One of my favorite aspects of my job is making connections with wonderful artists like Rain Worthington. Rain is a New York-based composer of chamber and orchestral music whose latest album, Passages Through Time, is out March 11. Featuring a mix of orchestral and chamber works, several tracks also feature the cello in a solo or otherwise prominent role. Enter below for a chance to win an exclusive copy of the CD (only digital copies are available for purchase online) and some Cello Museum merchandise.
I first encountered Rain’s work through her pieces “Then Again” and “Resolves,” that Erica featured in That’s What She Said, a digital postcard series of unaccompanied cello pieces by women composers. You may also remember Rain’s “Steps in the Night,” a piece that our Cello Museum family helped title in March 2021 – the final title was chosen by the contest winner, J. Shea.
Rain then suggested a further project, showcasing the work of members of the New York Women Composers (NYWC). This collaboration resulted in our series of monthly spotlights on one member of the NYWC and one of her cello pieces.
When I interviewed Rain about Passages Through Time, it felt like speaking with an old friend. She is a warm and engaging person, and her compositions reflect her emotional artistic spirals, drawing us into our own emotional journeys, particularly in this album.
I hope you enjoy hearing her music and reading this interview as much as I enjoyed my conversation with her.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Passages Through Time – A New Album by Rain Worthington
Cello Museum (CM)
Please tell us about your new album, Passages Through Time.
Rain Worthington (RW)
This is my second full CD. The first one, Dream Vapors, was all orchestral work. What I like about this CD in particular is that it does have some solo pieces. It includes the unaccompanied cello, it has orchestra, it has the violin and piano, and a duet for two violins. So it’s a mix of orchestral and chamber music.
I love that you’ve got a lot of variety. I’m also really intrigued by the your title: Passages Through Time. You tell us on your website that you invite “the listener into the realm of the nonverbal to reveal our primal commonality” of our experiences of life. And I believe this is especially true in our chaotic and divided world today. Please tell us more about your vision of this through your music.
Well, I think it’s applicable to all my music. When I was trying to find a title, someone at PARMA recordings said, “Well, you talk a lot about time and journeying through time and the nonverbal,” and so we came up with this title.
I feel that my music takes the listener on a journey. It’s through-composed, and it’s important to me that it makes sense musically – that it leads a listener through this. As a time-frame kind of journey, I think that’s really important. It has that kind of logic of journeying through time.
My music comes from very emotional sources. I think one of the cool things about being a composer is that I translate my life into music. I mean, I translate how life touches me. So anything that is happening in the world around me goes directly into my music, and I find instrumental music really fascinating – it’s what I’m drawn to. I find it really intriguing and fascinating how the communicative power of instrumental music works.
It’s very mysterious how it works, but I do feel that it taps into a very primal channel of emotional responses. It goes beyond language. So, to say what those responses are in words is very difficult to really pinpoint.
We all have the feeling that minor keys have the power to evoke sadness. But there are so many kinds of sadness. How can it touch people in ways that have some kind of direct point of reference, without the specificity of language? It’s really amazing how it works.
Oftentimes, music brings up certain things without the specificity of language. It might be a romantic sadness, it might be a philosophical sadness, or it could be a joy. It’s really intriguing, and just add to that – music is one of the things that lasts as other things fade. Music resides in a very deep place that is beyond language.
Musical Composition – A Process of Discovery
It pains me when when they take music out of schools, because I think it’s one of those things that, whether or not a child is going to become a professional musician – most children will not – but nevertheless, if they have contact with music, and learn to contextualize it, as you say, this is something that’s very primal.
I like to think of it as one of my other favorite arts: architecture. In architecture we physically move through the art. With music, the art physically moves through us; we feel the sound waves. Perhaps part of the primal nature of music is that we experience it by taking it inside of us, feeling it in our flesh and bones.
Yes, I definitely believe that many cultures use the spiritual healing of music through vibrations. There’s a real connection to the physical vibration of music.
But also, I’m really glad you brought up schools. My training was Orff – Orff Schulwerk – and I worked in New York City public schools for 14 years. I taught as an elementary school general music teacher. I’m self taught; I’ve never been trained on any instrument. So this was kind of the perfect way I could get involved in music and work in it.
But also, because I’m self taught, my path has been one of discovery, which is exactly what the kids in school do. When you bring music to them, it’s all about ownership of the music: finding yourself in the music, finding a way to participate, no matter what your talent is. It’s not about innate talent. It’s about giving access to that expression.
A lot of the schools I worked in in New New York City were in lower economic areas, and there wasn’t a whole lot of budget for instruments or anything. And so we made a lot of homemade instruments – from cardboard tubes, plastic tubes, tin cans – all kinds of things.
