Classical guitarist Nicki Lehrer plays Spanish flamenco and tango music; she has performed in more than 100 concerts and has released three CDs. But she's just started her MIT career--the 19-year-old freshman from Rockville, Md. is studying aeronautics and astronautics and hopes to be an astronaut.
On Thursday, April 15 at noon, Lehrer will play in MIT's noon chapel concerts series. Lehrer's pre-MIT performance venues include Yosemite National Park; Cuernavaca, Mexico; and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Lehrer, attracted to the tone and versatility of the classical guitar, started playing guitar at age seven when she asked for the instrument as a birthday gift. She expected to receive a toy instrument; instead, her parents bought her a real half-size guitar and she began taking lessons.
"I didn't tell my parents about their mistake for a year," Lehrer said with a laugh. "I wanted to say, 'Guess what guys? You could have saved a lot of money!'"
Soon after her lessons began, the performing bug bit. Lehrer asked her father to take her to the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., where she saw street performers playing. She quickly earned acclaim as the youngest street musician in town. "I made a sign saying 'Hear a Real Guitar,' and listed songs I could play, like 'Greensleeves' and 'Happy Birthday,'" she said.
Lehrer earned $24.14 in her first hour and immediately fell in love with performing. Her father continued to take her each weekend to the corner of Wisconsin and M streets to play. "I'm so grateful to my dad--he was behind me every step of the way," she said.
Bigger and more weather-proof venues would soon follow. By age 11, Lehrer was invited to perform at Borders Bookstore Cafe, and she recorded her first CD at age 12. Soon she was performing around the country and in Mexico. "Once you get into the circuit, people start inviting you places," she said.
Lehrer describes her music as a combination of classical and Spanish. She loves to play flamenco, tangos and waltzes, and occasionally will sing in Spanish.
While at MIT, Lehrer is studying under guitar great Eliot Fisk at the New England Conservatory through an MIT/Emerson College music scholarship.
"MIT is always very supportive of the arts," said Lehrer. "The school especially offers so many opportunities to hear musicians."
Her schedule of classes, lessons and guitar practice is rigorous, but her music helps her unwind. "Music is my relief, my relaxation," she said.
Lehrer will continue pursuing her dual career tracks this summer, when she'll work at her second summer internship with Boeing in Philadelphia and also play guitar at several sites in New Jersey's summer concert series.
"I'll always keep performing," Lehrer said. "My favorite part of playing is to share what I've learned with others."
At tomorrow's chapel concert, Lehrer will perform Bard's "Prelude Sueno & Mediterranean Beauty"; Dyens' "Tango en Skai"; Villa-Lobos' "Prelude #1"; Barrios' "Vals Op.8 No.4"; Ponce's "Schertzino Mexicano"; Sor's "Variations on a Theme by Mozart"; and Albeniz's "Leyenda."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 14, 2004.