Throughout her four years as a University of Cincinnati student, Rachel Walker has split her time between the United States and China to study music. She hopes to create an arts organization that serves as a bridge between the two countries and now, as a newly named Schwarzman Scholar, her goal is nearly in sight.
Walker, who graduated in the fall of 2016 from CCM with a BM in composition, will join students from 30 countries and 75 universities as a member of the second class of Schwarzman Scholars. The new international program is designed to shape future leaders by giving students a better understanding of the changing geopolitical landscape. It funds travel costs, a stipend and one-year tuition for a master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
This won’t be Walker’s first trip to Beijing. As a sophomore at CCM, Walker began teaching herself Mandarin and was encouraged by Professor Emeritus Joel Hoffman to spend a year studying traditional music at the China Conservatory.
“This experience, in addition to trips to Taiwan and Beijing on grants from the UC Research Council and CCMpower [a volunteer fundraising organization] respectively, have made an unspeakable impact on me as a person and an artist,” Walker says. “I have been researching Chinese instruments and collaborating extensively in Beijing, but have felt an increasing need to broaden my understanding of China past the traditional music world alone.”
She worked with UC’s Office of Nationally Competitive Awards and the Office of the Provost to prepare her application for the Schwarzman Scholarship. Three hundred semifinalists were invited for in-person interviews before international panels composed of CEOs, former heads of state, university presidents, non-profit executives and other global leaders narrowed the selection to the 129 Schwarzman Scholars. Eileen Strempel, UC's Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, helped coach Walker for the interview.
“Working with Rachel was a delight,” says Strempel, who is an operatic soprano as well as an academic. “She is an exciting composer who is determined to move music from a passive experience into a global community-building exercise. Her vision, distinctive creativity and perseverance position her perfectly to make the most of the Schwarzman Award.”
Walker was chosen after a rigorous selection process that evaluated leadership skills, academic ability and strength of character. As a Schwarzman Scholar, she will pursue a MA in Management of Global Affairs with a concentration in Public Policy. She wants to expand her network and leadership skills by learning more about how businesses and arts organizations run in China.
“The prestige of this award demonstrates to the world that the UC experience gives students the tools they need to compete with the best in the world,” says UC Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Honors Program, Raj Mehta. “We are proud that Rachel’s success and her future work will continue to build upon the global reach and reputation of our university.”
After the scholarship she plans to start a new organization that creates more dialogue between the new music and folk music worlds in China and the United States. Walker has experience in creating and running an arts organization. In 2015, she and another CCM composition student, Ivan Alexander Moscotta, founded Cincinnati Soundbox — a chamber music series aimed at diversifying the Queen City’s music scene with works from local and national composers.
Walker will continue her musical research while in Beijing and hopes to write more compositions that utilize Chinese instruments. Her composition I touched the ground while floating away uses the pipa, a pear-shaped instrument sometimes called the Chinese lute, and the yangqin, a Chinese hammered dulcimer. The piece is available for streaming below; more of Walker’s work is featured on her website, www.rachelcwalker.com.
“I’m humbled by this opportunity and am excited to return to Beijing,” Walker says of her acceptance into the Schwarzman Scholars program. “It’s been a nice surprise as I close out my time at CCM.”