When I did percussion ensembles, everyone was able to participate. And that’s what was so important about it: it gave them a sense of community. That’s the other thing. Music gives people a sense of community. It gives them a sense of ownership. It’s an incredible thing plus it does all these things to your mind. MIT just came out with an article saying, don’t teach your children computer coding, teach them music. (“Want Smarter Kids? Teach Music, Not Coding”) And then someone else commented that music is coding. It’s a very abstract language.
Composing for the Cello
You describe your learning music as a process of discovery because you were not trained formally as a composer. Yet you don’t shy away from writing orchestral works, and you write beautifully for such large ensembles.
Let’s focus on just one voice in the orchestra for a moment: the cello. Do you remember when you first wrote something for the cello? What piece was it, and how did you go about learning about what a cello can do?
Actually, the first piece I wrote for solo cello was “Resolves.” Cellist Susanne Friedrich at the Rivers School Conservatory in Massachusetts requested a solo cello piece for a faculty recital that is part of a seminar they do every year of contemporary music.
So I was up for the task. The first thing I do is go through a process of trying to find resources to help me learn the different idiomatic things about the instruments. The internet is great for that. And because I’m self taught, it takes me longer to do anything, as opposed to when you go through a conservatory or the academic route, you have other musicians. And chances are, you play an instrument, so you can get together with people and work out things.
So, I turn to the internet. In this case, I got several pictures of the cello fingerboard, and I put them on cardboard. And I worked out how the hand kind of fits. It wasn’t to scale, but this gave me an idea of how notes fit on the fingerboard. So that’s where I started, and then I worked out what would be most natural for string crossings.
After I did that, I had this piece, and I sent it to Carmine Miranda. I met him at a recording session in the Czech Republic. He was coming in to do a Dvořák concerto recording, and I was leaving from a recording session of my orchestra music. I asked him if he would take a look at it and let me know if it was playable – I wanted his feedback. And he said, yes, it’s playable, and he wanted to play it. Oh my gosh! So I dedicated it to him. And then I wrote another piece for the cellist at the conservatory.
I love your path of discovery. And I love that you physically tried the cello, with the spacing and the feel of the bow. I think it makes a huge difference.
I did rent one later, for another piece, when I was doing Full Circle. I just wanted to get my hands on it and try it. And I loved it, I loved it. I was able to make sounds on it, that were decent sounds. Of course I couldn’t do vibrato and lacked the subtlety that a real cellist could bring to it, but I was able to get a sense of it, and especially crossing the strings and stuff like that. That was a lot of fun – moving my fingers down, crossing the strings, and doing some double stops. Even if they were open strings, I did double stops to see what the sound is like, how awkward it is, and which things work.
You know, I could only get that with renting a cello. I got to a point where I was getting calluses on my fingers, but then I said, “Wait a minute. I’m not going to get really good on the cello at this point.” I would have to dedicate a lot more time to it, and I want to do the composing. I was renting it by the month, so I gave it back and I haven’t rented another one yet because the pandemic happened.
The Flow of the Album
But it’s never too late, and your experience teaching yourself more about the physicality of playing the cello shows in your music.
Turning back to the album as a whole, in Passages Through Time, especially given the title, you are taking us on a journey. How did you think about the interaction of the pieces themselves in the order you have them on the album?
For some reason, they had a natural flow. I had it one way, and then I switched the order. I asked a couple people what they thought, in terms of which one I should start with.
Three of the pieces were written during the pandemic, so they’re really new. One of them, “Dreaming through Fog,” has never been recorded before. The other orchestra pieces have been recorded. So this is a re-release of them.
And then I thought, “I don’t know whether that’s the strongest piece or the most typical piece of my writing,” so I moved it to switch places with “Full Circle.” Now first on the album is “Full Circle” – the one with the cello soloist and orchestra. It’s more complex, and it’s more typical of my writing. It might not be the easiest door to go through to get into the album. But still, it’s definitely more typical of the type of orchestra work I do. So that’s that’s why I changed the order.
The rest of the pieces I had pretty much in order. It goes back and forth between orchestra and chamber to some extent, but not completely rigidly: orchestra – chamber – orchestra – chamber.
The Compositional Process of Rain Worthington
Please tell us about your working process of creating one or more of the pieces on Passages Through Time.
It’s all kind of all the same. You know, because I’m not academic in my approach – I’m emotional, it’s very mysterious; I don’t know where it comes from.
Sometimes I’ll start with the idea that I want to write a solo cello piece. That may be the only thing that I start with, and then I sit down at my computer, and I can play a riff on the piano, if I want to start with a riff – if I have something in mind.
