of some 300 attendees at a a going-away party for Zukof at Neighborhood Music School (NMS) on Audubon Street. The other guests included other former and current students, proud parents and movers and shakers in New Haven’s arts and culture circles, all came to mark the end of his successful 18-year tenure as executive director of the community-based music school.

Rosen (pictured) has been associated with the Neighborhood Music School since 1968; her children and grandchildren have both attended the school. Zukof’s influence on her own musical career has been indispensable, she said.

“I went from classical to jazz, and he couldn’t have been more supportive,” she said.

Shively (pictured) has studied piano and cello for the past four years. Shively said that Zukof’s accessibility as a person as well as with respect to music has also been integral to NMS’s success.

“It’s not hard to talk to” Zukof, he said. “It’s like he’s your friend.”

At the party, which extended into the school’s backyard, Zukof received accolades for both his tireless curating of the arts in New Haven and his gifts as an instructor, as well as mounting successful fundraising campaigns required both to establish a financial aid scholarship at NMS and to renovate its 100 Audubon St. home.

Click here for a previous interview in which Zukof listed as among his proudest accomplishments the renovation, which included $6 million in state and local funding; and expanding annual financial aid from $20,000 to around $200,000.  He also mentioned greatly expanding the diversity of NMS’s programming and doubling enrollment.

Before coming to New Haven, Zukof (pictured) was a music school director in at the Brookline Music Academy in Brookline, Mass. At the time, he said, he was already in a “commuter marriage,” in which he was living in Massachusetts and his wife was living in Guilford.

When a job opened up at NMS at nearly the same time his job in Brookline came to a close, it was a “perfect alignment of stars.” “The needs of this institution matched my skills,” he said.

Andrew Wolf, head of the city’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism , was on hand Sunday evening to present Zukof (at left in photo) a proclamation by Mayor Toni Harp “thanking [Zukof] for his decades of service.” Wolf said that, after living for decades in Los Angeles, a global arts hub, he was “dazzled” by New Haven’s arts scene, to which Zukof was a primary contributor, when he arrived this year.

“He’s infused in me the passion to follow in his footsteps,” Wolf said.

Steve Dest (at right in photo, with Wolf) credited Zukof with the existence of the Neighborhood Music School’s Drama program. Dent, who has served as its head for 15 years now, said Zukof has built a legacy of “reaching out to different components in the arts community.”

The event began with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, which featured an aptly named “Zucchini Cocktail.” NMS marketing and public relations manager Lisa Rovello said the cocktail’s origins stemmed from its similarities with Zukof’s distinctive name. “Zucchini” was also the basis for one of Zukof’s previous email addresses, she said.

After guests finished mingling, the event moved indoors, where Zukof received several toasts and tributes.
NMS Board of Directors President Marc Rubenstein used the Latin phrase “si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice” (if you seek a beautiful peninsula, look around) to describe the spirit Zukof has imbued within the school. NMS, Rubenstein said, was a “fine” school when Zukoff took the helm as musical director in 1996. Since then, Rubenstein said, the school, has 3,000 students, three times the number it had when Zukof began.

Greater New Haven Arts Council Executive Director Cindy Clair (at left in photo, with Creative Arts Workshop Executive Director Susan Smith) spoke of the many number of roles Zukof played on a daily basis—that of diplomat when placating donors and both pleased and irate parents, that of “juggler” when completing the tasks of managing a budget, and that of problem-solver when dealing with inevitable crises. Meanwhile, she said, Zukof “still makes art.”

In addition to the proclamation from Mayor Harp, Zukof received tributes from Gov. Dan Malloy and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both presented by Hartford lobbyist Lisa Kowalski, who has helped NMS receive state money.

After the presentations, Zukof performed a “Super Mario” theme on the recorder with two of his students. Click on the video at the top of the story to watch the performance.

Zukof formally relinquishes his post June 30. He said he plans on staying in the New Haven area and continuing to teach music.

His greatest priority, he said, is to “stay involved in the arts and educational spheres.”

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