University of Rochester

‘Marshalling’ Grand Plans

Rochester’s newest Marshall Scholar—composer and trumpet player Rachel Kincaid ’08E— looks to music to ‘expand people’s way of thinking.’ By David Andreatta

As a composer with a conscience, Rachel Kincaid ’08E has impressed musicians around the world. This fall her passion for harmonizing music and social justice won over judges of the prestigious Marshall Scholarships.

The 21-year-old trumpet player and applied music major has been named a Marshall Scholar, and with it, guaranteed herself two years of fully funded study in the United Kingdom to write music that she hopes will move her audience to confront social ills.

“I want to use music to expand people’s way of thinking, to make them think about something that they wouldn’t otherwise,” says Kincaid, who cites Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima among her inspirations.

“No one can listen to that piece and know the title and not think about the moral implications of using nuclear technology,” she says. “Whether it changes people’s opinions or not, it at least makes them think about it.”

She evidently got a lot of people thinking about her potential for a Marshall Scholarship when she proposed the notion of writing music that could influence listeners to tackle poverty, war, environmental troubles, and other social ills.

A committee of Rochester faculty and administrators nominated Kincaid for the scholarship.

“Music is not just art for art’s sake for Rachel,” says Belinda Redden, director of fellowships in the College Center for Academic Support who sat on the committee and helped Kincaid prepare her application for the scholarship. “She wants to be exposed to the larger world in a very serious way. This is not somebody paying lip service to a noble concept.”

Douglas Lowry, dean of the Eastman School, says Kincaid is a shining example of the school’s philosophy of “making music matter.”

Where Are They Now?

‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Opportunity

Thuy Phung ’88, ’99M (MD/PhD), the last Rochester student to be named a Marshall Scholar, expects that Rachel Kincaid ’08E will find that her time studying in the United Kingdom will be much more than an opportunity to become a better scholar.

“I am sure that no matter what path she chooses to pursue in her life and career, the next two years as a Marshall Scholar will leave an indelible and positive impact in her life,” says Phung, a pathologist and biomedical research scientist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. “I encourage her to use this opportunity not only to pursue her specific academic interests in depth but also to live and experience the cultural and human richness that her place of study has to offer.”

“The Marshall Scholarship gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend two years living and studying in another country and to pursue my academic studies and research in immunology at one of the top universities in Europe.”

Phung, a molecular biology major at Rochester, was a Marshall Scholar from 1989 to 1991 at Oxford University, where she earned a master’s degree in immunology before enrolling in the MD/PhD program at Rochester.

At Oxford, she met with prominent scientific leaders, but also had the chance to attend lectures by writers, social theorists, and others.

“While at the University of Rochester, I was single-mindedly focused on my academic interests in molecular biology,” Phung says. “At Oxford, I was drawn into numerous political, social, literary, and artistic events that greatly stimulated my formative mind and made long-lasting impressions in my life.”

“Her initiative and creativity give her the edge to produce work that will enrich not only musical life, but the lives people live as well,” Lowry says.

The Marshall Scholarship program was established in 1953 by the British Parliament as a gesture to the United States for assistance received after World War II under the Marshall Plan. The scholarships award American undergraduates and recent college graduates with two years of study at any university in the United Kingdom.

Kincaid was one of just 37 winners of the scholarship and the first Rochester student to earn the distinction since 1988.

“As someone whose intelligence, creativity, and drive know no bounds, Rachel represents the best of what the University has to offer,” says President Joel Seligman. “The faculty and administrators who have worked with her have been aware of these attributes for some time, and we are delighted that they have been recognized by the judges of the Marshall Scholarships.”

Ray Raymond, chairman of the New York Marshall Regional Selection Committee, calls Kincaid’s musical compositions “strikingly original, socially relevant sound pictures.”

“Rachel has that rare combination of academic and personal excellence, outstanding academic ability, grace, modesty, and maturity,” Raymond says. “Her potential is limitless.”

Kincaid will begin a one-year master’s degree program in trumpet performance next fall at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England, and start work on a second master’s degree in music composition the following year at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

The journey will not be her first studying music abroad.

She spent last year at the renowned Freiburg Musikhochschule in Germany through the Eastman Conservatory Exchange Program, an experience that led Swiss music publisher Editions BIM to agree to publish six of her compositions and future works.

A native of Wooster, Ohio, where she sang in a Lutheran church choir and first picked up a trumpet in the fifth grade, Kincaid was well into high school before she considered studying music in college in addition to furthering an interest in political science.

“Most students at Eastman knew by the time they were 10 that they wanted to be musicians,” says Kincaid, who has composed pieces at the request of Eastman faculty. “I didn’t think about it until I was a junior in high school.”

The opportunity to study in Germany last year prompted Kincaid to forgo pursuing a degree in political science, but an interest in public policy and social responsibility forged six years ago on a family visit to Guatemala remains intact.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Kincaid says of the 2001 trip. “The hotel was magnificent with gardens and fountains, but on the next street windows had barbed wire on them and you could sense there was a lot of violence.”

She further cultivated her awareness of social issues by joining the debate team in high school, and offered free music lessons to a talented student who couldn’t afford to pay.

That Kincaid has taken to making her music relevant to global affairs came as no surprise to Jack Gallagher, a professor of music at the College of Wooster who taught Kincaid privately for four years and whom Kincaid credits with fostering her interest in music.

“She was extraordinarily serious-minded about her ambitions, and she brings that to every aspect of her pursuits,” he says

Kincaid plans to spend time over her career performing aid work and teaching music in developing countries. The experience, she hopes, will enable her to study native musical traditions and integrate them into her own music as a way of connecting her audiences to various cultures.

David Andreatta writes about student life for the University Communications Office.