Peter Nero Draws A Crowd For A Talk At Montco Temple He Appeared For Students. Parents Found Out.

Posted: November 25, 1998

PENN VALLEY — It was a night for the children - until their parents heard about it.

Peter Nero, the pianist, composer and conductor who this year is celebrating the 20th anniversary season of Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, was invited to speak at Har Zion Temple on Monday night.

But of the 125 or so in the audience, adults outnumbered students. Once parents and grandparents learned that Nero would be there as part of the Jewish cultures program for the Har Zion High School of Jewish Studies, they asked to come, too, said Norman Einhorn, the principal of the school.

Some of the young folks said they had never heard of Nero in spite of a career that includes two Grammy Awards and 63 recordings. This season alone, he will give more than 100 concerts with his trio, as well as symphony orchestra engagements. He is also pops director of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, where he performs 25 concerts per season.

And astronaut John Glenn, in his recent voyage in space, got a wakeup call with a segment from a special composition that Nero, a friend, wrote for him: ``Voyage Into Space.''

Though Nero declined to play for the Har Zion group, saying he did not feel ``in shape,'' it was evident after an hour of dialogue between the maestro and the audience that he was a hit. And the offer of free tickets to his Philly Pops concert at the Academy of Music on Sunday certainly sweetened the moment.

``Come as my guest and hear it done right,'' he said.

Nero, who lives in Montgomery County, had been invited to ``hang out with the kids'' as a positive Jewish role model. But his talk centered more on his musical career than on his Judaism, with him saying his Jewishness was most evident in the way his parents encouraged his education.

Peter Bernard Nierow was born in 1934 in Brooklyn, N.Y., of Jewish immigrant parents.

When he became a professional musician, ``Bernie,'' as he was known then, evolved into Peter Nero by first dropping the silent ``w'' in his last name and then eliminating the ``i.''

``Before I knew it, I had become Italian,'' Nero said. ``If I had to do it again, I would never change my name.''

The introduction to his appearance was a showing of a film clip about the creation of ``Voyage Into Space.''

Then Nero, wearing a yarmulke, walked to the lectern in front of the hall.

He began at the beginning, his childhood.

His parents realized his talent when he started picking out tunes on a toy xylophone when he was 4. By age 7, he had a piano.

His first piano teacher didn't last long, he said, because her method included resting her feet on top of his to show him how to work the pedals.

``My shoes were being worn out and we couldn't afford new ones,'' he said.

By 11, he was giving concerts, and, by 13, he was on the radio. He then was accepted by the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan.

``Thirty-one stops each way on the subway from Brooklyn,'' he said. He also received a scholarship to attend the Juilliard School of Music.

After his talk, Nero took questions, with Einhorn acting as master of ceremonies.

David Brownstein, 15, of Bala Cynwyd, asked the maestro whether there was any kind of music he believed did not have any redeeming value.

``I never judge other people's music,'' he responded. ``The groups and performers today have something to say, and, obviously, there are those who can listen to it. I don't believe in censorship unless a line is crossed. Profanity is another story.''

Nero's future plans with students include the expansion of the program ``Jazz in the Schools'' that he presented last spring at the Masterman School in Philadelphia.

He said he hoped to establish the program as an ongoing series in schools in the region.

After the talk and refreshments, Jordan Ellis, 14, of Bryn Mawr, chatted with Nero in the lobby.

Ellis, who plays violin, clarinet, tenor sax and trumpet, asked Nero what was the best part of performing.

Nero told him that when he could feel the audience responding, it was ``perfect joy.''

After Nero left, Ellis, still beaming, said he couldn't wait for the Sunday concert.

Had Nero inspired him to become a professional?

``Couldn't hurt,'' he said.

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