Orchestra teacher Willis Keeling: Performing musical alchemy for 60 years

1954 was a notable year. The United States Supreme Court ruled in unanimous decision that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the landmark case of Brown v Board of Education. Baseball great Hank Aaron hit his first major league home run and polio vaccinations of children began. The iconic Boeing 707 jet made its maiden flight and RCA manufactures the first color TV set.


Jayne Matthews Hopson

It is also the year Willis Keeling taught his first music class at Our Lady of Victory, an all girls’ Catholic school in Portsmouth, Virginia. In a remarkable career that spans seven-decades he continues to perform musical alchemy by turning a new student’s dissonant notes into beautiful, harmonious melodies.

Keeling is currently the orchestra teacher at the Waldorf School of Baltimore, an independent school located in the Coldspring Newtown community. I am the development manager at the school, as well as the parent of one his students. Each day, he greets his students looking quite dapper in a suit, tie and perfectly polished shoes. He is what my mother used to refer to as a “courtly gentleman.” Nowadays his teaching style and comportment would be called “old school” in the best sense of the expression.

Keeling has everything you want to see in a great teacher. He is pleasant, sometimes jovial in professional conversations with colleagues. However, in his music room he is a no-nonsense, serious concertmaster, with the patience, grace and wisdom reminiscent of my grade school teachers.

His students hold him in the highest regard. On those rare occasions when a pupil misbehaves he commands attention and respect with a silent, look of disapproval that quickly restores order to his lesson.

A graduate of Virginia State University, a historically black college near Petersburg, Keeling attended segregated public grade schools in Norfolk, Virginia.

Inspired by his own teachers, he knew at the age of eight that he wanted to be

a music instructor. “I love teaching music,” says Keeling, who has taught hundreds of students of all ages.

He was a vocal music instructor at several junior high schools in Virginia and the District of Columbia, and taught orchestra at Baltimore’s Clifton Park High School. Keeling was a professor of music at Catonsville Community College from 1970 to his retirement in 2004. After his retirement, he taught private lessons at a piano studio before joining the faculty of the Waldorf School in 2008.

When asked about the educational benefits of music lessons he said, “The study of music teaches valuable skills like working together and enhances organizational skills. It teaches students to think logically. Children learn how to read and ‘speak’ another language. A universal language not limited to people of a certain country, it can be spoken and understood by everyone, anywhere.”

Keeling shared his thoughts on the importance of daily practice saying, “Practice before each class and rehearsal is crucial and should be taken seriously.” He says at a minimum “the beginning student should practice a few minutes each day, learning to hold and articulate tone on the instrument, according to the teacher’s instructions.”

“After the beginning student has mastered this stage, he or she can begin practicing assigned material daily, beginning with five, 10, and 15 minute practice periods. This should move eventually to 20 to 30 minute sessions. Ideally students should practice each day.”

A good practice session should be close to the following:

  1. Brief warm-up using long tones, a scale, etc.
  2. Technical work for lessons in class
  3. Performance piece for lesson (class)
  4. Orchestra material

This is only a guide, says Keeling. “After the warm-up, the practice may vary according to individual need and difficulty of the music being studied.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

Leith Walk Elementary celebrates American Education Week

In honor of American Education Week, November 18-22, 2013, the students at Leith Walk Elementary/Middle School in northeast Baltimore were given an activity to help reinforce the theme for American Education Week’s tagline, “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility.”

Students in pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade completed a “Raise Your Hand for Student Success” project as part of their “Weekend Family Home Assignment-Homework” on November 15th. Each student was asked to decorate a paper hand with five steps to becoming a successful student. More than 1,000 colorful, creative and inspiring paper hands went on display November 20, 2013 to celebrate public education.

