Honoring a Teacher Who Made a Difference

Neal Phillips knows firsthand that having a great teacher can change everything. In 2012, the Valencia English professor started a scholarship as a way to pay tribute to Doris Paisley, his violin teacher while growing up, whom he studied with for 14 years in central Pennsylvania when he became her youngest student ever at the ripe age of six.

“It took me two weeks of lessons just to learn how to properly hold the violin,” said Phillips. “I was a picture of coordination.”

Turns out Mrs. Paisley had symphony cred.

“She got me into the second violin section of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra at age 12, the youngest member ever, as we had no youth symphony in Altoona. She was the concert mistress at the time and had a degree of influence.”

Neal ended up playing with the Altoona Symphony for 10 years, picking up bluegrass fiddle lessons along the way.

Neal Phillips
Neal Phillips

“Needless to say, Doris Paisley had the most profound effect on my life, more than any other teacher. The violin has created so many pathways for me it’s ridiculous, and I could even talk with her in confidence about sensitive matters of a personal nature.”

You can watch Phillips and Mrs. Paisley practicing together when he was a teenager here. The video, in which Phillips had a starring role, aired on WTAJ-TV10 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, for a special called “Lickety Split: Making Music.”

When she died unexpectedly a few years back, Phillips decided that the best thing he could do was start a scholarship in her honor through the Valencia Foundation, with the goal of funding at least $1,000 annually.

“Fortunately, that started to add up, and rather than fund just the goal of three scholarships each year, five have been funded over the past three years to the tune of $5,000, Phillips said. “I plan to fund this until I expire.”

The scholarship is a one-time award, and two new students are selected each year. To date, five music students have been awarded the Paisley scholarship since its inception.

The most recent recipients are Vedda Kangalova, a student in Valencia’s music performance (A.A.) and sound and music technology (A.S.) programs, and Khalid James who is majoring in music performance (A.A.), who will each receive a $1,000 William and Doris Paisley Instrumental Music Scholarship.

“To be eligible, students had to be music or music education majors, write an essay about the benefit of the scholarship to their pursuit and submit a video of at least 10 minutes that features them soloing on their preferred instruments,” said Phillips. (See Kangalova playing the violin in her video submission.)