Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Who is this Woman?

Place: Marblehead, Massachusetts; birthplace of the American Navy, yachting capital of the world. Time: Another era! (circa 1961-1965):  In Marblehead High School I was in “Sam’s Band”.  In the autumn months our official school band waded in the mud of various old football fields, executing elaborate marching patterns, whose climax was a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.  There was one problem, the hometown stands were so low, no one knew that it was a turkey; on the contrary, it looked like a whole mish-mush of unguided players trudging along nearly ankle-deep in the mud, spewing out a nearly unrecognizable version of Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.  I marched behind Richard Osman the trombone player who taught me about root-beer floats, and who was unfortunately slightly knock-kneed and hard to follow in a straight line.  All in all,  it was a happy time!…In the winter and spring months we became something more civilized: a glorious concert band…Our conductor, Sam Harris, was a gentle soul who had conducting gestures to match; they were so small you could hardly see them.  Imagine seventy some-odd musicians playing and squinting at their conductor, wondering where the downbeat was.  We were a motley crew, but frolicked.  A lot of us were creative eggheads, there because we simply were not up to the physical punishment members of the football or hockey teams endured.  The school band was fine for us.  And so for all three years I played alto saxophone, starting in the last chair, and eventually becoming section leader.  Beside me was a bright girl named Paula who played the larger tenor saxophone; now in those days for a girl to play saxophone was rare enough, but the TENOR saxophone? Whoa!  We were all impressed, but frankly from time to time my male ego, then in its infancy, was slightly embarrassed. Paula played so strong!  While the alto had a higher lead sound, the tenor could cut through and cry.  As a professional I eventually opted for tenor as my “voice”…Later we worked together part of the editor team of our class yearbook; she was “Literary” and I, “Business”. During those years we were guided by inspiring teachers: Michael Karavetsos, History (see previous TOI article, “Teacher, Teacher”); Mr. Paul, Physics; Gordon McKey, Biology; Edward A. Johnson and Lloyd Towle, literature;  Pearson Hussey, mathematics, and there were many others. These souls were not only great teachers, but agents of change (as you soon will see!).  They filled our minds and imaginations and in some of us triggered what author Edward O. Wilson calls Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge, when different discreet disciplines cross and combine, creating new ways of seeing the world, and ultimately new knowledge.  My friend Paula was undoubtedly a product of this process.

Paula (right), with a classmate Rose Hecht, 1965, school yearbook meeting

The author, age 17, in yearbook of Marblehead High School, class of ’65.

So who was Paula?  We lost touch after high school, as most of our class did, while pursuing various challenging careers and becoming reasonably successful.  I pursued music, something that first rattled, challenged and bruised me so that my egghead became an “egg”, with “many falls off the wall”. Later I was luckier, and blossomed.  But Paula’s journey?  After college and jobs in radio and television, she became executive producer of perhaps the most important science program on public television, known as NOVA.  She also created some of the most intriguing shows in the history of PBS (Public Broadcasting System). When Paula begin producing,  there were rumors circulating among our classmates. But only when she and NOVA became world renown, and consequently with our 25th high school reunion, did I become aware of her fame.  I knew her as “Paula Schwartz”. After marrying, she was “Paula S. Apsell”.  We later met again at our 50th reunion and it was wonderful to see her.  We joked about the “good ole days”. Sam’s Band and all.  All that was rolling around in my mind: “I am so privileged to know this person!”

National Honor Society, Paula S. Apsell (then Paula Schwartz) & the author (circled)

“Sam’s band”, concertizing after the marching season, Marblehead High School, 1964

Paul S. Apsell, today

Today, her title is “Paula S. Apsell, Senior Executive Producer of the multiple Emmy® Award winning series, NOVA, and Director of the WGBH Science Unit.  And this past fall she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award at the 39th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards, held on October 1, in the Time Warner Center, New York City.  Apsell was honored for the following her distinguished four-decade career in Science journalism, and for her 33 years at the head of NOVA, PBS’ famous Science documentary series, produced at WGBH Boston.”  Here is a clip documenting her award:

So I sit back resting in my chair in Jerusalem.  It seems like only yesterday that members of  Marblehead High School class of ’65 were gathering together, each of us with our hopes and dreams.  To prepare this blog I spent an hour reading our high school yearbook.  It was an different era.  We sustained JFK’s assassination, perhaps the first event to shock us out of our bubble.  We were the seeds of the late 60’s movements toward positive social change. When I reached the end of the yearbook, I found a quote.  Paula was the literary editor of the yearbook at the time, so I imagine she had something to do with it. The words (Walt Whitman’s) are quite telling of our anticipations and perhaps fears: “Joyous we too launch out on trackless seas, Fearless for unknown shores”.  Paula must have loved Whitman.  At that time I knew some of his poetry.  Now I celebrate those words, as I also celebrate the privilege of having had four formative years together in that Massachusetts sea town, with a class ripe with intellectuals and creators, where we were innocent enough to believe that we could change the world.  Perhaps some of us did.  After all, Paula S. Apsell was at the head of the tribe!  Bravo!

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Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

PARK CITY, UT – JANUARY 28: Journalist Paula S. Apsell and director Mike Cahill speak at the I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Science Of Ourselves Panel at the Filmmaker Lodge during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival on January 28, 2011 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

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Embed from Getty Images

Here are some facts about Paula S. Apsell and her lifelong achievements.

