Sweet marriage of music and teaching

Jacques Kelly

March 18, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

The basement music studio is piled high with scores, saxophones and cellos. Pictures of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Abraham Lincoln and Scott Joplin line the walls. A well-used upright piano sits toward the furnace.

This is the rowhouse academy of James and Henrietta Holliman, husband and wife and music teachers. For more than 50 years, they have quietly led hundreds of pupils into the world of tempo, treble clefs and F sharps.

"It's a past dream and we're still living it in a whole-hearted manner," said Mr. Holliman, 86. His wife, 82, a retired school teacher who still teaches piano, looks at her husband and winks, "I didn't know he was into music as much as he was until after we had been married."

Mr. Holliman conducts classes in the basement. Mrs. Holliman teaches piano upstairs in a Victorian parlor. At the piano, the United Methodist hymnal rests on the music stand.

The Hollimans have a wide and loyal following in the Oliver neighborhood of East Baltimore, where they've taught music since the mid-1930s. For the past 43 years, music lessons have been provided in an unpretentious studio in their home in the 1600 block of N. Bond St.

"When I was a boy in South Carolina, I always wanted to play the violin," Mr. Holliman said. "There was a barber three miles away who said he would teach me. He had a little quartet. Some days I'd walk those three miles and he'd tell me he was too busy right then. I'd walk back the three miles and come again the next day."

It was the barber who set the example for Mr. Holliman. He taught him to play and imparted a love of music. Mr. Holliman resolved to keep passing that love on by teaching those who wanted to learn.

"Make no mistake. Music is a discipline. It's a great discipline," Mrs. Holliman said. She credits her years of study with city public school music teacher Lovey E. Husketh for her own mastery of the ivories.

The Hollimans' daughter, Jamesetta, also followed them in music. She received degrees from Oberlin College, the Juilliard School of Music and New York University. She teaches at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Mr. Holliman first came to Baltimore while he was in school in South Carolina, working summers at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant. After he graduated, he took a full-time job at the mill and settled in Baltimore. He taught music around his work schedule at The Point.

Mrs. Holliman, whose teaching degree is from the North Carolina Normal School at Fayetteville, came to Baltimore to be near her brother, who worked for many years as a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Pullman car porter.

Mr. Holliman recalls that he sought additional musical instruction, but the Peabody Conservatory's regular classes were then closed to black students. He could, however, take private instruction. He studied with the old maestro himself, Gustav Strube, the founding conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"We took advantage of what was available. On Saturdays, we'd go to the Lyric and listen to the rehearsals," he said.

Mr. Holliman also cherishes his recollections of playing with the old "colored orchestra," the segregated municipal ensemble that played at school and civic functions. It was directed by the late W. Llewellyn Wilson, head of the music program at Frederick Douglass High School and the man revered by several generations of black Baltimoreans as the dean of local musical educators.

"Llewellyn Wilson was a tough man. I worked for him. I learned. It was a fine orchestra. Too bad they didn't dream enough to keep it going," Mr. Holliman said.

The Hollimans are longtime members of the Christ United Methodist Church, Washington and Chase streets. Much of their music-making has been for church functions. Mr. Holliman plays in a church band, much to the delight of the congregation. His own tastes run from classical to be-bop, jazz and church music.

"I've had a lot of dreams in my lifetime, but the best of all is seeing your students doing well," he said.

As Mr. Holliman finished that sentence, the doorbell rang. One of his students had arrived for her 1 p.m. lesson.

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