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RACINE — Walking into the room for rehearsal, Rachel Christensen didn’t know or recognize anyone.

“I sat down nervous and confined,” Christensen said. “And the girl next to me was like ‘Hi, I’m Olivia,’ and I’m like, ‘This is great, somebody is nice to me.’”

Rachel, an incoming freshman at Case High School, was in New York City to perform in the Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall presented by WorldStrides in June.

Surrounded by other students her age from around the country, Rachel began to relax and make friends with some of the other performers.

“We could talk about the day, talk about if we’re nervous or not, calm each other down, give each other advice,” Rachel said. “It was like a mini-support group.”

Soak it in

When she was accepted to perform in the concert, Rachel was sent music to learn just a short time before making the trip to the Big Apple.

“We thought it was really difficult music and she had less than two months to learn it and we thought ‘Wow, she really had her work cut out for her,’” said her mother, Liz Christensen.

Leading up to the performance, Rachel’s parents, Liz and David, made sure she didn’t get lost in the moment.

“We talked to her in-depth about ‘don’t just go up there and play and leave,’” Liz said. “You’re at Carnegie Hall. That has a history and you really need to soak it in when you’re up there and say ‘Look at where I am.’”

Musical family

Liz and her husband, David Christensen, met as music students at Park High School and are currently percussionists in the Racine Symphony Orchestra.

Both of them admit they’ve never played in Carnegie Hall, but they are proud of the growth Rachel has made.

“I can remember when Rachel was growing up,” David said. “From her first recitals to her latest recitals, to see the progress she’s made is really something else.”

When Rachel was 4 years old her parents sat her in front of a piano so she could get the basics of reading music and playing an instrument.

“When you first start you’re not very good, and you’re afraid to put yourself out there,” Rachel said.

Several years later Rachel picked up the violin, following in her mother’s footsteps.

“I really wanted to play her violin, I would ask her every day ‘Can you get your violin out?’” Rachel said. “And when she brought it out it was too big for me and so I pretended to hold it and play the open strings.”

Now she has the confidence to play in front of strangers or to walk up to a random piano in room and start playing.

Coming from a family of musicians, Rachel’s exposure to music happened before she was born.

“When I was pregnant with her we were playing in the symphony,” Liz said. “The orchestra would start to tune (the instruments) and she would start kicking like crazy.”

As a child, Rachel would go with her parents to their performances and rehearsals, always watching from backstage.

“Hopefully she would get the feel and the experience of being backstage and get to like that experience of performing,” David said.

Although Rachel has grown a lot since those days, some things never change.

“Now that I’m older, they want me to sit out in front during their concerts with the audience,” Rachel said. “I don’t like to (sit there) because I’m used to sitting on or behind the stage.”

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Reporter

Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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