The Musical Talents of Nadia Boulanger

By Phin Upham

As a young girl, Nadia Boulanger had a strong distaste for music. Both of her parents were musicians, so she was surrounded by endless practicing that must have felt stifling at times for a young girl unable to reproduce the same kinds of music.

When her mother, Raissa, became pregnant with what was to be Nadia’s sister, something inside the girl changed. She described a vivid moment from her past where she’d heard a fire bell and dashed toward the nearest piano to try and reproduce the music within the sound. Her parents began encouraging her and she paid close attention to every lesson.

She was a competitive player growing up, and took lessons from Louis Vierne and Alexandre Guilmant.

By 1904, she was a full-fledged musician and a private instructor out of her apartment. In many ways she’d followed in her father’s footsteps. He’d studied at the Paris Conservatoire and had won the Prix de Rome for musical composition. Her first submission failed entirely, her second made it to the finals but did not win. She entered nearly every year since, and failed every year after. Her efforts, however, inspired her young sister Lili to try.

Lili died young, but Boulanger carried her legacy to America. Although she had resolved that her talents were not in composition, she dedicated her life to teaching. In that capacity, she influenced the likes of Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Elliott Carter and Phillip Glass, among others. In many ways, it is thanks to Nadia Boulanger that we have many of the modern musical minds we sometimes take for granted.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or LinkedIn page.