A child prodigy, Rachel Barton Pine began playing the violin at the age of 3½. She performed with the Chicago Symphony at age 10.
Pine was well on her way to becoming one of the most gifted musicians of her generation when tragedy struck in 1995. Then 20 years old, she was exiting a Metra train in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka with her violin case slung over her shoulder. The train’s doors closed on the case’s strap, pinning Pines’ left shoulder to the train. She was dragged 366 feet before being pulled under the train, severing one leg and mangling the other.
But Pine persevered, continuing to perform and record to much acclaim. She also started a family with Greg Pine, and the couple welcomed daughter Sylvia in 2011.
Motherhood provided inspiration for Pine’s latest recording, the exquisitely soothing “Violin Lullabies” (Cedille). Performing works by Brahms, Ravel, Schubert, Strauss and Gershwin, among others, Pine, recording with Matthew Hagle on piano, has created one of the most beautiful and tranquil recordings of the year.
“Violin Lullabies” is an ideal Mother’s Day gift for all the mothers, regardless of age or gender, in your life.
“Violin Lullabies” opens with Brahms’ “Wiegenlied (Cradle Song),” perhaps the most beloved lullaby of all time. Was it always your intention to begin the CD with this selection?
Oh, yes. It was a song that my mom sang to me and that her mom sang to her. (My violin has) a very unique and special connection to the song. (Barton plays a 1742 violin made by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri, considered the greatest violinmaker of all time. The instrument, on loan to her from a patron, is the same violin Brahms selected for his protégé Marie Soldat, one of 19th century’s most renowned female violin soloists. She frequently played chamber music with Brahms, and was one of the first champions of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77). To play any music of Brahms on the instrument with the voice that Brahms obviously preferred, especially to play the Brahms lullaby on this Brahms violin, is incredibly special.
What was involved in selecting the remaining 24 lullabies you included on the CD?
I have a great passion for collecting sheet music, especially historic, out-of-print kinds of things. I’d noticed many years ago that various composers had written lullabies. Sibelius, Ravel, Faure, Respighi, Stravinsky. I was intrigued by this, and I noticed that a few violinists had made albums of romances over the years – meaning not just romantic-sounding music, but every single composition on the album was romance. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be a fun thing to do with lullabies?” I thought, “Wait until I have a kid someday, and then I’ll explore that idea of the violin lullabies.” I wanted to collect every lullaby for the violin that I could possibly find, so that I could then pick the best. I ended up with more than 150 of them from libraries around the world. Sylvia would be breast-feeding and I would be on the Internet contacting these libraries. With a good nursing pillow you can actually do both at the same time (laughs).
Have you composed your own lullaby for Sylvia?
I haven’t written her any melodies yet (laughs). There are so many great ones that already exist. But I did actually write her some lyrics with the young, gay, Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz in New York, one of the very exciting young classical composers on the scene today. He wrote me an amazing five-movement, unaccompanied sonata just two years ago, which happened to be when I was pregnant. He was inspired by the creation of new life, both the human being and the piece of music (laughs), to make the last movement a lullaby for Sylvia. It has a gorgeous Arab-inspired melody written for violin. But because it was written for Sylvia and it’s a very singable tune, I actually put some lyrics to it. I sing her Mohammed’s lullaby with her words. It’s really gorgeous, but I would be way too embarrassed to sing it to anybody but my daughter (laughs).
Are lullabies as effective for adults as they are for children?
Absolutely! So many people have insomnia these days. Who knows what the reason is? Too much blue light in our lives during the evening hours affects our melatonin? Or maybe our dietary habits? For whatever reason, a lot of people have insomnia and after this album was released some of my friends said to me that in addition to being a wonderful recording for parents and children, people should try this instead of some Ambien and see if it does the trick.
Are you aware of a following in the LGBT community?
My goal has always been to show that classical music is not for people of a particular race or ethnicity, not for people of a particular social or economic class. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Most of my classmates in music school grew up in the suburbs. When you look out into a sea of white faces and you talk about classical music being diversified, my first question is, are any of those faces from my old neighborhood? Because we need to diversify in that direction as well. There’s no reason why classical music as music shouldn’t appeal to everybody and everybody should be welcome. I grew up in the United Church of Christ, which is the most liberal of all the mainline Protestant denominations. The same denomination that Barack Obama used to attend. The UCC has a very strong history of being on the forefront of social change. They were the first denomination to ordain a woman pastor, an African-American pastor, etc. Starting from the time I was a little kid, and this is going back a few decades, we had commitment ceremonies in church and became what we call open and affirming, which means that we believe that loving, committed relationships between two people of any gender are blessed by God and by the church. (My husband) Greg and I met at church. We are raising our daughter to have the same values of honoring family diversity and being on the side of marriage equality.