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After 56 years, Linda Keller has retired as clarinetist with the Evanston Symphony Orchestra (ESO).
“The time has gone by so fast, it’s unbelievable,” Keller said. “I’ve enjoyed it so much.”
“Linda was one of those players that was 100% solid,” said ESO Music Director Maestro Lawrence Eckerling. “You just knew she would always play her part – she was rehearsed and ready to go. And I can’t remember a single instance where she was upset about something, or outwardly frustrated. She just had this consistently perfect disposition. You couldn’t find a nicer person!”
Keller joined the ESO in 1964 under the leadership of Frank Miller, who was then principal cellist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She said Miller’s musicianship was impeccable and he regaled the musicians with wonderful stories about CSO players, performances and tours.
Born and raised in Peoria, Keller originally wanted to play flute. “But when it came time in grade school to choose an instrument, they told me they didn’t need any more flute players, they needed clarinetists.” She took clarinet lessons all through high school, which was the sum of her formal musical training, and marched in her beloved school band.
Her love of bands also influenced her choice of college. After watching tapes of various college bands, she decided that the University of Michigan had the best. She applied, was accepted and arrived in Ann Arbor ready to try out for the marching band only to discover that, in those pre-Title IX days, only men marched in the band. Women could practice and play with the band, but not march. Instead, she played clarinet for four years in the school symphonic band.
After graduating, Keller worked at various Chicago banks as well as the Federal Reserve. A friend told her about the clarinet opening in the ESO. After Miller left, she played under the baton of conductor Lynn Schornick and then Eckerling. One benefit of her many years in the ESO, she said, is that she has witnessed and been part of so much of its history. She said she was “very aware of the hard work it takes to keep a community orchestra together and make it thrive. The orchestra is especially fortunate to have truly committed non-musicians as volunteers.”
While she enjoyed playing with Miller, she thinks the orchestra is at an even higher artistic level now because of Eckerling’s way of working with the musicians. A professional musician can be told merely to “practice more,” she said, but dedicated nonprofessionals, like many of the talented musicians in the ESO, sometimes need more specific guidance on a particular passage or musical phrase. This is something she said Eckerling provides very well.
And, she says, it shows in the ESO’s performances.
Source: Evanston Symphony Noteworthy Newsletter