I used to do that, but now I write more directly on the staff. And I can’t explain where it comes from, but once it starts, a lot of times, it will come. It just makes sense, what comes next. And I often don’t know what the piece is about until I’m halfway through or towards the end. And then I think, “Oh, my gosh, this is what this is about.” It doesn’t always work this way but sometimes it does.
“Resolves” – I don’t know where it came from, but “Resolves” seemed to be a good title for it. On the other hand, sometimes, I’m just filled with something, and I have to get it out. “Within Deep Currents” was like that. I felt all this kind of shifting and moving and so that came pretty quickly and easily. It was the same with the violin soloist and string orchestra piece called “Passages.” Once I started the first notes, it just came – it just made sense.
So, there’s a lot of stasis in that piece. You know, it’s a very unusual piece that way, because it has these elements that kind of play into this stasis, and part of it is also repeating fragments of things. It reminds me of going into a tunnel that’s filled with fog, and you’re being pulled into this – and you can’t see where it’s going. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You’re just in this fog and you hear different things filtering into it as if from the outside. So there are almost ambulance-like sounds and these disjointed, out of sync sounds keep coming into it.
I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is exactly what the pandemic feels like right now.” It’s a pretty incredible piece. If you had any of those feelings during that time, I think you’ll get it pretty strongly.
The process is just letting myself go into it, starting from whatever point it starts, and then just going with it. And I can’t explain it otherwise. That’s the whole thing. It’s the mystery of instrumental music. Where’s it coming from? I don’t know.
Sharing Experience and Emotion through Music
Earlier in our conversation, when you were telling me about taking a listener on a journey, I wondered if this is something that you are seeking to understand from within yourself, and this is how you’re working through these ideas. Some people write journals, some people go to therapy, some people play the cello . . . we process experiences and express ourselves in different ways. Is this is your main way of sharing your experiences and emotions with others? If so, it certainly is a very powerful way of sharing.
Yes, all of those things. We go into this kind of zone of experience. I’m absolutely processing how I feel about what’s going on. And the journey is something I’m going through. It’s kind of like writing in first person. You’re there with me. I’m going through this. And I need to go through this. I need to express it, because it’s affecting me very deeply.
It’s like translating the feeling of life. I think this is true when anybody goes into that zone, whether you’re composing or playing an instrument, you’re really getting into the music and the feeling of playing the instrument to express the music. Having the sound come out of this unity, this place where you’re unified with the instrument, you are absolutely with the instrument. And when you’re in that place, you’re very vulnerable – you’ve opened yourself up. It’s an open, exposed, vulnerable place. The difference with instrumentalists is that they also have to be aware of the technical aspects of the instruments. I don’t have to worry about that so much. I can just get completely lost in it.
I think there are also moments for instrumentalists, composers, and other artists, where they go into a zone, and I think of it as that moment where the created becomes the Creator.
More so for you as the composer then for, say, a cellist who is recreating your music. But if we as cellists truly join with the music, if we make it our own as well conveying a composer’s ideas through our instrument, then there’s a moment where any sense of self goes away, we get carried away in the music, and we feel as if we’re a part of the whole creative process as well.
I think that one reason I connect with your music is the emotions involved and how it seems it’s a journey of discovery.
Rain Worthington’s Cello Works
How many pieces have you written specifically for the cello?
Rain Worthington (RW)
I’ve written several pieces for solo cello. “Resolves” is on this album with a wonderful home studio recording by Carmine Miranda.
I also have two orchestra pieces on the album that highlight the cello. One is for cello soloist and orchestra called Full Circle, and the other one is called “Shadows of the Wind” for orchestra, and the principal cellist takes some solo lines in it.
I have composed a number of works for solo cello, including a duet of two cellos, and a piece for violin and cello. There are also a number of violin works that I want to have transcribed to cello. So if anyone is interested, I’m more than open to working with someone to do that.
One of the most recent pieces that I’ve heard by you, “Balancing on the Edge of Shadows,” for violin and piano was gorgeous. On hearing it, I thought, “This should be played on the cello.” But then I’m biased.
That piece is also on the CD. If anyone is inspired to contact me and work with me on a cello version of that, I’d love it.
Please tell us about some upcoming projects that you’re doing.
I’m going to do a violin/piano version of “In Passages” and eventually try to do viola and cello versions of that piece, because I really like it. But it’s the weirdest thing. During 2020, I wrote music. I was pretty productive in spite of everything. In 2021, I didn’t write anything. I don’t know why – I have no idea why I didn’t write anything. I was doing things. I was getting some performances, mostly virtually. But I just … I didn’t write anything.
And now I’ve just started writing again, I’ve started writing an orchestra piece. And I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s so scary and frightening. I don’t know what this is coming from, apart from the world just being crazy, and feeling a lot of anxiety. Or it’s post traumatic syndrome, or maybe just wondering how are things going to get better. I hope they’re going to.