United Way teams with Lardarius Webb to feed families this Thanksgiving

— United Way of Central Maryland (UWCM) distributed 3,600 Thanksgiving meal boxes to low-income families across central Maryland through its 21st annual Harvest of Plenty program, 20 percent more meals than last year. A portion of the meals were provided in partnership with UWCM’s ambassador from the Baltimore Ravens, cornerback Lardarius Webb. Molly Shattuck, UWCM’s healthy food ambassador, is also sponsoring a portion of the meals.

The holiday meal boxes were distributed to pre-registered families starting November 22 at various locations across the region. Boxes comprise traditional Thanksgiving meal items such as a 14-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, collard greens, sweet potatoes, applesauce, corn, cranberry sauce and more, and include sufficient servings to feed a family of six.

Across central Maryland, there are more than 325,000 people who are food insecure, meaning that they lack consistent access to healthy, affordable food. Recent reductions to SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps) have exacerbated the issue of food insecurity locally and across the country. Harvest of Plenty is one component of UWCM’s Access to Healthy Food Initiative, which is working to improve access to healthy food for families facing poverty.

“In recent years, United Way’s 2-1-1 call center has received increasingly more calls from local people in need of food assistance, particularly during the holiday season. Every family deserves to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner together, and we are incredibly grateful to our donors who make it possible for us to again provide these meals,” said Mark Furst, president and CEO of UWCM.

Eligible families registered to receive a Thanksgiving meal box by calling 2-1-1 Maryland at United Way of Central Maryland starting November 4. With such an urgent need for food assistance, UWCM nearly filled its Harvest of Plenty registration to capacity within the first two weeks, receiving more than 1,100 calls in the first two days the phone line was open for registration. Distribution of the meal boxes begins November 22.

2-1-1 Maryland at United Way of Central Maryland is a 24/7 health and human service hotline that provides information and referrals to individuals in need year-round. Last year, United Way’s 2-1-1 call center answered more than 78,000 calls for help.

Funding to supply the 3,600 holiday meal boxes is made possible by donations to United Way of Central Maryland’s Harvest of Plenty program and partnerships with The Lardarius Webb Foundation and Molly Shattuck. Each donation of approximately $15 purchases a holiday meal box that feeds a family of six people. Donations for the program are still needed and can be made at www.uwcm.org/thankful.

United Way of Central Maryland is working to change the odds for families facing poverty through programs focused on education, financial stability and health. To learn more about Harvest of Plenty or for more information about United Way of Central Maryland, please visit www.uwcm.org.

J.J. Hairston and Youthful Praise share stage with Miss Piggy on Thanksgiving

J.J. Hairston and the tenors from Youthful Praise will back Miss Piggy on a classic holiday song on the network TV special “Lady Gaga and the Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular” that airs on Thanksgiving evening, November 28, 2013 at 9:30 p.m. on the ABC network. The 90-minute special also features guest appearances from rock legend Elton John and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Kristen Bell.

Meanwhile, the Soul Train and Stellar Award nominated choir is hard at work putting the finishing touches on its’ seventh CD, “I See Victory,” a live recording that’s earmarked for a summer 2014 release. The project boasts vocal cameos from Pastor Donnie McClurkin, Karen Clark Sheard, Vashawn Mitchell, Pastor Jason nelson, Deon Kipping, Elder Fondrea Lynn Lewis, Lowell Pye and others.

How to make simple, homemade, holiday crowd-pleasers

— (StatePoint) Whether you’re playing host or bringing a side dish to someone else’s holiday gathering, preparing a delicious crowd-pleaser that’s simple and affordable to make is a priority for many.

“The days of spending hours in the kitchen making homemade dishes from scratch are long gone, says Jonathan Spear at Green Giant.  “These days, time-crunched family cooks can take solace in knowing that any dish that starts and ends in the kitchen can be considered homemade, including meals using conveniences such as frozen vegetables and sauces from a jar.”

This holiday season, if you want to stand out by serving that memorable dish that didn’t take hours to prepare, consider the following tried-and-true culinary tips:

• Shed the time-consuming task of washing and chopping vegetables by going frozen. Frozen veggies are picked at their peak, making them just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. 

