Creating a ‘Good’ Story—Part 2: Linda

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Music

BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
April 30, 2014

As a little girl, Linda Good would come from Seattle to visit family on Whidbey Island and would play for hours on the beaches and in the forests, letting her imagination run with her. She and her two brothers pretended an old, abandoned house nearby was haunted. Back then, she wrote stories and would create mysteries about the old house.

Later she would channel that creativity and sense of play into her music and return to the island a young, grown woman who would teach music to the next generation of skipping, spinning island kids. And then another generation. Now she is set to start teaching a third one.

The network of music teachers she founded here, Island Strings, is now in its 40th year. Perhaps as many as 1,000 children have studied with one of the many teachers who have been associated with the organization through the years.

"Linda was always creating opportunities for us to perform." – Teo Benson  (photo by David Welton)

“Linda was always creating opportunities for us to perform.” – Teo Benson (photo by David Welton)

Last weekend, Good was honored for her work when Whidbey Life Magazine publisher Sue Taves presented her with a check for $500, the first grant in a program the publication is initiating to support local artists and/or arts organizations. The occasion was a party the publishers had organized at Freeland Hall to celebrate the first-ever print edition of the magazine, which began two years ago as a strictly online arts and culture review.

The highlight of the party was a stunning tour-de-force performance by former Island Strings student Gloria Ferry-Brennan that brought the capacity crowd roaring to their feet. The 17-year-old Ferry-Brennan has caught the attention of some of the best violin teachers and music schools in the region and the country, including Juilliard. It all began when she was just a four-year-old violin student of Linda Good.

Linda Good receives the first WLM Arts Grant from publisher Sue Taves and an appreciative hug from former student Gloria Ferry-Brennan. (photo by David Welton)

Linda Good receives the first WLM Arts Grant from publisher Sue Taves and an appreciative hug from former student Gloria Ferry-Brennan. (photo by David Welton)

“Linda is responsible for me being where I am today,” said Ferry-Brennan. “I always looked forward to going to lessons. She made it fun.”

Good has been a long-time proponent of the Suzuki method, which incorporates principles of language acquisition that the movement’s founder called “the mother-tongue approach” along with fun activities such as singing, hand-clapping and rhythm activities and games.

Ferry-Brennan said, “We made music from the very beginning. We weren’t just practicing on our instruments.”

Grace Sillar, a neophyte Island Strings violinist, sings as she plays. (photo by David Welton)

Grace Sillar, a neophyte Island Strings violinist, sings as she plays. (photo by David Welton)

Teo Benson, another star graduate of Island Strings who has now founded his own music school in Seattle, said what made Good special as a teacher was her ability to create performance opportunities for her students.

“I wasn’t the most dedicated when it came to practice,” he said, “I liked to play sports and run and play. But I did practice. What I liked most, though, was performing and watching others perform. What Linda did so well was having this community of musicians and creating opportunities for us to play for each other. We played at parades and fairs. Not everybody played the violin. We had guitarists and cellists.”

Both Benson and Ferry-Brennan describe Good as being warm, friendly and supportive as a teacher. Ferry-Brennan loved going to her house where, she said, “there was a good vibe.” She still goes there from time to time to observe lessons and expects to continue doing so, especially since her two-year-old nephew will be starting lessons soon.

Benson explained that Good’s teaching emphasized learning by ear. “That has been very important for me since I play other styles of music besides classical. I can improvise.”

Long before she began her music-teaching career, when her name was Linda Grannis, Good had become a gifted, accomplished young musician in her own right. She had wanted to play the piano as a three and four-year-old child, but her mother, a classical musician, believed the ideal age to begin learning music was seven.

Island Strings teachers Linda Good, left, and Susan Debnekoff encourage their student ensemble during a recent performance on Earth Day at Bayview Market.  (photo by David Welton)

Island Strings teachers Linda Good, left, and Susan Debnekoff encourage their student ensemble during a recent performance on Earth Day at Bayview Market. (photo by David Welton)

“So on my seventh birthday, I started my piano lessons,” said Good. A few years later, while in fourth grade, she began learning to play the violin. Meanwhile she continued her trips to Whidbey to visit both the Grannis family on her father’s side, and the Metcalfs on her mother’s. Her uncle Leon Metcalf actually gave her lessons, although not on Whidbey. Leon’s brother John Metcalf lived near Langley on what is now the Metcalf Trust land.

Her senior year in high school, the young Miss Grannis was studying with a violin teacher at the University of Washington and performing with the symphony there. She ended up obtaining a BA in Music there before going on, later in life, to earn an MA in Ethno-Musicology from the University of Hawaii. Her thesis was a study of traditional music on the island of Fiji.

Her pursuit of musical knowledge was also how she came to meet her husband, Leonard Good. She spent a year with her mother in Des Moines, Iowa and did her junior year at Drake University. Leonard was also studying there. For extra money, he used to buy old beat-up guitars at junk stores for a few bucks, patch them up, put strings on them and sell them for twice or more what he put into them. An economics professor told Linda about Leonard’s enterprise and she called him. So he took one of his patched-up instruments, threw it on the back of his motorcycle and drove over to meet her.

Not only did he sell her the guitar, which they still have, but they also fell in love and were married in 1962. After a short time in Seattle, the couple took off for Hawaii. During their time there, they realized that they needed to have a home of their own and that Whidbey Island had land cheap enough for them to afford.

In 1974, Linda Good founded Island Strings along with Paula Pugh and Linda Morris. Many of her hundreds of students still play music, even those who have chosen to pursue other careers. She even remembers teaching piano, not violin to one of her young four-year-old protégés. She chose him to play the part of Christopher Robin when her students performed a version of “Winnie the Pooh” that year.

“He was the perfect Christopher Robin,” she said. His name was Aaron Parks, and he has since become one of the world’s premier young jazz pianists. He recently traveled from his home in New York City to perform at PianoFest at WICA last month.

“He was my student only briefly, but I like to think that I somehow encouraged him,” Good said. Then she smiled and sang Christopher Robin’s song as she remembered how that little boy bounced and danced around the room.

For more information about Island Strings please visit: http://islandstrings.com

Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He is also a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.

Part 1 of this story was published in Whidbey Life Magazine on March 26. You can read that article at https://www.whidbeylifemagazine.org/creating-a-good-story-part-1-leonard/

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