Posted by: Katie | June 24, 2012

Music for Life

Rachel discusses her musical influences, soundpainting, and more.

1. How did you make the decision to play the french horn?

I decided to learn to play horn back in fifth grade.  At that time, we were allowed to join band, orchestra, or choir.  Although I wouldn’t admit it at the time, I wanted to be like my brothers who were in band.  I chose horn in particular because I liked the instrument’s ability to play in a lyrical, mellow quality and to play with forceful aggression.

2. Who are your biggest musical influences and why?

I have many musical influences.  As a high school student, I looked up to my high school band directors, Kevin Erickson and Terri Catania.  I especially valued the fact that Mr. Erickson remained active as a performer while he was teaching.  In college, my music professors at Western Michigan University including Julie Evans, Lin Foulk, David Montgomery, and Stan Pelkey influenced my development as a musician through classes in music history, music theory, and music performing.  I also became involved in Soundpainting through music and was influenced greatly by Soundpainter’s creator, Walter Thompson and other two other Soundpainters in the States: Jeff Agrell and Evan Mazunik.  These Soundpainters are major influences of mine because they expanded my horizons to a new way of creating music in the live composing which Soundpainting encompasses.

 3. Do you have any favorite pieces to play?

I enjoy playing many musical styles.  In particular, my favorite piece to play on horn is “Villanelle” by Paul Dukas.  The work showcases the lyrical and technical abilities of the horn and is ever-changing.  More recently, I’ve enjoyed working on a transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”.  Beyond solo playing, I enjoy performing with concert and marching bands, of which pieces I have too many “favorites” to share!  I’ve most enjoyed working on pieces by 21st century composers such as Samuel Hazo, Frank Ticheli, and Eric Whitacre, though the band standards by Holst and Grainger are fun in a different manner altogether.  A more recent discovery is a band composition by John Mackey called “Xerxes”.  That piece is a blast to play (pun intended for you musically-informed readers) as it shows the aggressive side of horn-playing.

4. Could you briefly explain what soundpainting is and what interests you about it?

Soundpainting is the multidisciplinary gestural language used to compose in real time. Created by New York composer Walter Thompson, Soundpainting consists of more than 1,200 gestures and can be used with any combination of visual, dance, theatrical and musical artists (More information is available at  Soundpainting gestures are signed by a “conductor” (known as the Soundpainter) and interpreted by ensemble members.  For example, the Soundpainter might sign: Whole Group-Long Tone-Play.  This sequence of gestures, called a phrase, allows each member to choose a pitch and dynamic for their long tone. With a large group, such phrases often result in thick cacophony, but consider that there are still over 1,000 gestures left.  In a more complicated phrase, the Soundpainter could call for: Brass-Minimalism-With-Four-Notes-Only-With-Swing-Feel-Key-C-Major-Volume Medium-Wait-Percussion-Background-With-Swing-Feel-Volume-Low-Wait-Rest of Group-Speak-Volume Low-Whole Group-Organically Develop.  Did you catch all that? As this lengthy phrase plays out, the feeling of a jazz group performing at a nightclub emerges.

In the examples above, many options have been left up to the performers creating two of the most interesting features of Soundpainting.  The first of these features is the dichotomy of expected and unexpected responses that the Soundpainter works with.  The Soundpainter takes the ideas of the ensemble and melds them into cohesion, keeping musical ideas they like and changing others to unify a Soundpainting composition.  The second intriguing feature of Soundpainting is that no Soundpainting performance will ever be the same.  Even a performance following the same sequence of gestures and instrumentation will never result in the performers making all the same choices of pitches, note lengths, articulations, and dynamics, to name a few.    The element of the unexpected and the uniqueness of each Soundpainting composition are what make Soundpainting so interesting to participate in, either as an ensemble or audience member.


5. What feelings does music give you?

I have long been attached to music.  Music conveys many emotions in me.  I listen to music to “psych myself up” for sporting contests or to keep myself going during a workout.  I play cymbals to release my frustrations.  (It’s nice to be able to hit things without repercussions!)  When I am upset, I often find an instrument to play or listen to music to help work through my emotions.  Music thus refreshes my mind and my spirit.

Sometimes, music brings me an immense feeling of pride.  Music starts sporting events (The National Anthem).  Music is played at important ceremonies (weddings) and celebrations (graduations).  After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the first sign of public grief, according to Karl Paulnack, was singing that very evening.  (A personal favorite:  From these examples, music plays a deeply meaningful part in our culture, making me proud to be a musician. I am amazed at the ability of music to reach me in so many ways, some of which I have yet to discover.

6. What do you wish to achieve in the future of your career?

This spring, I graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education.  My current plan is to find a job teaching music at the K-12 level, teach for 4-6 years, go back to school to earn a Master’s degree in Music Education, and become a college professor teaching music education.  Throughout this process, I also wish to stay involved as a Soundpainter on the international scene by starting up my own semi-professional Soundpainting ensemble and publishing research about Soundpainting in education.  All this said, I am flexible to what the future brings and like to remember one of my favorite sayings to keep from getting too far ahead of myself: “We plan.  God laughs.”

7. Do you have any videos you’d like to share?

I would like to share a few videos and recordings with you.  The following video is a clip from Soundpainting which will help you see the genre firsthand:

If you are interested in learning more about Soundpainting, I direct you to and the YouTube series by Evan Mazunik, beginning with the following clip:

I also adore many videos by Improv Everywhere.  They organize crazy stunts in public.  Check out my two favorites at the links below and find more on the sidebar of their website! (Check out: Food Court Musical)

Last two: Some of the pieces I mentioned earlier as favorites.  The first is the piece for orchestra and solo horn, “Villanelle” which can be heard here: The second is the band piece, Xerxes, by John Mackey.  Go to the following link and click on MP3 audio for a recording by the Coast Guard Band:



  1. nice story-i also love music-i dont sing or play anything but love to listen to music all my life-:)

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