• Use free online resources to find quick, easy holiday appetizers, entrees and desserts. For example, visit www.seriouseats.com for festive holiday recipes like Cheesy Broccoli Puffs with Sriracha sauce or Roasted Potato and Sausage Quiche.

• Don’t rely on unhealthy ingredients to add wow-factor to holiday dishes.  Instead, add simple ingredients such as fresh herbs and spices to any recipe for layers of flavor and zest. Everyone will be asking for the recipe.

For an interesting new twist on a classic holiday meal, try Green Giant’s recipe for Turkey and Veggie Alfredo Pot Pie:

Prep Time: 20 Minutes

Start to Finish: 40 Minutes

Makes 5 servings


• 1 tablespoon butter

• 1/2 cup chopped onion

• 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

• 1 jar (15 oz) Alfredo sauce

• 2 cups cubed cooked turkey

• 1 bag (12 oz) Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers frozen broccoli, carrots, cauliflower & cheese sauce

• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1 can (12 oz) Pillsbury Golden Layers refrigerated buttermilk biscuits

• 2 tablespoons shredded fresh Parmesan cheese


• Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart glass baking dish with cooking spray. Cook frozen vegetables as directed on bag for minimum time.

• Meanwhile, in 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Cook onion and bell pepper, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in Alfredo sauce, turkey, cooked vegetables with sauce, basil and black pepper. Cook until mixture is thoroughly heated and bubbly, stirring constantly. Spoon into baking dish.

• Separate dough into 10 biscuits. Cut each biscuit in half crosswise. Arrange around edge of baking dish, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

• Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown.

More recipes to accompany this dish — such as Garden Vegetables with Lemon-Scented Quinoa and Broccoli and Artichoke Party Dip are available at Jolly Green Giant TV. 

With simple recipes and the right ingredients, homemade holiday cooking can be as enjoyable a part of the season as gift-giving and sharing time with family!

The holiday season made easy

— ‘Tis the season of wonderful company and delicious food! It’s also that time of year to bring friends and family together, but preparing for holiday gatherings along with the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping can often be stressful and time consuming. In fact, Thanksgiving is the most stressful holiday for home cooks as more than one in three Millennials plans to host a gathering at their home and 57 percent have noted feeling pressure when preparing a holiday meal, according to the Allrecipes’ 2013 Annual Holiday Survey. Following are a few easy tips to simplify your holiday planning so you can spend more time with loved ones.

Shopping survival

From picking up last minute items on your gift list to gathering groceries for the big dinner, holiday shopping can be hectic. Before you shop ’til you drop, pack a quick and easy snack in an insulated cooler bag to get through the midday craze (and hunger pangs). Bag assorted fresh veggies and pair with a dip like Marzetti Otria Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip. The dips are available in five different flavors from Garden Herb Ranch to Cucumber Dill Feta – a great way to add extra flavor to veggies.

Mingle at the veggie bar

Before guests arrive, create a colorful vegetable bar away from the kitchen for snacking and mingling before the big meal. Arrange the bar with a unique array of pre-cut veggies such as snap peas, asparagus, mushrooms, and peppers. Accompany the veggies with a variety of Marzetti Otria Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip flavors like Spinach Artichoke and Caramelized Onion. These quick and tasty snacks keep guests occupied before the meal and helps keep last-minute stress at a minimum.

Prepare for hungry guests

Ensure your guests are feeling satisfied with every course! Prepare a mixed green salad and top it with Marzetti Refrigerated Salad Dressings-such as Chunky Blue Cheese and Classic Ranch, made with premium ingredients to deliver a fresh flavor. Then add a little crunch with New York Brand Croutons for a crispy yet tender taste, full of robust flavors. Both the dressings and croutons are available in several varieties to satisfy any palette. Your guests won’t leave hungry!

