A passion for music

December 09, 2010  

Manager—and violinist—Roy Niederhoffer backs the Harmony Program.

By Danielle Beurteaux

 Anne Fitzgibbon and Roy Niederhoffer: It’s fun; it makes people happy
Not many hedge fund managers keep a piano handy at work, but Roy Niederhoffer has a Steinway grand right in his office.

Niederhoffer, 44, is the founder and president of R.G. Niederhoffer Capital Management, a short-term quantitative trading fund with assets just under $1 billion. He has also been playing music for most of his life. Niederhoffer is a founding member of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, an orchestra of accomplished amateur players, where he has a seat as a violinist. In 2008 a woman named Anne Fitzgibbon gave a presentation during a PACS intermission about the organization she’d recently founded: the Harmony Program, a free music education program for elementary school kids. Niederhoffer immediately knew this was a group he wanted to support. "She had a very inspiring vision for what she could accomplish," he says. "I decided to try to get the orchestra involved and get involved personally."

Harmony Program kids, who come from three area schools—one each in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx—take a music lesson every day after school. The program, based on El Sistema, Venezuela’s famous national music education program, aims to reach young kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to study music. It also recruits and trains college music students, from the undergraduate to postgraduate level, to be teachers.

"If you don’t start somebody at age four or five in music, it’s very, very rare for them to achieve a high level of skill," says Niederhoffer. He should know—he began his own musical training at age four, learning violin with the Suzuki method (a music pedagogical system developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki).

Why is music education important? Niederhoffer, who likes hiring musicians to work at his fund, has some compelling arguments. "It teaches extremely important lessons about how to achieve any goal," he says. Kids learn how to break tasks down into manageable parts, and they also learn about work, cooperation and responsibility. "It gives a structure and rigor to what kids are doing," says Niederhoffer.

Fitzgibbon praises Niederhoffer not just for his passion for music and commitment to music education, but also for his willingness to take action.

"He isn’t a talker, he’s a doer," she says. "He thinks creatively and strategically, and he’ll make something happen. If he says he’s going to do it, he’ll do it."

Luckily for Fitzgibbon, she gave her presentation at exactly the right time: the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony was looking to expand its charitable work with music education and has since become a supporter of the Harmony Program, both musically and financially—it recently raised more than $100,000 for the group. Says Niederhoffer, "This seemed like a perfect way to focus our efforts."

Of course, Niederhoffer hasn’t forgotten the simplest pleasure that music brings to the lives of both musicians and their audiences. "It’s fun; it makes people happy," he says. "It’s a great thing to share." AR

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