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Nashua writer D. Quincy Whitney’s curiosity poised her to earn acclaim

Courtesy of Hutchins Consort Musicians with the Hutchins Consort, which is scheduled to perform at a December event in California in which Hutchins's biographer, D. Quincy Whitney, will be honored, pose with the eight violins Hutchins made in 1964.

Had D. Quincy Whitney, a longtime Nashua resident, former Boston Globe arts writer and current Telegraph columnist, decided not to heed her curiosity years ago and tackle the monumental research project that produced a fascinating biography of the late biologist-turned-music-maker Carleen Hutchins, Whitney wouldn’t be headed for California later this year to accept a prestigious award for so eloquently tying together the worlds of science, music and the arts.

And had Whitney, who’s also dabbled in poetry for something like 40 years, not listened to a friend who suggested she choose some of her favorite poems and send them to potential publishers, her collection she named “Turbulence” would not be headed for bookshelves later this year.

The twin honors are making 2019 an especially memorable year for Whitney, a Boston native who, while amassing an impressive series of arts, writing and research fellowships, also authored “Hidden History of New Hampshire,” a 2008 venture into “the intriguing cast of true stories … hidden in the cracks and crevices of the Granite State.”

While the process of publishing “Turbulence” is in the early stages – Whitney estimates a release date in the fall or possibly early winter – there is one date that’s already cast in stone: Dec. 4, the day she will receive the Acoustical Society of America’s Science Communication Award.

Whitney is at least doubly humbled by her selection, given the award is typically presented to someone in the field of science, and even then, it is not given out every year.

Carleen Hutchins carves a violin plate on her porch at her cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee. Courtesy of Hutchins Estate

And then there’s the judges’ comments: “You are the clear choice of the judges,” they wrote, citing American Luther’s “broad public appeal” and the many pages Whitney devotes to exploring Hutchins’s journey from trained professional biologist and grade school science teacher to internationally known luthier ­ a maker of stringed instruments.

Going on three years since the release of American Luthier, and some 15 years after she met, and began researching, Carleen Maley Hutchins, “I’m still in love with the story,” Whitney told me last week.

“Her story is a good example of how to beat the odds. She broke all the rules … she questioned assumptions,” Whitney said, although as a biologist, Hutchins knew little if anything about the physics of crafting string instruments.

It was Hutchins’s curiosity, Whitney says, that “propelled her across disciplines … here she was a biologist, never thinking she’d do anything with physics.”

But eventually Hutchins, who loved music, “started thinking, ‘how can I make this sound better?'” Whitney said, referring to when Hutchins, who learned the craft of whittling at age 5 and was playing the bugle at 9, began experimenting with string instruments.

Hutchins, Whitney learned, was strongly influenced by her early involvement with the Girl Scouts. “The Girl Scouts taught me how to do things myself,” Hutchins told Whitney during one of who knows how many interviews over the years.

“Huge to me was how open she was to other people’s ideas,” Whitney said. “That kind of open mindedness reinforced her … she encouraged others to believe in themselves, and taught them how.”

Thanks in large part to Hutchins’s longevity, Whitney was able to visit and talk with her for about four or five years. Hutchins, who split her time between homes in New Jersey and the Lake Winnipesaukee town of Wolfeboro, was 98 when she died in August 2009.

In a way, Hutchins’s and Whitney’s journeys to acclaim mirror each other at times ­ both women earned recognition and honors for their respective accomplishments, which in both cases stemmed from their keen sense of curiosity.

And the Acoustical Society of America, which is honoring Whitney in December at its 178th meeting in San Diego, also paid tribute to Hutchins some years ago with an honorary fellowship ­ making her the only woman to receive the fellowship, which was first given to Thomas Edison in 1929.

Yet another highlight of Whitney’s recognition ceremony in December is the planned performance of the San Diego-based Hutchins Consort, a unique ensemble whose members play their own Hutchins Violin Octet ­ a family of eight violins Hutchins created in 1964 that range from an 11-inch treble to a 7-foot contrabass.

As for Whitney’s recent confirmation from a publisher regarding her poetry collection “Turbulence,” more information will be forthcoming when more details emerge.

So stay tuned.