The season for recipe sharing

Ease the pressure of finding the perfect recipe by asking your friends to share their favorite holiday recipes with you on Pinterest and Facebook.- Serving recipes that are recommended by friends takes the worry out of trying a new recipe.

“Friendsgiving” potluck

Not traveling home this year and still want to celebrate the holiday? Invite your friends to join in the celebration by hosting a “Friendsgiving” potluck. Friendsgiving is becoming an annual tradition celebrated either on or around the Thanksgiving holiday among friends, according to the 2013 Evite Holiday Party Trend Report. Ask each friend to bring their favorite holiday dish and swap recipes after the meal is complete. A potluck is a fun way to lighten the load

Giving thanks: Rituals for remembering

— One day after Thanksgiving last year, my mother, brother, cousin and I gathered in my 87-year-old grandmother’s room at the nursing home. We knew it would be one of the last times we would see her alive. She knew it, too.

“I don’t know when, I don’t know how, I don’t know why,” my grandmother Mary said that day. “But I know one thing. God is going to take me home. He’s going to take me home.”

Home is comfortable: warm like a hug and familiar like the smell of my grandmother’s seasoned greens. But so often the ease of intimacy slips into taking our loved ones for granted.

It’s what crossed my mind as I listened to her that day. What didn’t I know about her life? What had I not said? How much of this moment would I remember?

Grandmother Mary had not been able to sit at the Thanksgiving table that year, confined to a bed as she recovered after a medical procedure. We visited her on Thanksgiving and afterward to bring home to her.

Two months later, she was dead.

We knew that she knew how much we loved her. We made sure of it. But there is still the absence of an everyday presence that requires adjusting — slippers found that bring back a story and smile, a song or smell that triggers a forgotten memory.

For decades, our family had incorporated a friendly inquisition into our Thanksgiving gatherings, much to the amusement of guests. Friends, neighbors and travelers joined us, an ever-changing mosaic of characters.

But a few traditions stayed the same.

There would be an element of service — volunteering at a soup kitchen, preparing meals to share, hosting those without homes, a visit to the less fortunate.

And of course, delectable, savory food: sweet potato pie, yummy stuffing paired with cranberry sauce, gooey macaroni and cheese, luscious candied yams, soupy greens and warm, buttered rolls.

I loved it all.

But my favorite part of the meal had less to do with what we put in our mouths and more with what came out of them.

We are a communicative family, but Thanksgiving always provided a special time to vocalize for what, and for whom we were grateful, and why. Around the table we went, naming the people, places and opportunities that we appreciated that year.

It was an exercise in acknowledgment — and patience. The lists could be long.

My grandmother often had the longest list. She had a lot to be grateful for, and this year, these rituals will take on even more meaning as we hope to honor her life, and each other.

Giving thanks

We start the meal with a prayer of gratitude for blessings past and present. The affirmation sets the stage for the appreciation of what we have, where we are and who helped us get there.

Tell loved ones why you love them

It’s often taken for granted that those closest to us know that we love them. But it is always nice to be reminded why. No matter how old we are, my parents still get excited when their children return for a visit. We kids like to roll our eyes, and sure, it can be a little embarrassing, but we love it. To have accepting parents that are demonstrative of their love — no matter their shortcomings — never gets old.

Let loved ones get to know you

What’s great about family is that they know you. What’s frustrating about family is that they assume they know everything about you. It is the inevitable tension that comes with being known but still yearning to be discovered.

In the past few years, our family added a new question to the Thanksgiving discussion: What’s on your bucket list?

My very grounded and sensible brother surprised us all when he shared that he wanted to skydive.

Another mentioned a dream to write books, though they had worked in social work their entire life.

The lovely surprise about this question is the novel things learned about those that are familiar: an opportunity to get to know who we think we know best all over again.

Share how you want to be remembered

After the loss of our grandmother, this ritual will resonate even more this year: we share how we would like to be remembered.

