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Linda Keller Retires After 56 Years With the ESO

Linda Keller Retires After 56 Years With the ESO

Although her family wasn’t musical, Linda Keller fell in love with marching bands as a little kid in Peoria. She realized she’d have to learn play an instrument to march in a band, but that was merely the means to her dream: To march! In a band!

Fifth grade was the year to choose an instrument, and Linda wanted to play the flute. “Sorry,” she was told. ”Too many flutes at the moment – but we need clarinets…” And that was that. Linda took clarinet lessons all the way through high school, the sum total of her formal musical training, and marched in her beloved school band.

Linda’s love of bands also had an influence on her college choice. She watched tapes of the various college bands and decided that the University of Michigan had the best. So she applied, was accepted, and arrived in Ann Arbor all ready to try out for the marching band - only to discover that, in those pre-Title IX days, only men actually marched in the band. Women could practice and play with the band but not march. Linda was extremely disappointed but played in the band anyway during her four years at Michigan, graduating with a degree in business

After college, Linda moved to the Chicago area for work and started dating a trombonist who played in the ESO. He told her there was an opening in the clarinet section – and she stayed there for 56 years! She was principal clarinetist for 35 years but decided that was long enough and asked to be moved to second chair when Larry Eckerling became Music Director in 2003. (As for the trombonist, he soon went off to Phoenix to join a professional orchestra, and Linda met and married her husband, Tom Keller.)

Linda says that one benefit of her many years in the ESO is that she witnessed and was part of so much of its history since 1964. She is very aware of the hard work it takes to keep a community orchestra together and make it thrive, and added that the ESO is especially fortunate to have truly committed non-musicians as volunteers. While she enjoyed playing under the baton of Frank Miller, legendary principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony, she thinks that the orchestra is at an even higher artistic level now because of Larry Eckerling’s way of working with the musicians. A professional musician can be told merely to “practice more,” but dedicated non-professionals, like many of the talented musicians in the ESO, sometimes need more specific guidance on a particular passage or musical phrase, something that Larry provides very well – and, she says, it shows in the ESO’s performances.

Maestro Eckerling is equally complimentary: “Linda was one of those players that was 100% solid. 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. And you couldn’t find a nicer person!”

Thank you, Linda, for your 56 years of wonderful music with the ESO!

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