Ellen Nordstrom: Retrospective on a Lifelong Love of Music

October 2023

For almost 30 years, Ellen Nordstrom has been a staple of the voice faculty at Concord Community Music School. Her students have ranged from kindergartners to nonagenarians, first-timers to eventual professionals, and she is grateful for the connections she has made, and the opportunities presented to her at the Music School. As she prepares to step away from the CCMS faculty, Ellen happily shares thoughts from her time as a voice teacher and mentor at the Music School.

On what she learned in her time at CCMS…
“The two biggest lessons that I learned teaching at CCMS were that ‘one size fits all’ vocal instruction from that of 20th Century classical-only vocal studios needed to evolve with the evolution of vocal music, and that singing should be fun, and is not only for those pursuing a career via conservatory style training.”

On her teaching principles…
“Thanks to Lila Wallace and the CCMS faculty grants I received, I learned to teach beginning singers of all ages (from age 6 to 91) with a greater knowledge and perspective, always keeping vocal health and maintenance in mind, but also addressing stage fright and all the facets that can wreak havoc on a singer’s emotional/mental attitude when performing or auditioning. I made it my mission to help everyone sing their best and in as healthy a fashion as possible given their respective instruments, experience levels, and genres of music that they wished to perform. I quickly learned I needed to approach each student individually and find out their goals and work towards them, regardless of my own hopes and goals for them. That was a bit tricky along the way, but I developed an attitude of teaching to the ‘big kid’ in all of us.

Who among us hasn’t played dress up or had fun using our imaginations in childhood play without any sense of judgment from our elders? For the most part, that approach seemed to work with most of my students, even the more self-conscious ones, and empowered them in audition as well as in performance.”

On her students and what they have accomplished through the years…
“I’ve been lucky enough to have my students audition successfully for New Hampshire All State and for the Granite State National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competitions both in classical and musical theatre. Others have received lead roles in local school musicals as well as in local semi-professional theatres from Nashua to the Winnipesaukee Playhouse. Some of my students have performed on MTV’s Battle of the Bands, Up with People on Tour, American Voices on Tour in Europe, American Idol, and NBC’s The Voice. I also had a student who has even been a cover for Boris Goudonov at the Met and now makes his career performing professionally in Germany.

Many of my CCMS students have also been invited to perform for various New Hampshire governors and at State House functions through the years. Students of mine have performed the national anthem at Fisher Cats and Manchester Monarchs games, and one student performed for both Presidents Clinton and Obama. Most recently, one of my former students performed in Broadway’s summer 2023 run of Funny Girl with Lea Michelle; another was awarded lead roles in Schenectady’s Musical Theatre Broadway summer stock productions as a professional; another one of my 10-year old students was accepted into the renowned Zach Musical Theatre High School Academy in Austin, Texas; and another went on to Grammy Camp and eventually became a Grammy studio’s recording major via USC’s newest program offering. Lastly, Miss NH at this year’s Miss America pageant studied with me as well.”

On her plans after leaving the CCMS faculty…
“Thanks to being visited by Covid during the early stages of the pandemic and again two years later, I am in the process of championing my long Covid (aka PACS – Post Acute Covid Syndrome) working with many specialists as well as participating in an ongoing Mayo Clinic long Covid research study. My hope is that Covid will be behind me one day and I will be able to perform with CCMS colleague Abigail Charbeneau in the the Mairzy Doats Duo. I also hope to able to coach Broadway-bound students and continue working with my speech therapy students if full health returns. For fun, I have started to write the book I always intended: My Life is An Opera; Make That A Soap!

On the opportunities provided to her as a faculty member at CCMS…
“Thanks to CCMS, I was able to share my interests and fortes in several different workshop offerings from ‘Broadway Bound’ to ‘Dynamic Divas’ to ‘the Aging Voice.’ I was also given the ability to create ensembles on and off campus these past few decades and to support local programs via coaching at local middle and high school programs as well as at RB Productions.

As for my professional development as an artist and instructor, I had the great fortune to perform with my celebrated colleagues at CCMS and Walker Lecture Series galas and at Bach’s Lunches, not to mention being able to share collaborative department events with them and with my students and theirs.

I always felt valued at CCMS and have a wonderful musical family of friends from students to parents to colleagues. And if that weren’t enough, I never once had to submit a resume/cv to any of the prep schools and colleges where I taught supplementally thanks to so many kind recommendations. I know that I made mistakes along the way, but CCMS was and has always been my compass and guide towards a healthier approach to teaching as well as to performing.

I can’t thank CCMS enough for all of their wisdom and support of me through the thick and thin of it all.”

Ellen with CCMS former Director of Education Calvin Herst  and her former student, Sophie Shaw. 

Center and above: The “Mairzy Doats Duo” (Ellen and Abby Charbeneau)