Rachel Barton Pine Brings Metal Intensity to Classical Music

If pressed to come up with the metal version of classical music's "Big Three", Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, a performer who's well versed in both styles, has got it covered.

"You can't leave off Sabbath, because they were the first metal band from which everything derived, but for me, I'm a thrash girl, so Megadeth, Anthrax, and early Metallica," the violinist laughs. "That's my music."

Though she'll be performing selections by Bach, Mohammed Fairouz, Paganini, and more at her upcoming Friday, September 21, performance at the Musical Instrument Museum, she's down to rock, too, recording and touring with Earthern Grave, which draws from doom and thrash metal traditions.

"We have fast parts and slow parts," she says, "which allows our songs to have more scope. Sort of like Sabbath meets Slayer."

While the sweeping virtuosity of prog-metal is the clearest indication of metal's relationship with classical music, Barton Pine says the connection goes deeper than just an appreciation for technical skill.

"So many of the metal sub-genres are very influenced by classical, both the shredder virtuosity [drawn from the] violin tradition, as well the Romantic-era symphonic composers, just what they did orchestrally [in bringing that kind of] intensity and power to the music inspired other metal composers. It all kinds of makes sense," Barton Pine says. "There's a surprising number of music listeners who listen to metal and classical and nothing else. My interests are wide ranging, I love early music, folk music, Chicago blues, all kinds of different stuff, but the message I like to spread to my fellow rock fans is, 'If you love rock but you haven't discovered classical, it's not a mutually exclusive kind of a thing.'" Culturally, though, Barton Pine acknowledges that it can be difficult to convince fans of either genre to put aside preconceived notions and step to the other side.

"Some of my classical friends will be like, 'I really want to check out your band, but I'm scared to go to one of those rock clubs," she laughs. "Some of my rock friends will say, 'I really love listening to classical music, but I feel a little intimidated to go to a classical concert because I don't own a suit and tie.' Just put on a pair of slacks and a shirt -- not everyone is going to be wearing a suit and tie. People just have these misconceptions that aren't actually true. You can enjoy a rock concert where you don't know the analysis of the chord changes or history of the band, or what bands are considered to be their predecessors, you know? You don't have to know any of that musicological stuff to enjoy rock music, so why would you have to know any of that to enjoy classical music?"

Does that mean that in 100 years people will still be listening to Ride the Lightning? It's hard to say, but right now, Barton Pine feels comfortable indulging both musical realms.

"One of [main misconceptions] is that because classical music was made such a long time ago that it doesn't have relevance to our life," Barton Pine says. "That's totally not true. We still feel very close to classic rock -- Zeppelin, The Doors -- I grew up with that stuff, and I wasn't alive during the 1960s. There's are lots of dead composers who's music we still feel has a lot of meaning in our lives (even Kurt Cobain). Good music is good music when it's really timeless."

Rachel Barton Pine is scheduled to perform Friday, September 21, at the Musical Instrument Museum.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.