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