The Story

Nils grew up in Annapolis, MD, and spent a lot of time listening to his parent’s diverse record collection: Mozart Horn Concertos, The Mamas and the Papas, Thelonious Monk, Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, Dave Brubeck, and every one of the Beatles albums.

His first (and most formative) music performance experience was as a seven-year-old member of the St. Anne’s Church junior choir. That led quickly into other artistic pursuits; at age eight, he followed his best friend’s lead and took up the piano, which in turn led to an enthusiastic embrace of the recorder, and then he made the logical leap to…the trombone. All of this was much to his parent’s delight and surprise, since they don’t consider themselves to be particularly musical.

At fourteen, he declared (this time perhaps to his parent’s dismay) that he was destined to be a classical trombone player. This declaration had a significant impact on family life: Bates Junior High School Orchestra practices happened BEFORE school, and there were most certainly mornings when he assured his parents that his symphonic aspirations were just a joke.

Nils continued to make unusual commitments to support his trombone playing habit, including pressuring his parents to let him commute to the Baltimore School for the Arts for high school. His eleven-hour school day included a full schedule of academics, plus music theory, music history, orchestra, private lessons, brass quintet, and chorus…with three hours daily spent on public transportation, where he and his BSA friends were both amusing and annoying to business commuters. It was an exhausting and glorious time, and pushed him further down the road towards a career in music.

He eventually settled in Bloomington, IN at the Indiana University School of Music, where he studied trombone with M. Dee Stewart, and received a degree in Trombone Performance in 1996. During his time as a “serious” conservatory student, he fell in with a crowd of outside-the-box musical thinkers, who introduced him to King Crimson, Grand Funk Railroad, The Talking Heads, Sly and the Family Stone, and beat boxing. The a cappella quintet Monkey Puzzle was formed; Nils became the bass singer, and his musical deconstruction and re-education began.

First publicity photo. 1993

First publicity photo. 1993

Monkey Puzzle stayed together for six years, recorded four albums, and became one of the most ground-breaking, entertaining, and popular acts in the vibrant live original music scene in Bloomington in the mid-1990s.*

*(Monkey Puzzle hasn’t sung together regularly since 1999; the band has performed four reunion concerts in the 15 years since they broke up, each with over 400 people in attendance. The most recent reunion show happened in September of 2013. See the Scrapbook for pictures of Monkey Puzzle.)

Monkey Puzzle’s legion of fans included Bloomington local and folk music celebrity, Malcolm Dalglish. In 1996, Malcolm formed a folk choir called The Ooolites, in order to record two albums of his original choral compositions. He invited Monkey Puzzle to be part of the project, and through that experience Nils met a number of young home-schoolers from New England who introduced him to shape note singing and contra dancing.

After a brief detour in 1997 playing trombone with Midwest ska band Johnny Socko (during which he had a green Mohawk and played 250 shows in bars across the country), he found his way back to Bloomington, eager to resume his connection with the folk music and dance community. He started going to the local contra dance on a weekly basis, occasionally taking the microphone to call at the once-a-month open mic night.

Life then took him to Arizona, where he quickly became board member and local dance caller for the Phoenix Friends of Traditional Music. After realizing that he missed trees, green, and big water, he found his way to New England to pursue his current career path as a trombone playing dance caller. His New England based band, Elixir, allows him to do exactly that, and keeps him busy, challenged, and thoroughly satisfied.

He met his wife, Amy, while they were both teaching at the Monadnock Waldorf School in Keene, NH in 2005. They were married in 2007; their son August was born in 2008; they bought a house in 2009; their son Simon was born in 2011…and life is ever-more beautiful and chaotic. Whatever 2014 and beyond brings, it’s bound to be full of unexpected adventure, centered around travel, music, dance, singing, food, friends, and family.

In the Spring of 2010, Nils’s CDSS colleague Pat MacPherson interviewed him about his musical background. Read part 1 of that interview here; if you find yourself interested in more, you can read part 2 here.