In 2012, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen was the first freshman to win Princeton University's Handel Singing Competition.
The Prospect Heights native, now a 21-year-old senior, is driven by two passions: music and politics. In junior high, he began singing with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a preeminent children’s choir that exposed Nussbaum Cohen to both contemporary and classical music. He appeared with iconic, pop artists including Elton John and Sting, and soon became comfortable performing at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
For Nussbaum Cohen, music has always been a way to connect with others and participate in tradition. With his unique status as a countertenor, meaning he can sing higher than most women, Nussbaum Cohen saw his time at Princeton as a way of pursuing his intellectual curiosity about the relatively idiosyncratic music he is dedicated to, such as baroque opera and chamber music, by researching its history.
Singing has also connected Nussbaum Cohen to his Jewish roots. For seven years he has served as assistant cantor at East Midwood Jewish Center, where he helps lead High Holiday services. “Singing and performing is a lot about connecting with people,” said Nussbaum Cohen. “When people leave a performance I want them to feel fulfilled.”
Nussbaum Cohen also uses his voice for social issues. His interest in the Middle East was first piqued by his time as a Bronfman Fellow in 2010, during which he studied in Israel and developed a social action project, and then fully catalyzed by the clashes on his campus caused by the 2012 conflict in Gaza. Princeton, conventionally viewed as the “quiet Ivy,” has managed to cultivate a reputation as comparatively free of divisive political debate. However, in 2012, students were looking to engage in a political issue but lacked pre-existing infrastructure that could lead them to productive debate.
“There was a real need for constructive dialogue on campus,” said Nussbaum Cohen. In response, Nussbaum Cohen helped launch a Muslim-Jewish dialogue group and started a chapter of J Street U, the campus arm of the nonprofit liberal advocacy group.
Singing for his supper: Nussbaum Cohen plans to pursue a career in music, and while still in school, performed the lead role in the first modern revival of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera, “Demofoonte” at Austria’s historic Theater an der Wein.