Meridee Duddleston

News Reporter, Arts Desk Reporter

Meridee began reporting in the newsroom at WRTI in 2003 while working toward a master's degree in journalism at Temple University.  Since that time, her duties have expanded to morning news anchor and contributor of weekly Arts Desk features.

A graduate of Hamline University School of Law, Meridee grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and practiced law before making a major leap into the world of journalism. She also holds a graduate degree from New York University School of Law and received a B.A in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In 2011, Meridee was recognized for outstanding public affairs reporting by the Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcaster's Association (PAPBA) with awards for two News & Views stories. She received 1st place for "Baby Boomers Becoming Seniors: A Growing Population in Philadelphia," and 2nd place for "TUNE UP PHILLY: Classical Music Instruction as a Vehicle for Social Change."

Meridee can be heard weekday mornings between 6 and 10 am.

Ways to Connect

Photographic proof by Victor Kraft / Library of Congress

A manuscript of a J.S. Bach cantata casts a new light on how Bach intended the piece to be played. A singer gains insight from a line in a Porgy and Bess manuscript that differs from the final lyrics. The Music Division of the massive Library of Congress in Washington, DC,  is a place where performers, composers, scholars and the general public make discoveries of the musical kind.

Case in point: in a series of letters written in 1957 to his wife Felicia, while she was visiting her family in Santiago, Chile, Leonard Bernstein faithfully chronicles the progress of West Side Story during the final weeks of rehearsal through the show’s out-of-town opening in Washington, D.C.  The letters reveal Bernstein’s changing emotions about the show from frustration and agony to his final state of euphoria.  In addition to comments about West Side Story, Bernstein writes about signing his contract as conductor with the New York Philharmonic, his upcoming thirty-ninth birthday, and how much he misses Felicia and their children, Jamie and Alexander. Read the letters here.

The Special Collections of the Music Division are truly fascinating and constitute a resource for musical scholarship that is unmatched anywhere in the world. These unique bodies of materials are extraordinarily vast and diverse, yet very much interrelated. They include some of the greatest treasures of the Music Division and the Library of Congress.

Curtis Institute of Music composition student TJ Cole is only 21, but she already has a string of impressive commissions under her belt. Last year she was chosen to write a piece of music based on the Free Library's 2015 One Book, One Philadelphia selection - Orphan Train, a novel by Christina Baker Kline.

It’s the story of 91-year-old Vivian, who lost her family as a child, and 17-year-old Molly, a foster child who also knows what it’s like to be alone and unwanted.  

Steven Krull Photography

WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston looks at the third Philadelphia Festival of Young Musicians that took place on Feb. 16, 2015 at the Kimmel Center. Gathered together were 250 student instrumentalists and vocalists, from over 13 organizations in Philadelphia, who studied in sections during an intensive day of learning and socializing. The day ended with a grand performance on the Verizon Hall stage. Lio Kuokman, assistant conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, led the instruments. Melissa Malvar-Keylock, associate conductor of the Princeton Girlchoir, led the singers.

In 1944 big dance bands were all the rage. They were so popular that to gain additional revenue for World War II, the federal government enforced a 30 percent "cabaret tax" on the gross receipts of any "public place where music and dancing privileges... except instrumental or mechanical music alone, are afforded the patrons in connection with the serving or selling of food, refreshment, or merchandise."

In a quaint, historic building on Philadelphia’s Locust Street, just a few doors down from the Curtis Institute of Music, David Michie restores and sells violins and bows, drawing virtuoso musicians from far and wide. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston paid a visit to this master craftsman.

Michie has much to say about the importance of a high-quality bow. "What the Italians were to string instruments, the French were to bows," he explains. In the 1800s, large blocks of wood from the pernambuco tree were used as ballast in ships making their way from Brazil to France.  And Francois Tourte, who developed the modern bow and is considered the “Stradavarius of bow makers,” took to the wood and started using it. Pernambuco is now an endangered species whose export is restricted. Although carbon fiber and other substitutes are now in the mix, Michie says nothing beats a bow made of pernambuco wood from Brazil.

Vocalist Justine Keeys, aka Miss Justine, is one of Philadelphia’s jazz gems. Starting in the early '80s, she enthralled audiences at clubs and private venues across the Philadelphia area with the late pianist Gerald Price. Their long collaboration taught her the importance of finding the right musical fit. Miss Justine fills in WRTI's Meridee Duddleston about her life in music.
 

Philadelphia’s role in the formation of our government is characteristic of a time when the city and its leading residents were forging firsts of all kinds. As Handel’s Messiah is performed this holiday season, WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston wondered when and where those first citizens might have heard the great Baroque work.

Linda Wood is assistant head librarian in the music department at the Free Library of Philadelphia.  She compiled several reference materials relating to the first performance and other early performances of Handel’s Messiah.

