provided to Santiva Chronicle
Rachel Barton Pine was 3 years old when she first heard violin music in church. “I stood up in the pew and said ‘I want to do that,’” Pine says. “Like that was the core of my being … I just loved the sound of the violin.”
She will be performing Sunday Feb. 16, at BIG ARTS with pianist Matthew Hagle. Together they will present Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ Sonata No. 2 in A major; Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”; Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108; and William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano.
The Beethoven sonata, Pine says, is one of the hardest pieces for violin that Beethoven ever wrote. It’s hard to imagine Pine being daunted by anything of the sort.
While her mother always sang in the church choir and was a junior high school choir director, nobody in her family played an instrument “and my dad couldn’t carry a tune to save his life,” according to Pine. But there happened to be a violin teacher down the street from their suburban Chicago home and although money was very scarce in her family, she began to take lessons. By kindergarten, she was signing her papers “Rachel, violinist.”
Now 45 years old and a world-renowned virtuoso, Pine’s love of the strings has resonated not only in the concert hall, but with a foundation that helps young artists in struggling circumstances and brings works of black composers to wider audiences – often, brings those works to their first audiences.
“I’m the kind of geek who likes to read lots of doctoral dissertations with footnotes,” Pine says, explaining that publishing the works of composers of African descent has been a long-term project. She recorded an album of concertos by 18th- and 19th-century black composers in 1997 and “people had no idea that music by these composers existed. A lot of the work going on in academia was not filtering out to the people. I thought, ‘Somebody needs to do something about this, and I love music research and (promoting) social justice.’”
The result has been two decades of work through her foundation collecting more than 900 works by more than 350 black composers from North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia.
“A lot of it involves calling up libraries of archives in different countries and digging through boxes. Then you have to make simplifications and interpretations for students. … Then last fall, parenthood inspired me to do a coloring book of black composers throughout history,” Pine says.
Pine travels with her young daughter, Sylvia Pine, who is also a violinist. But Sylvia’s first love is composing, her mother says.
Something that always comes up when Pine is mentioned is the accident that caused her to lose a leg and be subjected to dozens of surgeries. At age 21, she became trapped in the door of a Chicago commuter train as she was attempting to exit and was dragged 366 feet.
Recovery took about two years. Still, she doesn’t find that tragedy any more extraordinary than the positive things that have happened in her life, like “Falling in love and having my child. Having a strong and happy marriage” to health care executive Greg Pine. “Why is it that stress is prioritized above joy?” she asks rhetorically. “(The accident) was another roadblock, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. The challenges of my childhood really formed me.”
Pine debuted with the Chicago String Ensemble at age 7, and with the Chicago Symphony at 10. She was the first American and youngest gold medal winner of the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Germany in 1992.
Although there often were scholarships for lessons, the travel, concert attire and other expenses like rosin, strings and sheet music were difficult to come by. Those expenses were a main inspiration for her to start her foundation. Her Global HeartStrings program supports aspiring classical musicians in developing countries. Closer to home, her Grants for Education and Career program helps young students with the expenses traditional scholarships don’t cover. That and an instrument loan program have helped more than 80 young artists.