About 2 weeks ago, the Sistema Fellows graduated from NEC. It was a small, intimate ceremony with some family members and lots of friends in attendance.
Post Graduation: The fellows, Heath, Virginia, Tony and Leslie
Sara, Carlos and me after the ceremony
The ceremony opened with encouraging words and anecdotes related to our class from NEC president Tony Woodcock. Then, each fellow had the floor for a few minutes. Everyone spoke; some used media; some played music. I bet you can guess my choice.
I did, of course, say a few words before I played my horn. I spoke of the theme of firsts, and the number 1, in my young sistema life. I had 1 year with 9 amazing fellows. I experienced my first trip to a Latin American country. I taught music lessons with a language barrier for the first time. I'm about to move to Lexington to help start Kentucky's first El Sistema - inspired program. Following this theme, and furthering my exploration of musical relevance, my short commencement performance was another first:
I played bluegrass music on my horn.
As this was my first foray into bluegrass, I kept things simple. I actually started with a shape note hymn, and then bridged into the melody of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky." It was nothing outstanding, but for me it accurately represented my year of experimenting in performance; I used my 5 minutes of graduation spotlight as a testing ground for musical courage.
This was the second time that I've performed at a fellowship event. Several hours after graduation, I was having a discussion with my friend and fellow Xóchitl. She said something to me that went kind of like this: "You're much more comfortable when you're talking with a horn in your hands. You're more laid back. You make jokes."
Similarly, when I returned to Cincinnati last month to give my lecture-recital, I saw many friends from the horn studio whom I hadn't seen since my move to Boston. I received one comment over and over again: "Rachel, you look so much happier!"
These observations pointed out things that I hadn't consciously noticed, but the words also didn't surprise me. While I'm still figuring out the balance in my life (and probably will be for many years to come), these comments serve as proof that performance, education and inclusion are necessary elements of my career; I cannot relinquish any of the three.
I still have a lot to figure out, but I'm enjoying the musical journey. I feel strongly that I'm in the right place to continue to learn and grow as a musician, performer, educator, and leader. I can't wait to spread the El Sistema love to Lexington!