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Take 5: Rachel Barton Pine (part 2)

We’re continuing our Q & A with virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine! Her newest Cedille album, Blues Dialogues: Music by Black Composers, is available October 19.

1. You spend a lot of time on the road. Any travel tips?

I have a master packing list of everything I might ever need on a trip. I make a copy for each trip and simply delete the items I don’t need (there’s probably an app for this now). Even if I am tired, I can follow the list and be sure I have everything I need. For frequent travelers, I highly recommend having toiletry duplicates for home and suitcase. 

I have photos of all my clothes, categorized by level of dressiness. When I have a spare moment – on the airplane, in a taxi, etc. – I choose what to bring on the next trip, which saves time during my precious hours at home.

As a vegan, I’m especially conscious of the challenges of nutrition on the road.  Sometimes it’s difficult to find healthy vegan protein and whole grains, so I often take quite a bit of food with me when I travel – including nuts, microwavable chickpeas and rice bowls. I always research a local grocery store so we can make a produce run for fresh organic fruits and veggies. I request a fridge in my hotel room and always bring some travel silverware, plates, and a sharp knife (in my checked bag), so I don’t have to worry about getting dishes from the hotel. 

I never touch caffeine. When I arrive in a new time zone, I force myself to be awake during daytime hours no matter how tired I am, and I force myself to lie down and close my hours during sleeping hours. 
2. When you’re not touring, what do you like to do in Chicago?
There are lots of fun things to do when I’m home: go to the Newberry Consort or Haymarket Opera; eat at my favorite restaurant, Coco Pazzo; catch some blues at Kingston Mines. Tuesdays are especially enjoyable – my daughter has her group violin class at Northwestern, then we either have a great vegan dinner at Blind Faith Café or head over to The Duke of Perth for the Chicago Scottish Jam. But I must admit, one of my favorite things to do in Chicago is just stay in my condo and commune with my huge music library!

3. What album/band are you listening to right now?
Lately, I’ve been enjoying revisiting my teen years by listening to some “best of ‘90’s Chicago house music” videos on YouTube. I’ve also been enjoying albums by Chicago blues greats like Koko Taylor, the Siegel-Schwall Band, Paul Butterfield, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, etc. You can hear some of my favorite blues tracks along with classical music by Black composers and more on my Spotify playlist to celebrate my new Blues Dialogues  album.

4. If you could only play one composer’s music, whose would it be?
It would have to be Bach, so I could do the Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin. But life would be really sad if I couldn’t play all the other music I love!

5. What is your most recent project and what sparked your interest in it?

In 1997, I released my Cedille album Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th & 19th Centuries. The recording contained wonderful historic compositions by Afro-Caribbean and Afro-European composers from the Classical and Romantic eras that had been unjustifiably neglected. I soon found myself sitting on diversity panels and fielding questions from students, parents, teachers, and colleagues about where to find more works by Black composers.
The researcher in me was inspired, and I quickly discovered that most of this music is out of print or only exists in manuscript. So, in 2001, my RBP Foundation committed to our Music by Black Composers (MBC) project. MBC’s efforts include the creation of curricular materials for young classical musicians and the dissemination of information about repertoire and history to professional performers, educators, and others. In the course of this work, we have collected more than 900 works spanning four centuries by more than 350 Black composers (men and women) from North America, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
This October, we’re celebrating the release of three landmark projects: MBC Violin Volume I is the first in a series of pedagogical books of music exclusively by Black classical composers; The Rachel Barton Pine Foundation Coloring Book of Black Composers features 40 of the most important Black composers from the 18th-21st centuries; and our timeline poster displays 300+ Black classical composers. We are also creating an online database which will provide information about works written by Black composers. Designed for use by students, teachers, performers, administrators, researchers, and librarians, it will contain facts about each composer and about individual pieces, information about where to find the music, links to recordings, and more. Other online resources include a bibliography of publications about Black classical music making, and a directory of living composers for those commissioning new works or simply seeking information.
Over recent years, many educational and performance organizations have helped the cause of diversity by providing the opportunity for aspiring young Black musicians to realize their dreams. We believe that our project represents the next step. By changing the story about the music of Black composers, we want to help children be able to dream their dreams in the first place, and for those dreams to resonate throughout our communities and beyond.


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