Practice makes the perfect trombone player

Zachary Neikens, a senior at William Floyd High School and one of the world’s best high school brass trombonists, has officially received acceptance to six colleges of his choice including a full ride to NYC’s Juilliard

Three to four hours a day isn’t all it takes to become the world’s best high school brass trombone player. Senior Zachary Neikens, 17, of Mastic, credits his success to a love for music.

“It wasn’t necessarily about the trombone, but rather about music itself,” he said, explaining the reason he has stuck with it for so many years to become one of the best of the best. “In society, everyone can come together for one thing — music.”

“He practices in [all of] his free time. Seriously! Loves to listen to music. All classical,” said his dad John Neikens, a nurse. “I am so very proud of his work ethic. He really is the hardest working kid I know,” he added, saying that he also carries an academic grade point average of approximately 96.

Neikens began private lessons in second grade; by third grade he was playing tenor trombone with the fifth grade band at Nathaniel Woodhull Elementary School, switching to the bass trombone about four years ago during his time at William Floyd Middle School.

Zachary has also had the honor of performing at notable places including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, Staller Center for the Arts and Madison Theatre at Molloy College. Among all his achievements, he has also played professionally with the now-defunct New York’s Most Dangerous Big Band for several years.

Earlier this year, Neikens was selected by the National Association for Music Education as a member of the All-National Honor Ensembles Concert Band, a prestigious honor for the “best of the best.” He is also one of only 121 instrumentalists from 49 U.S. states and territories selected to perform with the concert band and one of only 550 student musicians selected overall in one of five categories — concert band, jazz ensemble, mixed choir, symphony orchestra and guitar ensemble.

His accolades also include recognition from the New York State School Music Association, New York State Band Directors Association, Suffolk County Music Educators Association and International Trombone Association, which awarded him an honorable mention as a sophomore, essentially placing him in the top six in the world among college trombonists.

He has performed with the North Shore Community Band, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York and the Juilliard Pre-College program and is a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society as well as the jazz band, wind ensemble, orchestra, trombone quartet and brass quintet at William Floyd High School under the direction of director of bands Michael Cordaro.

PULL QUOTE: “He is a fantastic student and as talented as he is, he is humble about it,” said Cordaro, his high school band teacher, explaining that Neikens often inspires fellow students to be the best they can be. “He’s got a brilliant musical mind. There is no doubt he is professionally going places.”

“He is the whole package, with talent, commitment and dedication,” he added. “I wish he reaches all his goals.”

For now, he lives with his parents and two younger siblings and enjoys playing classical music and the art of performance. In college he plans to study performance and upon graduation, join a symphonic orchestra.

“I am just so excited to focus on music and the trombone completely,” Neikens said.

With close to perfect auditions, Neikens granted himself access to Juilliard, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, New England Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes and DePaul University, though he is deciding between his top choices, Juilliard and Jacobs. Juilliard offered him a full ride, while Jacobs offered him close to it, both excluding room and board.

“He was every school’s first choice and received full scholarships,” said his father, explaining that NEC offered him $17,000 in scholarships but it costs $60,000 to attend, while the Manhattan School of Music did not offer anything. “We are negotiating with Juilliard and Indiana for further scholarships and living expenses.”

Though Juilliard was always his father’s hope, he said he loves Indiana, creating a tough choice. Still, the choice will most likely be made with finances in mind, required to still self-fund books, room and board.

For now, Neikens said he is simply focusing on graduation and then will enjoy his summer repairing brass and giving lessons at Family Melody Center in Patchogue. He must earn about $20,000 to pay for living expenses.


“My favorite classical piece is Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, my favorite musician is Joe Alessi, principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic, and the hardest part is working on what the weaknesses are in your playing, because it takes a lot of patience.”

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