“Paula S. Apsell got her start in broadcasting at WGBH Boston, where she was hired fresh out of Brandeis University to type the public broadcaster’s daily television program logs-a job that Apsell notes is now, mercifully, automated. Within a year, she found her way to WGBH Radio, where she developed the award-winning children’s drama series, “The Spider’s Web,” and later became a radio news producer. In 1975, she joined WGBH’s NOVA, a science documentary series that has set the standard for science programming on television, producing documentaries on subjects as varied as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and aviation safety. Her NOVA “Death of a Disease” was the first long-form documentary on the worldwide eradication of smallpox….

“After leaving NOVA in 1981, Apsell went to WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston, known for quality content, as senior producer for medical programming, working with Dr. Timothy Johnson. During that time, she produced “Someone I Once Knew,” an award-winning documentary that essentially broke the story on Alzheimer’s disease, showing that dementia is a pathology, not an inevitable product of old age. Apsell then spent a year at MIT as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow. In 1985, she was asked to take over the reins at NOVA, where she is now Senior Executive Producer and Director of the WGBH Science Unit. As well as overseeing the production of NOVA documentaries and miniseries for television, she has directed the series’ diversification into other media-most notably online, where NOVA is the most-visited site on NOVA can also be found in classrooms nationwide, where it is the most widely used video resource among high school science teachers….

“Today, NOVA is the most popular science series on American television and online. Under Apsell’s leadership, NOVA has won every major broadcasting award, some many times over, including the Emmy, the Peabody, the AAAS Science Journalism Award, and the Gold Baton duPont-Columbia, as well as an Academy Award® nomination for “Special Effects.” In 1998, the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation awarded NOVA its first-ever Public Service Award.” Excerpts from the PBS website (see links below)

About Paula S. Apsell

NOVA-What’s the Universe Made of?


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PASADENA, CA – JULY 27: Senior Executive Producer Paula S. Apsell (L) and Apollo 9 astronaut Russell L. Schweickart from NovaScienceNOW ‘Asteroid’ speak onstage during the 2006 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour for PBS held at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel on July 27, 2006 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Here are some of Paula S. Apsell’s most noted programs: (for full list see  Paula Apsell at IMDB )

Nova (TV Series documentary) (executive producer – 313 episodes, 1985 – 2018) (senior executive producer – 48 episodes, 1999 – 2014) (coordinating producer – 5 episodes, 2016) (producer – 1 episode, 1978)
World’s Fastest Animal (2018) … (executive producer)
Thai Cave Rescue (2018) … (executive producer)
The Last B-24 (2018) … (executive producer)
Addiction (2018) … (executive producer)
Volcano on the Brink (2018) … (executive producer)

 2018 Nova Wonders (TV Series documentary) (executive producer – 5 episodes)
What’s the Universe Made Of? (2018) … (executive producer)
Are We Alone? (2018) … (executive producer)
Can We Build a Brain? (2018) … (executive producer)
What’s Living in You? (2018) … (executive producer)
What Are Animals Saying? (2018) … (executive producer)

 2015 Inside Einstein’s Mind: The Enigma of Space and Time (TV Movie documentary) (executive producer – as Paula S. Apsell)

 2014 Tom Scholz: Sound Machine (Documentary short) (senior executive producer)

 2005-2012 Nova ScienceNow (TV Series documentary) (senior executive producer – 75 episodes)

What Are Animals Thinking? (2012) … (senior executive producer)
What Will the Future Be Like? (2012) … (senior executive producer)
Can I Eat That? (2012) … (senior executive producer)
How Smart Can We Get? (2012) … (senior executive producer)
Can Science Stop Crime? (2012) … (senior executive producer)

 2011 Nova Science Now: How Smart Are Animals? (TV Series documentary) (executive producer – 1 episode)

Dog Genius/Creative Dolphins/Octopus & Cuttlefish/Profile: Irene Pepperberg (2011) … (executive producer)

 2011 The Fabric of the Cosmos (TV Mini-Series documentary) (executive producer)

 2011 Iceman Autopsy (TV Movie documentary) (executive producer)

 2010 This Emotional Life (TV Series documentary) (executive producer)

 2007 A Walk to Beautiful (Documentary) (senior executive producer: NOVA)

  Horizon (TV Series documentary) (senior executive producer – 1 episode, 2006) (executive producer – 1 episode, 1990)

The Great Robot Race (2006) … (senior executive producer: Nova – as Paula S. Apsell)

Red Star in Orbit: The Dark Side of the Moon (1990) … (executive producer: USA)

 2005 RX for Survival: Rise of the Superbugs (TV Mini-Series documentary) (executive producer)

 2005 Rx for Survival: A Global Health Challenge (TV Mini-Series documentary) (executive producer)

 2005 Einstein’s Big Idea (TV Movie documentary) (executive producer)

 2003 The Elegant Universe (TV Mini-Series documentary) (senior executive producer – 3 episodes)

Welcome to the 11th Dimension (2003) … (senior executive producer – as Paula S. Apsell)
String’s the Thing (2003) … (senior executive producer – as Paula S. Apsell)
Einstein’s Dream (2003) … (senior executive producer – as Paula S. Apsell)

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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