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The coda of a teaching career

Inside the violet-colored walls of the music room at the Waldorf School of Baltimore, 25 folding chairs are arranged in an open circle facing a movable chalkboard, piles of sheet music cover a corner desk, a crate containing a jumble of tenor and alto recorders sits on a table behind an upright piano -- and Joanne Karp is crying.

For the last 18 years of a teaching career spanning half a century, Karp, 73, has used that piano to teach music to first- through eighth-graders at the school. A celebration Saturday marked her retirement, and she says what she'll miss most about the job is "just working with the children, I guess, seeing the love of music grow and develop."

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Playing an instrument is compulsory at Waldorf -- a Coldspring New Town school where music and singing is woven into the curriculum to enhance reading and math -- but Karp took the children and faculty beyond screeching elementary-level plastic recorders. In addition to orchestra instruments and recorder playing, Karp also taught singing and general music as well as an adult choir that performed at Christmastime.

"Her energy initiated big projects," said Cecilia Liss, who started as a teacher at Waldorf the same year as Karp and now works in the school's admissions office. "She doesn't let children believe they can't sing. Even those of us who felt like we were not musical have been pulled in."

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In addition to her daily teaching, Karp started a community choir that included Waldorf faculty, and she built an orchestra program for fourth- through eighth-graders that culminates yearly with more than 100 children playing together, illustrating Karp's organizational and musical talents, Liss said.

Orchestra pupils practice pieces by grade, Liss said. At their yearly orchestra evening in the Waldorf performance hall, each grade performs separately, but then all five grades come together to play the final piece, even though they have never practiced together.

Because Karp is "such a good musician," Liss said, she could tailor the music to the abilities of individual pupils and conduct the larger group to a rousing performance.

"The students love her," Liss said, because Karp demanded excellence but was also warm and made them get better at what they were doing. "I'm biting my fingernails, praying" that the school will be able to find a suitable replacement.

Ethan Schloss, 14, of Randallstown graduated from Waldorf and will be a freshman in the fall at McDonogh School. He played the cello and had Karp as his music teacher from first through eighth grade.

"She was very focused, straightforward and kind," he said. "Her enthusiasm and her interest in our success" inspired him with his music.

A concert and chamber pianist who graduated from Oberlin College as a piano major in 1954, Karp began teaching that year in New York at the Riverdale Country School and later took a job at the Waldorf School of Garden City. In 1973, she taught at a Waldorf school in Kimberton, Pa., and came to Baltimore in 1985.

"I would like to retire and go to other schools and do other things with my music and not be tied to one school," she said, but "I'll miss some things."

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Karp is originally from Andover, Ohio, and plays the recorder, French horn, trumpet and piano, which she used to teach pupils rhythm even before they had learned to read music.

Celia Friedman, a 13-year-old rising eighth-grader at Waldorf who lives in the Mount Washington area, said Karp is "really nice, and you can easily talk to her and she knew how to control the class," adding that she liked the songs Karp picked for the pupils to sing.

Celia's mother, Noris, said Karp helped Celia pick out the instrument she would play for the orchestra -- the violin -- when she was in the fourth grade, when Waldorf pupils are required to start playing in the orchestra.

"I really looked up to her as an ideal for someone who was an artist and who really loves her subject and can bring her enthusiasm to everybody," Noris Friedman said. "She's such a matriarch. It's the passing of an era."


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