“WHY BOSTON?” by Cecilia Dunoyer

Cecilia Dunoyer - Maestro Musicians Academy of Lexington, MAEarlier this fall I had the pleasure and honor to lead a BOLLI study group for the first time, leading participants on a journey through musical Paris in the 1920s. I looked forward to Wednesday mornings, setting up my Zoom station, sitting at the piano flanked by two computer screens, anticipating the arrival of my new BOLLI friends on one screen and looking at YouTube videos on the other.

I moved to the Boston area just two years ago, and BOLLI has greatly contributed to creating a new life for me and to enabling me to feel a part of a community in this magnificent city. At age 60, after 36 years of marriage and a thirty-year tenure teaching at Penn State’s School of Music in central Pennsylvania, it was time for me to end wedded life and leave a college town in favor of living in a city rich in history, arts, music, and a diverse population, a life more akin to the one I knew and thrived in growing up in Europe.  While my decision was often characterized as “courageous,” more than anything I felt enthralled by the vistas and wide expanses of possibilities and adventures that lay ahead.

This new start could have landed me anywhere, so at this “late” stage in life I am frequently asked, “Why Boston?” considering that I grew up in Paris and spent the better part of my career as a pianist in and out of New York City and Washington, DC. Philadelphia, geographically the closest escape toward civilization from college town fatigue, afforded me precious friendships with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and memorable concerts at the Kimmel Center.

In the end, however, Boston beckoned. With three children living and working in the U.S., Paris, my true hometown, was ineligible. New York real estate was an unrealistic proposition for a freelance musician. While Philly had its charm and plenty of history, the allure of Boston and its proximity to Europe had me unequivocally convinced that it would instantly become my new home.

Louis Pasteur famously stated, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” a bit of wisdom that proved itself over and over ever since I ventured the move to Boston. In a miraculous, mere two days the ideal pad revealed itself in Watertown in the form of a beautiful condo in a 1920s-era two-family home, with high ceilings, original wood floors, fireplace, and the perfect space for my grand piano. A few hours after the moving truck pulled away, my daughter Juliette, then a junior at the New England Conservatory, exclaimed, “Mommy, this house feels like you’ve lived here all your life!”  Little did I know when I moved in, in mid-October, that spring would bring into my own backyard the most exquisite explosion of flowering trees, from fragrant lilacs to mature roses, including half a dozen abundantly blooming shrub varieties hitherto unknown to me. The Covid summer inspired delicious evenings with socially distanced friends, sipping Rosé in my mini botanical garden, lit up by a makeshift firepit. When all music venues had shut down indefinitely, my violinist daughter Juliette and I performed “window concerts” to entertain our dog-walking neighbors. I never cease to marvel at how seamlessly and effortlessly such a radical life change unfolded. What’s more, how much Boston now feels more like “home” than any other place I have lived since I left Paris in my twenties.

French Cultural Center

Upon reflection, I realized that the past few decades had dropped subtle hints that Boston had been a part of my life all along. My older son was an undergraduate at Harvard; he also was a math mentor to students in the PROMYS (Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists) summer program at Boston University, having attended it while in high school. His brother, then a clarinetist, attended the BU Tanglewood Institute (the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home) both as a student and later as a counselor; and my daughter, a violinist, graduated from NEC. In spite of growing up in Amish country, all three coincidentally had experienced influential associations at a young age with some of Boston’s iconic institutions: Harvard University, Boston University, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the New England Conservatory. Early in my career, before my three wonders were even a thought, I was invited to present a series of lecture-recitals on French music at the then-named “Boston French Library,” which has since become the French Cultural Center/ Alliance Française of Boston. My youngest brother attended MIT in the 1980s and never left Cambridge.

I never tire of the view from my car when I speed down Storrow Drive in daylight or late at night, on the way to or from Symphony Hall or Jordan Hall, when lights twinkle and the old bridges are elegantly lit up… just like Paris!  The Charles River, alive with healthy Bostonians biking, running, roller-skating, pushing strollers, or playing with dogs along its banks, lends a majestic aura to a city throbbing with four centuries’ worth of history and too-many-to-count universities, magnets to the world’s most exceptional thinkers, creating an unmatched concentration of sophistication, brilliance, and enlightenment. I quickly discovered that living in Boston allowed me to jump in the ocean at a moment’s notice, scramble with delight on the rocky shores of Halibut Point in Rockport, or sip bubbly on a sandy beach on the Cape. At other times, New Hampshire’s White Mountains lured me to their gorgeous hiking trails, barely hinting at how many more breathtaking ridges I had yet to discover. My road bike frequently led me to landmarks of the Revolutionary War, Lexington and Concord, winding my way up Route 126 past Walden Pond. Last but not least, I can step out of my front door and grab an Armenian dinner, a Greek lunch, or Thai take-out, and leave my car in the driveway for days, as everything I need is within a few short blocks… including Praliné, the adorable French bakery on Belmont street, where I indulge myself with the absolute best croissants outside of France. I have a good life.

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In addition to her other activities, Cecilia founded an adult piano school in Watertown and will teach a BOLLI course in spring 2021:  A Study in Musical Contrasts: Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

2 responses to ““WHY BOSTON?” by Cecilia Dunoyer”

  1. Arlene Weintraub says:

    Delightful article! Sometimes we take our ‘home’ for granted, but you have renewed and refreshed my appreciation and love of Boston.

    Thank you and Welcome. Great to have you at Bolli.

  2. Cecilia — You helped me to remember Boston. Our “home” is in Boston itself, but we have stayed away from this metropolis during the pandemic, now more than one year. I write from Sarasota, a small city with lots of cultural opportunities, but not now. Everything is muted….But your descriptions of “our” city bring Boston to light once again. Thank you.

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