You know, at times I think we all think we have it tough, and perhaps even tougher than what seems fair. This emotional experience can sometimes make us slip into that abyss which is called unjustifiable self-pity.
However, by the same token, every once in a while you meet someone who just seems to have found a way to have persevered to that finish line, no matter what obstacles they faced along the way.
You then learn about what that person had to endure and suddenly your foolish pity party becomes an embarrassing barometer of just how off course your Peter Pan self-assessment really was.
I think the modern diagnosis of this condition is frequently referred to as the “reality check.”
In my travels through music, and even life for that matter, I would be hard pressed to find a more inspirational person than Rachel Flowers.
If you have not heard of her, Rachel is a 19 year old phenom who is widely recognized for her uncanny ability to master and perform difficult and complex musical compositions on keyboard instruments.
One needs to look no further than Rachel’s rendition of “Tarkus” to see what I mean. (The video of Rachel’s performance of “Tarkus” appears below).
In fact, Keith Emerson himself has recognized and commented on Rachel’s performance of this ELP classic in glowing fashion.
Greg Lake and Rachel Flowers
Besides being an accomplished pianist, Rachel has also taken on the guitar, some alto sax, and even the mallets. Again, check out some of the videos below and decide for yourself.
Oh, there is one other thing that really sets Rachel apart from most musicians; she is blind and has been from birth. Arriving 15 weeks premature, she lost her eyesight as an infant due to Retinopathy of Prematurity.
It is no wonder that Rachel has received interest in terms of a documentary about her life and she has been featured in a segment which appeared on the popular show “60 Minutes.”
Indeed, she is a remarkable person and musician. Returning to how one sees oneself, in talking with Rachel it is clear that she does not “see” boundaries or obstacles; she refuses to acknowledge them.
A few minutes with Rachel is a gigantic wake up call to any musician or human being and a call to bag the drama, excuses, and fear and simply move ahead with your life unabated. What an inspiration. I guess some might even call her a “hero.”
Anyway, Rachel’s performances are really something to see. They speak for themselves and there is really no way to describe them. You just have to “see” them; literally.
I walked away privileged to have spent some time with a woman who has guts and determination which tower her tiny frame. Wow. That was pretty special.
Anyway, let’s hear from Rachel and make sure and check out her videos on the way out.
Rock on Rachel! Bravo!
Q: Rachel, talk about your musical training.
A: I began playing at the age of 2 and I began studying at the Southern California Conservatory of Music at the age of 4 and I continued on and off until I was 18 years old. I am musically literate and I read Braille music. In fact, my teachers wanted it that way even though I was learning by ear. It did take me some time to find the right teacher who could deal with a blind, but yet prodigious student. In the end I studied with Richard Taesch, Grant Horrocks, and David Pinto as well as Toby Caplan-Stonefield (flute).
Q: Who are some of your influences?
A: In terms of piano influence, I am a big fan of Keith Emerson, of course, as well as Herby Hancock. But I also really like Joe Satriani and Pat Metheny. I am also a huge fan of Earth, Wind and Fire. As a child I also remember listening to Bach and Beetoven. As for guitar, Frank Zappa has been a big influence.
Q: Rachel, to put it simply, how do you do it? How does someone who does not see memorize and master an epic composition like “Tarkus”?
A: It’s memory really. What I do is really listen to the song including any live rendition. I then break down parts of the song and I play them until they are memorized. “Tarkus” was a lot to memorize, I will say that. There was a lot of practice needed. And I broke the parts down. Sometimes it took days to do it. I spent a considerable amount of time listening and I also compared the studio version to the live version on “Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Tarkus,” for those of you who are not familiar, is a composition (written and performed by Emerson, Lake & Palmer) which was released in 1971. The album version is 38:55 minutes in length. The live version is 27:24 minutes in length. The musical complexity of this piece as well as it’s arrangement is legendary, perhaps only rivaled by other full side epics like Rush’s “2112.”
Q: In your opinion, what’s the biggest obstacle to date that you have encountered on your journey as a musician?
A: Reading my Braille music at a speed that would allow me to play. When I have had to have read it I would have to read with one hand and basically play my instrument with another hand. That was difficult.
Q: Is mastering “Tarkus” one of your proudest moments as a musician?
A: I would say it’s certainly one of them. That video of me performing it was so much fun. It was done one take.
EDITOR’S NOTE: One take?! Seriously?
Q: Besides piano do you currently play any other instruments?
A: Yes. I play guitar and the flute. I pretty much started learning the guitar last year. I would be interested in learning other string instruments. I also play the drums.
Q: Tell me about your typical practice regiment.
A: What I like to do is listen intently first and then try the part on the instrument. It’s a back and forth process and I will give it the time it needs to lea
rn the part.
Q: Are you currently performing with a group?
A: I am currently in a jazz trio and a lot of my live performance experience to date is with the flute. I would like to get into contemporary music but I do love live performances.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please either Facebook “Long Live Rachel Flowers” or visit www.rachelflowersmusic.com for more information.
Q: How about your musical writing influences?
A: Believe it or else, I take a lot out of my dreams. What I do is come up with the idea and then record it so that I can develop it. But I do try to deal with what I am thinking of. For example, now I am working on a piece that has a Latin-jazz feel. If I am playing the organ, I definitely am influenced by Keith Emerson. I am also interested in orchestral pieces and I would like to marry the organ and orchestra so to speak, in a classical piece that is. They have multiple movements. So, my influences really depend on what I am working on.
Q: What does the future hold for you and what interests you the most?
A: To be honest it’s my original music. I would like to get it out there for people to hear. I am also interested in film too. It might take me a little bit longer to get my career moving but I will continue on.
Q: Are you aware of your inspirational influence that you have on others?
A: I am happy to be a positive influence. I really am. I am grateful as well. But to be honest I just do my thing and I don’t think it about all that much.
– K Bo