Nirvana changed Jesse Norell’s life. He still remembers hearing them on the radio for the first time. “I had an emotional reaction,” he says. He immediately wanted to learn drums, but his music teacher handed him a trombone instead.


Luckily, that was far from the end of his musical journey. Grunge remained a big part of his life, and when he was 15, he picked up the guitar. “It was the mid-’90s, and the learning process was not streamlined,” he remembers. “There was no YouTube, so it was mostly me and my friends showing each other stuff.” He credits that culture with his love of teaching today. “While I was learning, I was already teaching.”

Jesse has now been with MnSOM longer than any other employee. Of the early days, he remembers, “We had maybe 80 students. We would teach with the doors open because there was nobody in the lobby. Now we have about 400 students. The school has grown a ton, and it’s been beautiful to watch it all unfold.”

He loves connecting with his students the most when he teaches. “I reserve a decent chunk of every lesson to check in with the kids and how they’re doing. My time with them feels bigger than the lesson, the guitar, or even music, and that’s really meaningful to me.”

Jesse and his wife, Keri, have been married for 19 years, and they have two children, Tyler (8) and Alyssa (6). He has always loved playing music as much as he loves teaching it, and he put out his first album in 2005. But his band broke up, and his career in performing fell into limbo — until years later when his life changed forever.

“We found out on the day Alyssa was born that she has Down syndrome, and she was going to need heart surgery,” he says. “It was a dark time for our family.” But eventually, Alyssa’s health stabilized, and it inspired him to write his second album, “Aorta Borealis.” It’s a reflection on his family’s struggles and a celebration of raising a child with special needs.

The album’s title refers to both Alyssa’s heart condition and the northern lights. “When you see the northern lights, you can’t see them well unless they’re against the backdrop of darkness,” he says. “The album is about finding beauty in that darkness.”

“Aorta Borealis” is being released on March 4. Learn more and preorder at