MUSE/IQUE Artistic Director Rachael Worby brings the Pasadena community together through live music.
BY: Sara Smola
I first experienced the Rachael Worby effect, on Cal Tech’s Beekman Lawn at one of summer’s most lauded musical events, MUSE/IQUE’s Summer of Sound Series. From the moment Worby took her place with baton in hand, I (along with the rest of the audience) became captivated—with the music, as well as Worby’s contagious energy that flowed throughout the evening.
MUSE/IQUE’S Summer of Sound isn’t just a concert—it’s a multidimensional experience as envisioned by Worby herself, who is both MUSE/IQUE’s founder and creative director. A larger than life personality, with a multitude of conducting accomplishments, national and international recognition, Worby is easily one of Pasadena’s top boundary-breaking visionaries.
In the popular summer series, Worby conducts not only her orchestra but also collaborates with dancers and singers, all while weaving sound bites, popular culture references, science and art into a poignant thematic performance that usually pays homage to a music legend (past notables include George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein).
The maestra first arrived to Pasadena to take a position as guest conductor for the Pasadena POPS orchestra and shortly after, was invited to become music director of the POPS, a position which Worby “proudly and happily held for many years.” After joyously leading the POPS for a decade, Worby wanted a change. “I really felt it was the perfect time for me to move onward and find fresh paths of exploration and several members of the community asked me to stay and create something that might not be otherwise available to them here and thus was born MUSE/IQUE,” explains Worby.
MUSE/IQUE, a non profit organization, is a self-proclaimed counter-conventional orchestra with the central goal of making live music accessible to everyone. A goal Worby is determined to measure up to. “I envisioned a live arts organization which would empower people through this common lifting up of about what it would mean to be culturally literate,” says Worby. “I took a huge page out of the life of Leonard Bernstein, the whole encyclopedia of Lenard Bernstein, who believed so deeply in the possibility of lifting up entire communities through the arts. So we built MUSE/IQUE to be an arts organization which would give people an opportunity to not just experience the arts but experience themselves in new ways.”
Worby and MUSE/IQUE’s mission to bring music to the masses has succeeded, with the organization serving over 30,000 people since its inception in 2011 and continues to grow. No one is left out; the music experience is not dependent upon age or income with several shows throughout the year for the sole purpose of musical inclusion. The Free/For All performances, MUSE/IQUE’s two live family-friendly events are likened to a community dance party, held in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Much like the name suggests, the event is free for all and anyone of all ages because Worby believes that community engagement is the heart of the inspiration behind MUSE/IQUE. She says, “I think that my greatest passion and possibly my greatest talent is to help people feel powerful and smart, and less left out. I’m so tired of people feeling left out of the arts because they feel that they don’t know enough about them but rather, I think the joy is in the power of the learning and that’s what I’ve done my whole career and that’s what MUSE/IQUE was made to do—to motivate listeners to want to learn more and be their best selves.”
But Worby doesn’t leave it at that, Worby dedication to sharing her passion with others and desire to create a lasting impact on the community—especially those less privileged—led to the creation of KIDS/IQUE, a musical immersion program that provides musical experiences to over 600 foster children and at-risk youth. “Our KIDS/IQUE program, in which we engage the young people who live in residential foster care treatment facilities and also who live in unexpected places around the San Gabriel Valley and have lives which are challenging and disenfranchised are reached through our emersion program. We don’t just see these kids here once in a blue moon, we’re there every other week where we bring artists who are dancers, painters, singers, spoken word poets, violinists, gospel singers, we bring choirs and modern dance troupes, rock bands….just as a way to say to all of these young people, ‘Yes, great live music is a basic human right. Your voice is a basic human right, rise up and use it,’” says Worby, who was recently awarded a Community Angel Award by Hillsides for her commitment and dedication to sharing her love and knowledge of music.
But her triumphs were not without their trials. Building her conducting career at a time when women were not conductors, Worby admits that people were highly dismissive. “Nobody quite was able to make the leap to my desire to [conduct] but that was also because women were rarely, at the time, in leadership positions. At the time it was difficult for people to imagine a woman as a music director, it’s more easy now but it’s still far from common,” she admits.
Worby muses, “I think being a woman in a leadership is its own triumph and I’m deeply proud of every path I’ve walked and all the seeds I’ve sewn. [I used to] imagine myself being able to able to grow up and be Leonard Bernstein and as we come upon the celebration of his 100th birthday, I’m…,” Worby pauses, “glad to be me.”