“SMS was truly what made me the musician that I am today.”
Max Newman vividly remembers his first impressions of Special Music School as a first grader in 1996, the school’s first year. He loved the small, tight-knit community, the welcoming and supportive vibe, and especially the field trips. “It was an extremely enriching environment,” he recalls. “I remember feeling like on any given day I was going to see something amazing that I never could have imagined. World-class musicians would come in to play for us. And the next day they were going to take us to the Metropolitan Opera or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Right away, he loved playing the cello. “I remember really digging it. It was just a beautiful instrument.”
Max, now 25, attended Stuyvesant High School and Jacobs Music School at Indiana University. He recently moved from Bloomington, IN to Los Angeles with his five-piece rock band, The Main Squeeze. When they’re not on the road, they’re busy recording albums as well as writing and producing with other artists. This fall they’ll perform in Milwaukee, Denver, Chicago, Austin, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Boston among many other gigs. You can catch them in NYC on December 8 at the Bowery Ballroom. Keep an eye out for their new album, which will be released this spring!
Max calls the musical training he received from age 6 “the foundation that allowed me to do what I’m doing.” After many years of playing the cello, learning the guitar came easily. These days he’s playing more rock than Bach, but his classical training has definitely given him a leg up. “It sets a standard,” he says. “It gives you a really deep knowledge of instruments and of music theory. And it also gives you the discipline it take to be a professional.”
Studying music was “a blueprint to discipline” and a model for learning in other subjects, Max found. “This is how you learn something from nothing through a professional level,” he learned. “And then when it came to learning something else for school, it was the same concept: I need to put in a little time every day to understand the technique, the theory, how something works.”
The frequent recitals at SMS helped Max and his classmates grow as performers. “It really built our confidence, and it built our camaraderie because we were supporting each other at these recitals.” SMS “was an environment where kids were not afraid to be creative or be different. It was kind of utopian in that sense,” he says. “We were given such a wide-ranging and all-encompassing education in the arts and music and culture. It was really amazing.” Understanding different kinds of music sparked a “journey into diversity,” opening doors to different cultures, ideas and world views.
Academic subjects didn’t always inspire Max, who admits to procrastinating when it came to homework. Like many college students, he struggled to find his calling, but ultimately his passion for music made his choice clear. “I realized at some point that this is what I do,” he explains. “It’s music. I’m really passionate about it, and I get so much fulfillment out of it. And that feeling was definitely because of SMS and the intensive music training.”