In the spirit of our approaching "Flight" concert, we asked violinist Rachel Conklin to talk about being both a musician and pilot.
Rachel Conklin with a single engine Cessna 172
My name is Rachel Conklin, I am a violinist in the Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra and when I’m not playing my violin, you might find me at the Hudson Valley Regional Airport getting ready to fly a single engine Cessna 172.
I like to watch the reaction of someone I’ve just met when I tell them that I play violin and also fly airplanes for fun. They usually exclaim on how different those two pursuits are. On the surface level I can see what they mean, but what most people don’t realize is there are connections to my two passions. The skills required to play an instrument and fly an aircraft have marked similarities, from precision and multitasking to listening and fine motor skills.
Music helps describe what I can’t always put into words. Anyone who has tried to explain a piece of music, or tried to describe the sight from the Empire State building or at the top of a mountain can understand what I mean. Most of the time, when someone listens to a piece of music, you don’t just try to describe what you’ve heard, you have your audience listen as well! Both music and the art of flying seem to transcend language, they can move your soul in ways that are both unique and powerful.
2018 EAA Airventure Oshkosh, WI - Sitting in WWII era Corsair
That’s why I’m particularly excited for our next program "Flight" on March 30th at the Culinary Institute of America. The Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra is combining my two passions into one event. Here we will not only listen to old favorites alluding to flight, but also experience a newer work featuring the Wright brothers story of flight as told by their supportive sister, Katherine.
I’m an active pilot and have been flying gliders and single engine airplanes since 2006. After attending college and acquiring my Bachelors and Masters degrees in music performance, I’ve picked up my flight training again with the intent of becoming a flight instructor in the next few months.
I maintain active memberships in various aviation organizations, and being a woman pilot, I’m also a member of The Ninety-Nine’s. Founded in 1929 in New York by 99 women pilots, with notable members like Amelia Earhart and Marjorie Stinson, the 99’s has become an international organization with the intent to support women pilots and promote advancement through education while sharing our passion for flight.
Rachel tows gliders with this grinning airplane at Wurtsboro Airport, the Vietnam era Cessna O-1 BirdDog.
In reality, flying musicians aren’t all that uncommon (relatively speaking!). Through the years I’ve come across a number of pilots with various musical backgrounds. I have a friend on the bagpipes who is training for her pilot’s license, a chamber musician who plays viola in several groups, a couple of rock and roll friends, and a French hornist who was my FAA examiner by administering my check ride and ultimately giving me my private pilot certificate in gliders. There’s even an association called the Flying Musicians Association that was formed over 10 years ago. The music genre doesn’t matter, put us all in a room together and we will talk through the night about airplanes, memorable flights, or last weekend’s music gig.
If you’ve ever considered what it might be like to fly in a small airplane, then I would say to try it out. After all, you won’t know until you’ve tried it if you’ll like it. My first flight at age 14 started out with tears of fright, and upon becoming airborne those tears were forgotten and I was hooked. It doesn’t even matter that I’m afraid of heights. The Hudson Valley is rich in opportunities to experience flight, in a variety of ways and is a picturesque area to enjoy from the air. So who knows, maybe you’ll find a new passion while enjoying a view and new experience.