I’m starting to feel lighter now, just in the past couple of days. I’ve been walking around without a mask, and that’s been really nice. And we’re going to New York to see some friends, and I’m feeling like it’s more possible to be social again. But they’re these heavy things still going on – just ongoing, ongoing, ongoing.
I think part of it is that I wanted this to be over. I wanted the pandemic to be over, and to get back to normal. But then you realize there are a lot of problems with “normal” right now. I think part of it is that.
The challenge of this piece is going to be to get some beauty and lightness into it. That’s what I’ve started writing, but because it was so frightening and upsetting in the beginning, it’s hard for me to go back there right now. But I’m going to go back to it, and I’m going to bring some lightness to it somehow.
Maybe, because you’re feeling more lightness in your world – in the non-composition world – maybe that’ll help turn a corner musically, as well, in terms of finding that lightness. That’s gonna make the whole thing more powerful, isn’t it? We don’t even have to go into what’s going on in the world right now. If you look around on most fronts, things are not looking great.
But I find in doing Cello Museum work, I am so privileged to get to talk to artists like you. You bring the light into my life, and then I’m hoping to help spread that farther, because I think it’s really important for people who may be floundering. Without music and the arts, all they see is this the scary, dangerous stuff, and there’s nothing to hold on to. Well, except for cellos.
You actually hold on to cellos.
It’s one of the only instruments you get to hug, which is one of the things I think is so magical about the cello. Another thing is that you feel your whole body vibrating as the body of the cello vibrates, too.
Music Connects People
We have to keep reminding ourselves how important music is, and how much it’s on this plane that goes above. It takes you to another place, and it lasts through centuries and centuries. I heard a Prokofiev piano concerto the other day, and just listening to it, knowing the state of Russia when he was composing this and how incredible it was that he composed it. Same with Shostakovich. Shostakovich kept the bag under his bed, thinking that any moment they would storm through his door and take him away, because he wrote something that they didn’t approve of. What you’re doing with the Cello Museum is incredible. And the reach – it’s so international. It’s a wonderful thing.
Thank you. I’m amazed at how quickly we have reached people. But as you say, music rises above everything. It rises above politics. And and especially somebody like Yo-Yo Ma has really brought this home to people by playing on both sides of a border, showing that there are people on both sides who love music, and that they can connect through music. Rather than focusing on what divides us, he makes us realize what brings us together. I think, now more than ever, this is the important thing.
The Cello Museum focus, obviously, is the cello, but you write for all the instruments, and I think music as a whole brings people together. It’s what connects us, and going back to what we were talking about before, we actually feel it; it’s a very primal thing. It’s an experience, rather than just an art form, and it is something we can experience together.
I really believe this is one of the things that defines us as humans. Other species do make some kinds of art and delight in some creative play. But I believe that human beings are the only species that tries to express the experience of life, and the feel of the experience of life through art, and communicates that. And that should bring us together.
How to Follow and Support Rain Worthington
- Twitter @rainworthington
- Purchase Passages Through Time
Rain Worthington Works That Feature the Cello
Solo and Duo Works
1. Resolves – for unaccompanied cello (5:30)
2. Steps in the Night – for cello (or double bass) (7:15)
- Audio (midi)
- Concert Video (bass version):
4. Mixed Times of Yearning – a miniature for cello (1:40)
- Audio (midi)
- Concert Video (viola version):
6. Configurations – duet for two low strings (2 cellists or cello & double bass) (3:15)
- Audio (midi)
- Concert video:
- Audio (midi)
- Confidentially – a duet for wind & string (3:25) (bsn, vc; cl or bass cl, vc)
- Audio (midi) (bsn, vc version)
1. Full Circle – for cello soloist and small orchestra (10:46)
- Instrumentation: 1111, 2000, timp, 2perc, vc soloist, strings
- CD Video: (Please see above.)
2. Shadows of the Wind – for small orchestra (12:30)
- Instrumentation: 1011, 2000, timp, 2perc & strings w/cello principal
- CD Video:
Enter Our Rain Worthington CD Giveaway
Enter for a chance to win an exclusive CD copy of Rain Worthington’s new album: Passages Through Time. (Only the digital version of the album is being sold online – not the CD.) The winner will receive a physical CD and an Aim for the Stars Cello Spiral Notebook. Two runners-up will each get one of our Cello Museum stickers in random prize drawings on 28 March. Only one entry per person, please.
This giveaway is now over. Thank you to all who entered. Congratulations to our winner and runners-up!
- Winner: Andrea, USA
- Debbie Davis, Chapel Hill, NC, USA
- Dr. Vanessa Fountain, Palm Springs, CA, USA
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