Scenes from the City: Rachel Miller
Written by Abby McGuire. Photography by Abby McGuire.
I think it may be the first time I’m on time to anything with a coffee already in my hand. The weather outside reminds me that even on holidays, Ohio doesn’t always like to celebrate the right way; it is the summer solstice and it is raining. But as I wait for my company, I know I will still have something like sun to shine on my day: Rachel Miller walks in the door and the room brightens. She spends time with the barista, thinking about what she wants and cracking jokes, and I smile knowing we’re about to have a great conversation.
I first heard about Rachel from a dear friend, Laura, who happens to be her sister and self-proclaimed manager – as in, she fiercely supports her sister’s creative endeavors.
Our conversation went something like this:
Laura: “Oh yeah, Rachel plays the harp.”
Me: *Passes out just thinking about what it means to pursue playing such a beautiful instrument.*
This is how it started: I had to meet her and so I did. I knew it took someone special to play something so pure, and I was right. Rachel is so much more than a musician.
There is a wild magic out there that whispers in the ear of very few people, pushing them to find their purpose in life. Rachel is a prime example of this magic. She explains to me that, at the age of 3, she already knew she wanted something to do with the harp after seeing one for the first time. It didn’t happen right away because of the niche nature of instrument – finding the right teacher took a few years – but on her 8th birthday she was introduced to her first harp.
I knew it took someone special to play something so pure, and I was right. Rachel is so much more than a musician.
While she tells her story, the movement of her hands brings me shivers to think that those hands move across a 6-foot instrument that has been around for hundreds of years.
She tells me that the harp has a way of carrying this unfolding history: It isn’t just playing classical music of the past; it is preserving these sacred sounds that have been around long before us. It is clear I am out of my element, but I hang onto every word as she describes the true nature of music. But Rachel doesn’t speak of anything in terms of just music; she speaks on the level of all creative things.
She says she’s spent a lot of time contemplating what it means to be a creative, and I can see this is what makes her so strong. We talk about how creativity is purposeful and disciplined, a language of emotion. Rachel embodies and practices these things; it’s apparent when she tells me about her students.
She tries to help them understand what it means to be a part of something that takes courage, what is means to share it, and how it helps us un-layer ourselves along the way. She believes the raw emotion music brings to our lives is childlike, and shares how amazing it is to see people react in unexpected ways. It opens our hearts; how can we not fall in love something like that? If we can create anything, she says, it is our duty to do so. I agree with her and then question myself and what I’m doing for the world. She has a way of pulling things out of me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
The thing is, people don’t want to try because there is failure, but in her eyes I can see she is not afraid of anything that human. She understands that a true artist’s vision changes over time, and she isn’t afraid to let go of that exact dream to pursue a new vision. Rachel explains that if we find ourselves troubled by anger or intense emotions, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom we find in creating, so she dives into every emotion before moving on.
Over the past two years, in her CCAC studio and across the country, she has allowed herself to explore her sound. Although Rachel has loved being an orchestral musician, the challenge of exploring creativity deeper lit a fire in her. She realized putting herself in uncomfortable positions allowed her to flourish in new ways, and I can hear those changes in her voice.
Rachel was given a grant to further her exploration as an experimental harpist, to later play in the Dutch Harp Festival and move up a few rounds. She practices her individualism with a funk drummer named Brandon Vitruls and other musicians across the country.
Her idea and experience with collaboration must be organic, she tells me, but I think it would be impossible for anyone to have an interaction with her that isn’t. She has left pieces of her heart with the people she creates this “magic” with, and yet her heart is still so full.
After the iced coffees disappear, I can’t help but want more time to gush over intentional creativity with Rachel, but I know I will see her sometime soon. There’s a magic that follows her I don’t want to forget. When she leaves, I think about something she mentioned earlier about the uncharted nature of life, and how exciting it can be to discover. Now, I think I understand how free we all are to find ourselves challenged by the happy unknown.
Have a woman in mind that Abby should chat with? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, check out past Scenes from the City columns and stay tuned for more of the city's hidden gems on the first Saturday of every month.