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Marilyn Heins: 3 girl nerds who loved music

Marilyn Heins: 3 girl nerds who loved music

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Once upon a time way back when I was a sophomore in high school, I met two girls from different high schools in the greater Boston area.

We three young girls met at a concert in 1945 and continued to meet to hear concerts and rehearsals and talk about music. We all had a strong common interest in classical music that automatically assigned us nerd status, although we never heard of that word back then.

Thanks to Mr. Google I just learned that, “The word nerd was first used in the 1950 Dr. Seuss book ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ in which a nerd was one of the many oddly named creatures in the titular zoo.” It entered the teen vocabulary in 1951, the year I graduated from college.

The word “nerd” has morphed in meaning. First it was a derogatory meaning uncool — a nerd was more likely to read Proust than go to a prom. Now it can be a positive term, and there are a variety of us from science nerds to music nerds. Thank you, Dr. Seuss, I am happy you invented the word and am proud to be a music nerd and a staunch supporter of music organizations.

One of us somehow found out that Leonard Bernstein was appearing at Newton High School to give a talk and play the piano. “Lenny” was what all the music lovers in Boston called him as he was born outside of Boston and educated at Harvard. He got as much publicity and praise as did the Red Sox in a good season. Boston was, and still is, proud of this musical wonder for his conducting and composing.

We three decided to play hooky and, of course, did not tell our parents. Although we each lived about as far away as one could be and still get to our destination by public transportation, we made it and met at the Newton school. If I remember correctly, I had the most complicated route. A walk to the train, a trolley and a bus and another long walk. We looked like high school students so we did not get busted crashing the event.

Lenny was on stage along with a piano. He talked to us about music and illustrated the lecture playing themes. Later, he asked the audience what piece they wanted him to play. Many works were suggested but he played a lovely rendition of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” We were all thrilled. However, our parents were uniformly upset by our confessed delinquency and serious sanctions occurred.

One of the girls, who we’ll call “A,” had a glorious voice that graced concert halls and gave voice lessons until this year. The other, who we’ll call “J,” played the clarinet beautifully and became an early computer and textile design wizard. I played cello from age 10 until the year I entered medical school. (While in college I played cello in the college orchestra … last chair on the inside was a measure of my playing. However, this wasn’t a bad place to be at a performance of the “Messiah” because I was between the soloists and the full chorus. Glorious sounds!)

We all went to college in or near Boston. I remember one soiree at my home featuring Schubert’s “Shepherd on the Rock” for voice, clarinet, and piano with a musical member of my college class on the piano and me turning pages. This was followed by a wonderful supper prepared by my mother who was not only a talented artist but a great cook.

My mother played the piano, my dad the flute, my younger sister the violin. Full disclosure: I was the weakest player — probably a mixture of mediocre talent and my resolution to get good grades and get into medical school. I loved music and resolved to become the best listener in the world and have done my darnedest to keep my status to this day.

We three girls have kept in touch since college by phone and email. We speak or write quite frequently these days when live music has vanished and we elderfolk all are on home quarantine. Because we attended Met Opera HD performances in widely dispersed movie theaters in three states, we called to share our thoughts. Music brought us together and kept us together for over 70 years. Precious friendships!

It has occurred to me that today’s school children, who have time on their hands, thanks to the coronavirus and its effect on both play dates and children’s afterschool activities, might be gently encouraged to find such a lifelong passion as we have for music. My son, an amateur sky-watcher, showed my third-grade grandson the comet Neowise. The family now has a new telescope to see the stars and planets.

This a great time for parents and grandparents to suggest new horizons. Share your own passions from gardening to sky-watching and in-between. Or together look up a new interest.

Older children and teens might be gently nudged into looking ahead to our uncertain future. The virus will eventually be tamed and the world will “open” again but will be different. What will be gone? What will come back and how? How will we relate to each other after our long furlough from social interaction? How will people find jobs with so many businesses closing? How will we train scientists if colleges close?

David Leonhardt in a New York Times Opinion piece titled “It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?” writes that politics will shape our economy. “If there is a single lesson of the current era of American politics it is that things can happen more quickly than we imagined.”

None of us can know the future. But we can think about what could be done to improve our world. Imagination and creative thinking can lift us out of a boring day and swirl us to an exciting place. Let’s involve our children to think with us about our own ideas of the future or help them on their own search for possibilities to make this nation greater for all of us.

Dr. Heins is a retired pediatrician, parent, grandparent, columnist and author. She welcomes your questions about people throughout the life cycle, from birth to great-grandparenthood. Contact her at

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