At our Sunshine Beach Party event recently, we paid tribute to two long-time musicians, Steve Ambrose and Janet Kriner, who have retired after decades of service. One of the special moments during the event came when Board of Directors’ member Linda Dennis spoke about how Janet has inspired her as a musician. As a cellist, Janet was an original member of the Feldman Quartet in the 1950s—the quartet’s performances were the very earliest version of Young Audiences of Virginia, now known as Arts for Learning.
Linda, who’s been a board member for about eight years, retired in 2016 after teaching music in Norfolk Public Schools for 30 years. She’s a violinist in the Virginia Symphony Orchestra where she played with Janet for decades, but the two first encountered one another when Linda was growing up in Norfolk.
“My life was anything but privileged. It’s very unlikely that I would have encountered a string quartet as a child,” Linda says. “I grew up in a very working-class neighborhood, working-class schools. It’s just not something that my family did. One day when I was in the fourth grade, a string quartet came to our school for a performance, and they were from Young Audiences. Janet probably was in that quartet. I was just fascinated with this ensemble, and I fell in love with the violin myself.”
In fifth grade, Linda started playing the violin at her elementary school. When she was 13, she attended a week-long summer orchestra camp, which was new to the area. Janet worked with the student musicians as a cellist specialist, and she made a big impression on Linda.
“I just thought she was the happiest person I had ever met. She always had a smile on her face. She just seemed like she was filled with joy. She was excited to work with us. It didn’t seem to be a burden for her. She thoroughly enjoyed it. And she sparked enthusiasm with the kids as well.”
Throughout the years, Linda continued to interact with Janet as she guided young musicians, including serving as a coach for the Tidewater Youth Orchestra (now Bay Youth Orchestras of Virginia where Linda played violin. But after earning a spot in the Virginia Symphony in college, Linda saw a different side of Janet, who was principal cellist.
“She had a professional persona and then a student persona. Students got all the inspiration and happiness and joy, but as a professional, she was a tough cookie. She was demanding of her section, and she was a perfectionist,” Linda says. “I loved seeing that you could be both. You could be a student advocate, kind and understanding and patient, but then you had standards for yourself, and I really respected that in her.
“She is like gold to this area. She’s just a gem. She’s done so much for kids and for teachers too. She’s inspirational to the teachers.”
Linda’s experience playing the violin when she was young—and the joy she witnessed in Janet—motivated her to teach music.
“I knew the joy that I felt as a child… it’s not an opportunity that I expected. And it just really changed the course of my life. So whatever I can do to give back and give some other child that experience that’s what I wanted to do.”
Linda gives back in a different way on Arts for Learning’s board. As someone who first enjoyed a Young Audiences’ performance 55 years ago, she appreciates the ways in which our organization has evolved over the decades, such as incorporating Virginia’s Standards of Learning into its programs.
“I really love the way [Arts for Learning] works so hard to build programs to give the students exactly what they need. I think that the way we’ve transitioned over the years to give students exactly what they need, exactly when they need it, is quite a service to the community.”
At Arts for Learning, we want to express our thanks to both Linda and Janet—two individuals who have contributed so much to the school, arts, and nonprofit communities throughout the years.
Are you interested in serving on the Arts for Learning board? We’re always searching for dedicated arts advocates who are leaders in their fields. If you’d like more information, please contact CEO Chris Everly at CEO@Arts4LearningVA.org.