Top Female Achievers

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
New Orleans Magazine

Each year in this section we profile a selection of notable women in our community. What is most difficult about the selection process is not so much finding worthy contenders but narrowing the list. As always we feel enriched by those who have been selected and encouraged by knowing there are so many others to consider.
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is an internationally renowned musician; she has performed at the White House; she has collaborated with contemporaries like Mandy Patinkin; she has a multitude of awards of achievement and excellence; her music has moved listeners to tears of joy around the world. Yet, with all of her accomplishments, Salerno-Sonnenberg sees the work she is doing here in New Orleans at Loyola University, as some of her most important work so far in her career.

“It takes three elements to be a great teacher,” she said. “One, you have to have a mastery of the information you are teaching, whatever it is.
Two, you must be committed; you must be ready to go the extra mile. And three, you must inspire. That is the hardest one, but somehow I am able to reach my students and inspire. It’s about teaching them not just how to play the notes, but how to play music. It’s so gratifying to watch their posture change, to get that standing ovation, when they realize they can do things that they had no idea they could do.”

While Salerno-Sonnenberg has travelled around the world, New Orleans holds a special place as the artist’s new home. “I love New Orleans music,” she said. “It doesn’t speak to my music, because I play classical, but it speaks to me as a person. There is such a variety of music here, and it's everywhere. Where else can you go listen to a Schubert mass and then step outside and watch Rockin’ Dopsie perform? Only in New Orleans.”
Mentor: Right now, I am my own mentor. I talk to myself in the mirror, as I go to teach these kids. Defining Moment: When I first worked with the (student) orchestra here, they were so scared. I worked with them for an hour or so, until they became a little more comfortable. The next rehearsal, there was an immediate change, in their music and their posture. Advice for young women: Don’t label yourself as doing something “as a woman.” Whatever it is, just go out there and be the best whatever you are doing. Goals: My goal is to focus on my own happiness right now, and that is being here in this city.  I want to teach; what I am doing feels so good. I want to enjoy being in New Orleans. This is a city like nowhere else. Favorite thing about what I do: The best part is getting my students to play in a way they didn’t know they could.