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January Alumni Spotlight - Nicole Neely, ‘05

Nicole Neeley graduated with a Bachelor of Music in music education in 2005. She is a violinist, composer, producer and arranger based in Tennessee. She performed at the 2020 Grammy Awards with Lizzo, the 2022 Oscars with Beyonce and has performed at the CMA and ACM awards. Nicole has written for numerous tv shows and arranged for several A-listers.  

Why did you choose the School of Music? 

I grew up in Columbia and began music lessons through the University of South Carolina. I was always exposed to the college atmosphere.  

What ensembles did you perform with while at USC? 

I played with the USC Symphony Orchestra, Jazz String Ensemble, the Opera Orchestra and Chamber ensembles. 

What person, course or experience was most influential for you while at the School of Music? 

Conductor Dr. Donald Portnoy was so knowledgeable. I enjoyed his temperament. I remember my parents taking me to his concerts and being so inspired to play for him one day. 

How has your education at the School of Music helped you in your life and career? 

I had a well-rounded music education. Being in such a diverse environment assisted me in learning how to cultivate healthy relationships in the arts and managing different personalities and perspectives. 

What is one of your favorite memories, classes, professors or activities while attending the School of Music? 

The late Dr. Payne was quite the teacher. She remembered her students and always encouraged us even after we left her classroom. 

What advice would you give current students or recent graduates pursuing a music performance or music education career? 

Tap into all you can do creatively. There are so many areas to pursue and so much work to be had. Don’t let anyone box you in. And don’t stop learning. 

What is one of your proudest professional or personal accomplishments that occurred after graduating? 

I’ve had so many proud moments — big, but mostly small in the eyes of most. Though this isn’t educationally related, my greatest accomplishment was caring for my mother until her passing in September of 2019 after a 7-year stretch of several illnesses. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.