Chattanoogan: Rachel Kelly – Stories Of The Strings

Friday, October 18, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

In the 19 years that she has been alive, Rachel Kelly has found her passion, traveled across the world, become part of a musical band, recorded two CDs and is a self-employed violin instructor.

Born in Chattanooga, Rachel was the type of child who loved just being around others and building relationships. She was poised with confidence and willing to try anything put before her.

When Rachel was just four years old, she and her mother MaryDee were watching a PBS program which featured a violinist. “I think you could do that,” her mother suggested. Without hesitation Rachel took the violin in her hands and began lessons with Sarah Barker for the next 10 years.

“She made it fun, but pushed me enough to where I could progress and feel accomplished. The first time I tried it, I broke a string trying to tune it,” Rachel laughs.

Writing songs was another talent Rachel picked up that was a way to express herself.

“I went through a stage where I thought I was pretty profound and insightful and, maybe the songs were insightful …for a 10-year-old. They were a little dramatic, but they were things I was learning about and working through,” Rachel insists.

Rachel also took ballet and modern dance and found her passions always revolved around music in some way. Conveying a story and bringing insight about something meaningful to her was usually accomplished through songwriting, playing the violin or dance.

She attended GPS and was involved in Model UN. Rachel was never afraid of the stage whether it was to speak, to dance or to sing. The stage was a platform in which she could direct a message to others and she was comfortable being in front of them.

When she committed her time to play the violin, there were times that she wanted to quit.

“My brother Ross always encouraged me. He was doing karate at the time and was not a quitter …so he gave me a pep talk not to quit,” Rachel admits.

When it comes to the style of music she plays, Rachel prefers the slower, classical pieces and explains the difference with fiddle playing and the violin.

“I don’t enjoy playing fast things. With fiddle or classical - it is one of those things like running may be less enjoyable than jogging for some people.” She laughs. “I like the romantic style but I have gotten more into fiddle type playing and as a group we have written a few songs that are blue grass style. It just kind of developed as we experimented with things - playing double stops, chords and classical. I think making up faux bluegrass riffs and picking up different techniques has been fun.”

Though fiddle playing differs somewhat, Rachel says that a violin and a fiddle are the same instrument.

“The running joke between a violin and fiddle is that a violin has strings and a fiddle has ‘strangs’,” she laughs.

“I have seen fiddle players play using the crook of their arm as well as fiddle players playing very classically - it just depends on the person,” Rachel says.

Another passion for Rachel has been taking mission trips to the Dominican Republic over the last five years. She has worked with Mustard Seed Orphanage and also a nursing home.

“It is sweet to see the relationships that have been established and growing.  We have dear friends there. It’s like coming home,” Rachel says.

During her last visit, Rachel was able to play music for the orphanage and the nursing home there.

“Very seldom have they seen a violin and they all want to play it. All the boys were drawn to it and everyone wanted to just touch it to see what it was. We played more music this year than we ever had. When we played at the nursing home, just seeing their joy was worth it. They are like our grandparents and we love them so much. It was as though an island had been created by the music and that was breathtaking to watch,” Rachel declares. “Every year that I have gone, I know that is where I needed to be.”

Rachel has no plans for college at this time, but is open to any opportunity that will help her reach her goals. She is playing with a Christian band called “As Isaac”. The group was formed at her church, Calvary Chapel at the foot of Lookout Mountain on Broad Street.

“We lead worship for the youth, and one day our pastor asked if we would be interested in making a CD. The Lord opened that up for us and we came up with our band’s name from Galatians 4:28,” Rachel says. “I know where I am gifted and where I am called - those are things I can’t escape, and I know I have been led to do this.”

Having her father Brian’s entrepreneurial spirit, Rachel has formed her own business teaching violin to all ages.

“I teach a little bit at Chattamusic, owned by Dennis Massengil. As people contacted me through him and by word of mouth, I just contract myself out,” Rachel says. “The thing that deters most people is how long the process takes. I was four when I started and it probably took a couple of months to be able to play a song that did not sound scratchy.”

Rachel explains the technique in moving away from a beginner’s abrasive sound and playing an actual song.

“It’s all about the harmony of your bow-arm weight and how much weight you use in your fingers. Too much weight will drag and get that crunching sound or if you are too light, then it is not enough pressure to make any sound. Your bow arm is really doing the work,” Rachel expounds.

A five-year-old named Sophia was her first student and Rachel says that Sophia was raring to go.

“People argue extensively to cut the budget in the arts at schools, but I think it is so essential. It helps you draw those connections in your life.  My time is dedicated to what I do in teaching and playing and I like being able to encourage others.”

The group has a sound unlike other contemporary artists and they write their own lyrics. The songs are uplifting - each telling a meaningful story, while a few are quite catchy and memorable.

The band still plays at the church, but also travels, plays for Salvation Army and other events and they have recorded two CDs so far. The most recent is called, “Headed for my Home” and is available on iTunes, Amazon and on their website listed below.

“It’s sweet to see how this passion has been stirred and answered in fun ways. We got to go to Canada twice and all over states that I have never been to,” Rachel says.

“There is a difference in just performing and ‘presenting something’ before people. We are inviting them into a story, and that is what we want to convey… it is always a matter of unearthing stories,” Rachel maintains.

“And if what I am playing can resonate in someone and stir them to do what they were created to do as well, there is nothing more I could ask for.”

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