Rebecca Cole

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2000

In addition to working as a professional musician, you’ve also been a road-bicycle coach, the CFO of a sports-event corporation, and editor of a scientific journal, among other things. Looking back on all of your professional activities, what makes you proudest?
It’s hard to say, but one of the happiest moments was when I won the audition for the Nashville Symphony. My husband, Kenny Barnd, was already a member of orchestra, and I didn’t tell anyone at the audition who I was. When the audition committee found out that I was Kenny’s Rebecca, they came running into the room to congratulate me. More than specific accomplishments, I am proud that I have developed the determination and discipline to overcome obstacles, and that I have a talent for asking the questions no one thinks (or dares) to ask.

What led you to pursue music as your main career path?
My parents wanted me to be a scientist, but like most musicians, I fell so passionately in love with the violin and music that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Despite the fact that I’ve gone back to school and studied and done other things, I’ve always returned to music.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician, and what have you learned from them?
I’ve had the privilege of working with Helmuth Rilling, the main authority and interpreter of Bach’s music, for 17 summers at the Oregon Bach Festival. But there are two people who’ve had the most influence on me.

The first is Dudley Powers, conductor of Chicago Youth Symphony, who instilled in me the skills necessary to perform in a professional orchestra – skills that range from how to mark the music, to how to listen to your colleagues and be flexible. Playing in CYSO also gave me the opportunity to sit in on Chicago Symphony rehearsals with Georg Solti and watch them prepare for recordings.

The other person was my undergraduate teacher, Franco Gulli. When I studied with him, everyone just bought the one published edition of a piece. He would create his own editions from manuscripts, early ur-text editions. He taught me that you don’t make assumptions, you start from what the composer intended. He also taught me how to make musical decisions for myself, versus just playing the same interpretation as everyone else.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
It’s hard to say, because from the day I was brought home from the hospital, my father would do two things to put me to sleep: He would play chamber music recordings — Schubert’s Trout Quintet was his favorite — and he would read Shakespeare to me. Growing up, we had a big record cabinet, and there was always music playing in our house: classical, or jazz, even Broadway musicals. My father loved big band jazz. Whenever a new record came out, in any genre, he would run out and buy it and play it immediately.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
The first one I remember was a string quartet concert at a local college. I was about 4. My father would look for opportunities to attend performances at local colleges.

Do you have a favorite piece or pieces of repertoire that you’ve especially enjoyed performing with the Nashville Symphony?
I enjoy getting to know pieces by the great composers that aren’t performed as often. It’s interesting and refreshing to play different music, instead of just the same pieces — works like Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead and some of the Shostakovich symphonies that I’d never had the chance to play before.

What’s it like to go to work with your spouse every day? Do you play or practice together outside of the orchestra?
We don’t practice together. In fact, we drove our Realtor crazy because we wanted our practice rooms as far away as possible from each other, and most homes have bedrooms in the same area.

Every week, we are asking each other questions about a bowing, or an accidental that we’re not sure about. We’re constantly knocking on the other person’s practice room door, asking, “What’s in your part?” That’s really helpful — that way we don’t have to bug the music librarians so much!

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Like every string player, I’ve broken strings onstage. I did break a string and had no spare during a live broadcast from a festival. It was a really big stage, and that walk off the stage seemed to take about 10 years.

During a Baroque concert, the tailpiece gut on the violin I was playing broke in the middle of a piece. All of a sudden, the violin just exploded; the pegs, the bridge, the tailpiece, and the strings went flying up into the air with a huge bang. You could hear the pieces falling all over the church — and it was actually an instrument I had borrowed, not my own. I stood there, stunned, wondering what to do. Fortunately, another violinist who was not playing that piece rushed on and handed me his instrument.

Do you enjoy reading?
I actually spent this past summer finishing my first novel, the one I’ve been writing for five years. It’s a musical novel. Right now, I’m editing the second draft and doing lots of research. I have books for research stacked all over the house. It got so bad this summer that the librarians at the public library would kid me when another stack of books came in – “Here’s more light summer reading for you!”

The novel is called Memoir of a French Violin. It’s based on an instrument I owned. Unlike The Red Violin, this story is told entirely from the violin’s viewpoint. Since musical instruments have no eyesight and can’t walk, it makes it very difficult to use all the senses and to use the active voice. It’s like writing for a blind quadriplegic. Every good musical instrument has its own unique personality, and develops relationships. This book is about the relationships this violin has with her owners.

I just finished my second novel, through participating in my first NaNoWriMo (Nation Novel Writing Month). I completed the challenge, which is to write a novel, at least 50,000 words in length, all within the 30 days of November. This novel also has music as a centerpiece, but it is a fantasy.

When I read for pleasure, I try to read the bestsellers that are getting good reviews. I’m always trying to learn more of what makes a successful book, what gets published and why. I read just about everything except pulp romance. I always have at least five or six books on my phone.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
That’s too difficult for me to choose.

If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
My first thought was Mozart, then Rameau, then Fanny Mendelssohn, and then Bartók, and I just kept adding more. So I think I would need to have a dinner party.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
There are two states of the United States that I’ve never seen: Alaska and Hawaii. And I’d like to go back to Europe; I’ve been there several times, but with the violin for work. I’d like to go back without the violin so I can actually be a tourist.