New Mexico School for the Arts Announces New Chair

NMSF News:

SANTA FE — New Mexico School for the Arts is proud to announce the appointment of the new Music Department Chair Neil Swapp.

“Not only does Neil bring to NMSA a distinguished career of 24 years as a professional music educator,” says NMSA-Art Institute Director, Riis Gonzales, “his life history mirrors our charter school initiative to provide young students from around the state an opportunity to develop their artistic talents – an opportunity many of them, especially those from smaller New Mexico towns, might not otherwise have.”

“Being a native of New Mexico and growing up in a rural community I understand the unique needs of our diverse population,” says Swapp. “New Mexico students often find it difficult to transition from our area into the larger arts arena of highly competitive music schools and professional music careers. Having traveled this road, I understand and can help students acquire the needed skills to be successful.” 

Swapp grew up in the small New Mexico town of Luna, a ranching community located seven miles from the Arizona border in Catron County. He began his formal music studies at age six on piano and later discovered the trumpet.

After his public school education, he attended New Mexico State University and earned a Bachelor of Music in 1987. He continued his education by studying at the St. Louis Conservatory of Music where he received a Master of Music degree in Trumpet Performance. He studied trumpet with Gary Smith and Susan Slaughter of the St. Louis Symphony; his conducting teachers have included Dr. Marianna Gabbi and Dr. Kenneth Singleton.

Swapp is in his 25th year as a music educator in New Mexico. Prior to joining NMSA, he served as Director of Bands at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces for 17 years and Director of Bands at Cibola High School in Albuquerque for seven years.

He has an outstanding record in designing innovative programs that increase staff motivation, student enrollment and student achievement. Under his leadership, his ensembles have been recognized throughout the state and nation for their superior performance level by winning numerous competitions and festivals including participation in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. Additionally, his ensembles have been recognized internationally in both England and China where they presented performances on the international stage.

President and former Vice-President of the New Mexico Music Educators Association (NMMEA), Swapp is also co-founder and president of the Southwest Music Academy, a non-profit organization that provides summer music instruction to hundreds of students in southern New Mexico. Under his leadership, enrollment increased from 160 to more than 500 participants in summer music programs.

“We’re so fortunate to have this caliber of music professional join NMSA to lead our music students, and help us continue to develop the NMSA music department,” Gonzales adds. “Neil is a living example of a New Mexican artist success story, and we know the students will flourish under his direction.”

Swapp says he plans to continue to develop the curriculum and programs currently in place and help NMSA become one of the premier arts schools in the region. “Through a common vision,” he adds, “students, parents, faculty and staff can all strive to produce music students that are highly sought after by the finest music schools in the nation.

New Mexico School for the Arts, Art Institute and Charter School assists passionate young artists in developing their full potential through a rigorous mastery arts and academic education.

NMSA is a public/private partnership comprised of the NMSA-Art Institute, a nonprofit art educational institution, and NMSA-Charter School, a New Mexico state charter high school. NMSA’s purpose is to provide the highest standards of excellence in preparing New Mexico’s artistically talented students to compete in the national arena for post-secondary education and/or professional careers in the arts. NMSA offers pre-professional instruction in the performing and visual arts with rigorous academics leading to a high school diploma. NMSA is located in the former St. Francis Cathedral School, 275 East Alameda in Santa Fe. For more information, visit:

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