My Creative Friend: Rachel

My creative friend, Rachel, is a musician and a non-profit go to gal (like myself). I initially met her through our work with AmeriCorps at the Museum, and I'm so glad that we've remained friends as we've each developed our creative practices and forged our paths professionally. Rachel is developing her own non-profit, The Rhode Island Fiddle Project, and her focus on her vision, her ability to form relationships and a community, and her entrepreneurial skills in making it all happen always inspire me.

{ Rachel }

Tell us about yourself, Rachel.

I’m a musician in Pawtucket, RI. I’m figuring out how to make the many strands of my musical (creative) life intersect to make something cohesive.

I work at Community MusicWorks, a string quartet based in a store-front in the West End of Providence, which actively performs and offers free long-term music education with over 100 students in the neighborhood. All of the staff are intentionally in conversation about how musicianship & public service can be all part of the same role. In this case, we could think of it as creativity & public service. The idea is that you can pursue your work on a high artistic & professional level while at the same time dedicating yourself to making music accessible and strengthening community through the power of this music AND that these things feed into each other and are each vital to the growth of one’s musicianship (creativity).

Tell us about the non-profit you're developing.

A year ago I started what is now the Rhode Island Fiddle Project (which is just changing names from Fiddle & Dance Project and is incubated by Community MusicWorks). It’s based around the creative work I know and love best, and is a way for me to link my own creativity & public service goals. Students and their families in Pawtucket & Central Falls get a fiddle for the year and participate in free fiddle lessons & monthly music and dance events at the Woodlawn CDC. The students and families and I all get to know each other from this process and start to create our own music & dance community within a community. I stretch my own creativity through teaching and performing for dances as a ‘fiddler-in-residence’. I’ve found that I am happier when I have colleagues to work together with and am thrilled that I will be working this year with fiddler Michelle Kaminsky on this project.

{ Rachel and her students at the Rhode Island Fiddle Project }

How do you describe your creative medium? How do you learn your creative skills?

I am a fiddler and violinist. I play tunes from Quebec, the British Isles, the Appalachians, Scandinavia, and from right here in New England. All these tunes are used to make people get up and dance (more specifically, contra dance)!

I love that most of the tunes I play are really old and have been passed down and changed from person to person. The ones I remember best are the ones that I learned directly from another person. I also learn by listening to lots of recordings, and use some tune books to learn by reading. Plus, going dancing to the music someone else is playing has helped me to get a great feel for what I’m aiming to do.

I also get to play and sing bluegrass music with The Bourbon Boys and play Classical chamber music, too.

Wow, you're really busy. How do you make time for your creative practice?

For better or for worse, my practice tends to be very much geared towards a particular upcoming event or gig. So I try to be really focussed about the gigs I say “yes” to. If it’s a gig I really want to do, then I’ll be even more energized to work hard towards that performance, whether it’s learning some new tunes on my own, or getting together to rehearse with a band.

{ Rachel, giving a fiddle lesson }

How would you describe your creative process?

At first, I didn’t think I had an answer to this question, because what still comes to mind when I first hear “creative process” is being alone in a room. But my creative process is very social. In the course of a rehearsal or in playing for a dance, I do a lot of musical imitation and enjoy being playful with what I hear my fellow musicians do. I’ll create a musical response in the form of a harmony, an improvisation, or just in choosing the attitude/attack that I give a certain line.

I also enjoy writing tunes, and like you Carole Ann, I enjoy creating for a particular event or person. When my mother remarried, I wrote them a tune, and when Obama was elected, I wrote one in his honor (in the long tradition of hornpipes being written for US presidents).

When you work, do you love the process or the result?

There isn’t always a huge difference in music making -- I guess you could say that ‘practice’ is the process and ‘playing/performing’ is the result -- but it’s all making music along the way, and as soon as it’s out there it’s gone. Unless you’re recording, that is...I could write another piece just on that! Actually, I’m in the process of recording some tunes, which is where this unfinished rough cut comes from - President Garfield’s & President Obama’s Hornpipes, with myself and Carole Bestvater on fiddle. And another - Paddy Fahey, with myself on fiddle and Mark Davis on guitar. Enjoy!

Thanks for sharing, Rachel! It's amazing to see how creative practices across mediums are different, but also very similar. Keep up the good work - I can't wait to see what comes out of the Rhode Island Fiddle Project this school year!

To learn more about Rachel's creative projects, visit the Community MusicWorks website and the Rhode Island Fiddle Project's page. Visit www.fiddleanddanceproject.blogspot.com to sign up for Rachel's e-news updates. And try to catch a performance by The Bourbon Boys, my favorite local band, if you're in the area!

**My Creative Friend is a series of blog posts featuring the creative practices of creative women in my life, posted on the last weekend of each month. By sharing our processes, my hope is that we can all learn, grow, and be inspired in our own work. To view previous posts, click on "my creative friend" under labels on the left side of the screen. If you're interested in being featured, please contact me!**

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