Perhaps because how we perceive ourselves can be different than how others do, this tends to be the most revealing and a window to how we might experience one another.

“Where we aim isn’t where we always hit,” my mother likes to say. Thus, those “encouraging” reminders may be taken as nagging. “Keeping it real” truth-telling can be experienced as criticism. Displays of affection can be seen as smothering. When all along, it might be that the intention was in the right place and simply misinterpreted.

When we are gone, loved ones can only relive encounters with us via their memories. It can be hard to put into words, but sharing how you want to be remembered — and living it — is a gift to loved ones in the time we have together now.

How would you like to be remembered?

“As a family man,” my dad shared.

Family, dear friends and cherished memories are what I will be remembering at Thanksgiving this year — and what I hope to not soon forget.

Why so many parents hate Common Core

— The U.S. Department of Education is legally prohibited from having any control over curriculum or instruction in the nation’s public schools, but nonetheless Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a zealous advocate of the new Common Core standards for students’ proficiency in English and math.

First, he said their critics were members of extremist groups, and he recently assailed the parents who criticize them as “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

His remarks were prompted by the nearly unanimous outrage expressed by parents — moms and dads — at public forums in suburban districts in New York, following the release of the abysmal results of the new Common Core tests.

The parents weren’t angry because they found out their child wasn’t brilliant, but because most were told by the state that their children were failures. Only 31% of the state’s students in grades third through eighth passed or exceeded the new tests. Among students who are English-language learners, only 3% passed the English standards; among students with disabilities, only 5% passed them; among black and Hispanic students, fewer than 20% passed. The numbers for math were better, but not by much.

The high failure rate did not happen because the students are dumb, but because the state chose to set an unrealistic passing mark. The state commissioner knew before any student had taken the test that only 30% or so would pass; that is where the state commissioner set the passing mark.

Duncan likes to boast that the Common Core standards were adopted by 45 states, but neglects to mention that the states were required to adopt “college-and-career-ready standards” to be eligible for $4.35 billion in the education secretary’s signature program called Race to the Top.

Some states adopted them without seeing a finished draft. The standards, unfortunately, were never field-tested. No one knew in advance whether they would improve achievement or depress it, whether they would widen or narrow the achievement gap among children of different races. It is hard to imagine a major corporation releasing a new product nationwide without first testing it among consumers to see if it is successful. But that is what happened with the Common Core standards.

Experts in early childhood education say the standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. Teachers say that they have not had the training or resources to teach the new standards. Field-testing would have ironed out many of the bugs, but promoters of the standards insisted on fast implementation.

No one yet has estimated the costs of shifting from state standards to national standards. Duncan awarded $350 million to develop new tests for the new standards, but all of the testing will be done online.

Los Angeles intends to spend $1 billion on iPads for the Common Core Techology Project, designed to help prepare for the standards. If that is the cost to only one district, how many billions will schools across the nation pay for software and hardware and bandwidth for Common Core testing? This will be a bonanza for the technology industry, but will put a strain on public school budgets in a time of austerity.

The Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and reasoning. It is time for public officials to demonstrate critical thinking and to stop the rush to implementation and do some serious field-testing.

It is time to fix the standards that don’t work in real classrooms with real students. It is time to stop testing students on material they have not been taught. American students take more tests than students in any other nation. Our dependence on standardized testing has become excessive.

Standards alone can’t right everything that needs fixing in American education, and some experts, like Tom Loveless at Brookings Institution, say they will make little or no difference in student achievement.

Public officials should listen to the moms and dads. This is a democracy, and it is not the role of public officials to impose their grand ideas without the consent of the governed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the author of more than a dozen books about education, including the recent bestseller “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and The Danger to America’s Public Schools.”


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Tips to prepare your automobile for colder weather

— At the first sign of cold weather, many people will scurry to make sure their home is “winterized.” They check over the furnace, replace drafty windows, try on last year’s coat and pull out the down comforter. One more thing consumers should double check so they’re not left out in the cold is their car.