Darina Petrovsky, a predoctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, has worked with older adults since she became a nurse. She also has a music background. Bringing these two areas of expertise together, Petrovsky created a small choir for older adults, organized through The Penn Memory Center. 

Carolyn Nicosia

A biography by writer Mary Sue Welsh reveals what it was like to be the first woman to enter the all-male sanctum of The Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1930s. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston discovered the powerful combination of talent and fear. 

On September 14, 1930, the headline of The Philadelphia Public Ledger read: "Solo Harpist to Be First Girl in Philadelphia Orchestra." A young Edna Phillips entered the single-sex fortress of The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930 - a year after pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff called it "the finest orchestra the world has ever heard." She’d played the harp for only five years when she was hired as the first female member and principal harpist.  Her "musicalité" may have been obvious to the pioneering Leopold Stokowski, but was she ready? What was it like to be the only woman among men at a time when gender equality and workplace mores were far different from what they are today?

Author Mary Sue Welsh worked with the observant, warm, and funny Phillips on her story during Phillips’ lifetime, completing it after the first harpist’s death in 2003.  True to Phillips’ desire, it’s as much about the challenges and triumphs of her own life, as about how the Orchestra grew and responded to its conductors - particularly Leopold Stokowski.

Carolyn Nicosia studied with Edna Phillips in the early 1950s. [After hearing our feature on Edna Philips, Carolyn contacted Meridee and shared a personal remembrance and an inscribed photo.  Thank you, Carolyn Nicosia!]

How I became a student of Edna Phillips:

My mother’s mother (Maria Quintile Riccardi) migrated to the U.S. from a village in Italy that had produced many harpists.  Her brothers also came to the U.S. and took up their musical careers.  Joseph Quintile was harpist for the St. Louis Symphony and later for film studios in Hollywood.  Anthony Quintile was a bass player who played at various venues and also taught bass and solfeggio (he taught me when I was a child of 8 or 9).

My mother’s brothers almost all made their living as musicians, mostly bass players.  Rex Riccardi worked with Petrillo to found the Musicians’ Union.  

Of my cousins, several of the boys also became musicians, either piano or bass.  One, Frank Caster, was a student at Curtis, who became a member of the Washington Symphony and then the San Francisco Symphony.  Another became a restorer of violins in addition to playing bass.

When I was a child I started harp lessons at age 6 or 7.  My teacher at that time was Joseph Leonardo.  It was he who found a small-sized Lyon and Healy harp for me and made arrangements of music so that no key changes were required during playing because my feet could not reach the pedals.

Over the years I was on and off again with practicing.  Then, during one of his family visits East, Uncle Joe Quintile told my mother that I should try again to take up the harp seriously, and it was he who contacted Edna Phillips and asked her to take me as a pupil.  I was about 14 or 15 years old.

As a student of Edna Phillips:

Edna Phillips came to our house to see my harp and meet my family.  She agreed to take me as a student.  Since we had little money and even her “professional courtesy” charge per hour was beyond our means, Miss Phillips agreed to take me for a half hour at her house on Sundays.

I traveled by trolley and 2 buses to her home near what was formerly The Textile Institute.  It seemed to me to be a very large and impressive house, but she was very kind to me when I went for lessons.

I remember Miss Phillips telling me stories about Carlos Salzedo of Curtis - his method of playing harp and his design of a new harp made by Lyon and Healy.  Miss Phillips later had one of the Salzedo harps.

One aspect of the Salzedo method was the way the arms were to be held, to give more strength.  Miss Phillips said that she was once playing for a great conductor (probably Stokowski) who felt that the new method wasn’t allowing her tone to be loud enough.  So she fooled him, playing exactly the same way in two instances, but in one of them she threw up her hands after the passage, to the great approval of the conductor who said she had given him just what he wanted.  

Once I was invited to stay for lunch and I met Mr. Rosenbaum and their two children.  It was all new and grand to me.  I remember the setting very well.

Another time the weather had become cold so Miss Phillips lent me a sweater to wear on my long journey back home.  I had never felt anything so soft!  I learned later that it was cashmere.

It wasn’t long before Miss Phillips realized that I wasn’t really a musician.  Knowing our limited finances, she suggested to my mother that I transfer to one of the students of harp at Curtis, Nanette Norton.  She told me wonderful stories about what they were learning from Salzedo.

However, as I mentioned above, I really didn’t have the talent.  It seems that the musical ability in our family has passed from generation to generation only to the males.  We females can sing well enough to join choirs or take music lessons on various instruments, but none of us are professional musicians.  So I gave up my studies.  I kept the harp for many years until finally I sold it.

-Carolyn Nicosia
 

The nationally syndicated public radio program From the Top features gifted young classical musicians from all over the country. They’re always super talented - and often very amusing as they chat with host Christopher O'Riley - which all adds up to great radio. More than 250 public radio stations broadcast the show.

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