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John Henry Heller, Jr.

Memoir by Edie Elkan

Jack Heller was one of the most talented composers and musicians I’ve ever known. Born in the winter of 1945, Jack was drawn to music at a tender age. His sister, Patricia Lung, recalls her mother telling her that when Jack was but 4 years old, she found him sitting spellbound on a neighbor’s steps listening to the radio broadcast of an opera. In third grade he discovered the recorder. Astounded when she witnessed young Jack pick up the instrument and immediately play melodies on it, the teacher put in a call to his parents and urged them to give him music lessons at once. Very soon thereafter, Jack took up the clarinet. By the time he was in high school he was composing pieces for string and wind ensembles. Musical ideas seemed to flow right through Jack; in the midst of a social gathering, his friends became used to seeing him sketch out melodies on a scrap of paper or even a napkin. Although just a teenager, he was recognized by his teachers and peers as an exceptionally gifted young man, one who was sure to rise to the top of the classical music world. Winning a Board of Education Scholarship upon high school graduation, he attended the Philadelphia Musical Academy where he studied composition with Joseph Castaldo, Arthur Custer, Robert Suderburg and Michael White. Jack was awarded a Bachelor of Music degree in May of 1968 and soon after, began graduate studies at Temple University where he continued his composition studies with Clifford Taylor. He graduated with his Ph.D. in Music Composition in 1976 and accepted a position in the Music Department of Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, Virginia. Just on the brink of making a name for himself in academia and in the classical music world, he was brutally murdered in the summer of 1977 at the age of 32.