“The cold winter months can be very hard on your automobile,” says Mark Woirol, automotive safety expert at Tech-Cor, Allstate’s Research and Collision Repair Center. “If you notice any problems with your vehicle, have your mechanic take a look at it now so you do not end up stranded on a cold winter day.”

The following tips from Allstate Insurance Company should help to prepare your automobile for the cold weather:

•Make sure if your engine is experiencing hard starts, rough idle, stalling or having other problems that you get it repaired as soon as possible.

•Windshield wiper blades that are not making full contact with the window or may have dried out should be replaced. This includes the rear blade on most SUV’s. Also, make sure to keep extra washer fluid and an ice scraper in your car.

•Keep a cold weather safety kit in your car that includes gloves; boots; blankets; flares; water; and a flashlight.

•Examine your tires for tread life and uneven wearing. Also, make sure tires are properly inflated. On average, tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degrees the temperature drops.

•Make sure the heater and defroster are properly working to ensure passenger comfort and driver visibility.

•The cooling system should be flushed every two years with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. Have the level, condition and concentration of the antifreeze mixture checked periodically.

•Have your mechanic check, your battery fluid levels, battery posts and cable connectors. Bad connections can keep your car from starting.

•Brakes should be checked as recommended, but if you are having trouble such as pulsations, noises or longer stopping distances, get a professional to look at it right away.

•Make sure all lights and bulbs are in working order. Replace any burned-out bulbs.

For more information on this and other safety topics, visit: www.allstate.com.

As part of Allstate’s commitment to strengthen local communities, The Allstate Foundation, Allstate employees, agency owners and the corporation provided $29 million in 2012 to thousands of nonprofit organizations and important causes across the United States.

Wicked weather threatens to upend best-laid Thanksgiving travel plans

— The nasty weather tantrum that has already left a mess on its march from California through Texas and soaked the South is now expected to ice up roads in the Northeast.

So if your spouse is mad that you put off making Thanksgiving travel plans, you can respond that you may have actually done your family a favor.

The whole family may be glad you stayed at home, as a wintry storm threatens to upend the best-laid plans.

“All of these interstates, all of these roads across Pennsylvania — the Thruway, the Turnpike, 80, 90, 66 — they all will have ice and snow,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

If you’re driving …

Snowmageddon won’t hit any of the major cities. And it may only rain on the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

But west of the Big Apple, and around Philadelphia and Boston, the wicked weather will pile snow onto roadways, just as far-flung relatives are zipping in to town.

AAA projects that 38.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday.

Drive carefully.

The storm has already left more than 100 wrecks and claimed at least 12 lives.

On Saturday, Willie Nelson’s concert tour bus slid off a road in Texas and struck an embankment, sending three band members to the hospital. The 80-year-old singer was not on board.

If you’re flying …

With an estimated 3.14 million Americans taking to the skies this week to eat turkey with loved ones, planes will be as stuffed as bellies.

Passengers on nearly 500 flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had to find alternate routes when the storm iced the area over the weekend.

The outlook, however, was positively rosy early Tuesday morning. None of the major airlines had cancellations planned.

“We decided to leave early, and we’re just going to keep our fingers crossed,” said Beth Hundley, who was taking a flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Des Moines, Iowa.

But the snowy weather has yet to hit its target. It should finish icing up New England by Friday.

“The issue they run into is if you cancel one flight, there may not be capacity on the later flights to accommodate all the displaced passengers,” said Daniel Baker, who runs flight tracking website FlightAware.com.

The weather may put a further dent in the trip home, as winds rev up to 40 miles per hour as the holiday wraps up, Myers said.

It could make flying harder and cause some of you to miss work Monday.

And then you’ll have to deal with an angry boss.

CNN’s Dave Alsup, Rene Marsh and Holly Yan contributed to his report.


™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.