OVER the years I’ve attended several musical events put on by Rachael Worby, a human dynamo who has operated several series in and around Pasadena. Worby — who was once, I think, the First Lady of West Virginia — seems interested in something both populist and unorthodox, and the new season of her series MUSE/IQUE launches this weekend.
What follows is our recent correspondence.
We’re getting close to the opening of the fall season of MUSE/IQUE. This is an unconventional series in some ways, with its mix of genres and often, a variety of locations. What does MUSE/IQUE aim to do?
Everything we do is centered on our belief that all human beings deserve the opportunity to have their imaginations and understanding expanded through live music.
We imagine (and we encourage our community to imagine) the whole city as our venue, and we combine music, movement, and ideas from a diverse range of genres. These unconventional methods are carefully chosen to make the experiences highly energetic and accessible. Each event has new concept with a unique layout and an unexpected setlist. Even the most frequent of MUSE/IQUE guests does not know exactly how the evening will progress. The sense of exploration and discovery is palpable, and it works as a great equalizer that tears down insecurities about not knowing what to do – insecurities that I have found to be one of the most common barriers for many who are new to live performances. Whether you have a deep knowledge of music and the arts, or you have never been to a fine arts experience, you will walk away feeling empowered and love yourself and the world around you more.
I am excited to share our upcoming series, five events exploring the unstoppable, incomparable power of songs sung together. Most of us are bred from childhood to sing. It is a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage and feeling the music seep into you. That feeling of connection never leaves us. This upcoming year we want to bring everyone closer using everything from the ditties we sing in our cars to crazy, wild, expressive experimentation to the twinkling, twinkling wonder of songs about space.
What was your early exposure to music and culture, and why did it end up mattering so much to you?
I grew up in a home filled to the brim with music: everything from Mozart, Paul Simon, Ella Fitzgerald, the Beatles, Thelonious Monk, and so many others. My father had a voracious love that he shared with all of us. I was captivated. My mother wisely nurtured that passion with discipline. When I was five years old, I began piano lessons, and my mother made sure I practiced every day.
In the most natural way, I experienced the power of music. For me, it transformed from a beautiful, everyday household element to an instrument of expression, storytelling, and activism.
And, of course, there’s my first crush, Leonard Bernstein…
Your summer season included an event dedicated to Leonard Bernstein, whose centenary this is; he’s important for your own biography and worldview, I think. Give us a sense of why he matters to you, and to the world of culture in general.
My life’s purpose was defined at eight years old when I attended a Young People’s Concert at Carnegie Hall for the first time and experienced the marvel of Leonard Bernstein. He was young, articulate, funny, and brilliant. At that moment, I decided that I, too, would strive to expand imagination and understanding through music. That resolve only strengthened when I saw him apply those talents in his activism.
Bernstein was an educator who celebrated the unlimited capacity in all of us as well as a counter-revolutionary whose talent was cloaked in kindness and generosity. His accessibility is his greatest gift to us.
You’ve lived and worked in several parts of the country. How does Southern California in general and Pasadena and specific compare to other regions, in terms of its artistic community, audience taste, and climate for funding/philanthropy? Is there something you’d like to see more of here?
I feel thrilled to call this beautiful city my home. We often refer to it as a “hub” for the arts because there is both a supply and great demand for everything from classical to more experimental work. Live music is thriving across the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles from the Cal State LA Luckman Theater to Downtown LA’s Colburn School to the newly-built art space at Arcadia High School. That does not even begin to cover the Music Center (including Disney Hall and the Dorothy Chandler) or the Ambassador Auditorium or the young artists coming out of USC.
Audience expectations are certainly very high, but I have found that is usually the case everywhere I go!
Other metropolitan areas such as New York and even Minneapolis rank much higher than Los Angeles when comparing the amount of contributed revenue their nonprofit arts and cultural organizations receive. I would love for Los Angeles to further develop that level of dynamic fundraising among our citizens and corporations.
Can you pick an event or two – not the whole season, please – coming up and tell us why we should look forward to it?
Our upcoming series explores the unstoppable power of songs, and we begin this fall with two very different events CAR/TUNES on October 28 and SINGING/STORIES on December 2. We love our cars – especially here in Los Angeles – and there is no limit to the inspiration they have provided for many a songwriter. Think about the first time you bought a car for yourself. Whether it was a shiny, luxurious sports car or a secondhand clunker, at that moment, you were dreaming of the places you would visit and all the possibilities now that you had this car. In CAR/TUNES, we will remember and reignite our hopes and dreams.
By contrast, SINGING/STORIES is a more personal journey about storytelling. Music has a special power to fill in a story and add depth to it. MUSE/IQUE’s blending of genres and artistic styles will tell our collective story through many different varied perspectives.
You’ve said that the arts are a civil right. Why are they so important?
The arts are oxygen for the imagination. If you can imagine a world different from your own, you develop your ambition – the drive to reach for goals perhaps beyond that of your current circumstances – and empathy – the ability to comprehend people who may be different from you. These two qualities combined define what humanity should be. By investing in the arts, we empower our citizens to change the world for the better.