Enriching audiences through pre-concert lectures


She teaches music at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is the founder and artistic director of a unique chamber music group, delivers the popular pre-concert lectures for the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and finds the time to raise her 5-year-old son.

Rachel Franklin's life is driven by her passions.

Franklin has been doing the pre-concert lectures with the ASO for seven years, and symphony President Lee Streby said he is exploring ways to expand the orchestra's music education program with her.

"I can't imagine anyone more talented, engaging and knowledgeable than Dr. Franklin providing this important and much-loved service to the community," Streby said. "The audience responds warmly to Rachel's style and considers her talks to be a highlight of an evening with us."

Franklin illustrates her lectures, which are usually filled to capacity, at the piano, often making it sound like an entire orchestra filled with expressive fullness, high drama and color. In addition to her playing and wide-ranging knowledge, Franklin spices her lectures with humor, quoting wits ranging from Oscar Wilde to Woody Allen.

What does this Silver Spring wife of jazz bass guitarist and scientist Jonathan Miles Brown and mother to Raphael do when not educating audiences to enjoy concerts more fully? She teaches, concertizes and is the founder and artistic director of SONOS, a chamber group that Franklin formed "to blur the edges between classical and jazz genres."

The ensemble made its debut in 2003-2004 in a series of sold-out concerts at Strathmore Mansion. Described by Franklin as "chamber music with a twist," SONOS concerts have featured concertos for two pianos and a variety of instruments seamlessly mixing Brahms and Basie to explore the links between classical chamber works and jazz improvisation.

A Pro Musicis International Award winner who has performed at Carnegie Recital Hall, Franklin has concertized in Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Canada and throughout the United States. Her performances have been broadcast on BBC Radio, WNYC in New York and WJHU in Baltimore and featured on National Public Radio. She has also recorded a compact disc of music by Chopin and others.

At UMBC, Franklin teaches piano majors and talented piano minors.

"It's a small, extremely hands-on and active music department," she said. "Students usually enter my studio gifted but pretty unsophisticated. When they leave four years later, they are performing major solo and chamber music works and have participated in a ton of student concerts and performance opportunities. My aim is to enable them to sound like themselves at the highest level they are able."

In a recent conversation, Franklin shared her passion: "Music is not an exclusionary art. It begs involvement. I'm endlessly fascinated by the way these composers reach out to us through the centuries, asking us to engage with them, with their complicated and frequently difficult lives, their relentless drive to create music that will last and speak to us now.

"Uniquely, musicians get to inhabit the composer's hands, to play what they were playing and thus know what they were thinking. I'm very passionate about passing this on to my audiences and students. I want them to know that by the very act of listening, they are personally connecting with the composer, and the more I can tell them about the music, why and how it was written, what was the history surrounding it, the composer's life, everything that could fill out the picture, the richer the experience will be.

"I'm always telling my students the music is dead on the page until they play it. Have courage and play it the best that you can. Beethoven wants to talk to you, and he needs us to talk to his audience."

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