We have been blessed to have Marin Alsop as the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the last 14 years. She not only brought excellence to a world class orchestra, she also made Baltimore a better place for many young people (”Marin Alsop made history when she took the baton at Baltimore Symphony. She exits now with pride — and many frustrations,” June 11).
I grew up in a family that placed a premium on music. My mother took me and my siblings to Mondawmin Mall every summer for outdoor concert performances by the Baltimore Pops Orchestra, which was made up of musicians from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. We sat in wooden folding chairs on the upper level parking lot and enjoyed Gershwin on warm July evenings. My siblings and I took private lessons at Peabody Conservatory. When I was in the 8th grade, I switched from violin to double bass. There were no bass lessons available and while our music director, Mathew Fraling, thought I could manage, John Mathews, the principal bassist with the BSO (and whose wife I knew from Peabody from when I studied flute as a young child), gave me a few lessons. I knew that moving from treble clef to bass clef with the EADG strings reversed and standing up with a big fiddle was not that simple.
When I got to Douglass High School, where the alumni included Cab Calloway, Chick Webb and Billy Holiday, we were blessed to have Claire Koman as the new orchestral teacher. In my first year, she got me removed from the varsity football team because she wanted a fourth tuba player on the marching band tuba line. The marching band performed in parades in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New York City, but it also performed at football games. She was a graduate of Julliard and could have gone anyplace, but she wanted Douglass. She told my dad, “These are some of the best young musicians in America, I need to be here.” We took on a variety of orchestral works from Mozart to Gershwin. When we performed Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony at the state competition festival, it brought down the house.
A number of us including me made into the All-Maryland Symphony Orchestra. In the 1980s, the level of commitment to music in the Baltimore school system diminished greatly. I have visited several Baltimore high schools over the years, and I found it sad. When Marin Alsop came to the BSO, she began OrchKids, a program to bring orchestral music to inner city Baltimore. The impact of her work has been tremendous. When she started OrchKids, she contributed $100,000 from her MacArthur Genius grant to the program. Ms. Alsop remains the music director of the Sao Paulo Symphony. I often traveled to Baltimore just to see the BSO. Now, I may have a good reason to return to Brazil.
Roland Nicholson Jr., Stockbridge, Massachusetts
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