Printer-friendly version
Laurie Niles

Chicago Trib's piece on Rachel Barton Pine

April 4, 2008 at 7:16 PM

Many of you likely have read the riveting story about Rachel Barton Pine that was in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune. Rachel is a member of who blogs regularly here. The story tells of her 13-year recovery -- physically, emotionally and professionally -- from a terrible train accident that destroyed her left leg.

I thought Howard Reich did a fantastic job of reporting and putting together this piece, but both Robert and I were disturbed by what happened to it once it went online: both in how it was packaged and in the comments that were made. In fact, it prompted Robert to write a blog called It's time for the newspaper industry to die. Robert edits an online journalism review for the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. I invite you to read it and share your thoughts!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 4, 2008 at 7:43 PM
Wow! What an inspirational yet sad piece. Thanks for sharing it.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 4, 2008 at 8:48 PM
I thought Reich's piece was great. I tend to avoid comment sections in general, because people can get nasty with the cloak of anonymity.
From Ray Randall
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 12:58 AM
I also wonder why the Tribune staff didn't step in and set the record straight. Are they afraid of a lawsuit?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 1:52 AM
It's because they don't see it as their obligation. As a former newspaper reporter, I can tell you that when you write a traditional story for a newspaper, the process ends when you submit the story. Then it is printed in the paper, and unless there is a letter to the editor, that's the end of the story. It simply goes into print.

But the Internet is far more interactive. If you write a story and post it online along with an invitation to comment, then your story is not over until the last comment is made. Newspaper editors and reporters are so accustomed to the old way, I think that many of them don't even see this.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 2:24 AM
Get with it, newspapers!

I was going to read the comments after somebody pointed them out, but I forgot to. I can guess what they were. They probably came from things the defendant's attorneys said which stuck in the public mind, regardless of what the jury eventually decided.

By the same token you could argue that once the paper has printed the story, they've done their job, just as always, and the rest, including logical critical thinking, is the reader's responsibility. That's especially true if a paper is recognized as authoritative. The paper shouldn't have to, and perhaps shouldn't, in effect add to the article after it's published. You're allowed to require a lot from readers. I'm not sure you should hand hold those don't believe it, or who never heard of the Tribune for that matter.

About the original article, when I read it I was thinking that the kind of ability that enabled Rachel to come back is the same thing that's required to overcome the odds in the first place.

From al ku
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 3:47 AM
it is kinda a d it you do, d it you don't situation. there are people out there, with agendas, with issues, with motives, with incomplete upstairs, with no life, that no moderator can contain, be it in the newspaper's blog or blog elsewhere. with some things, only time can fade the edges. very often, the more you engage a maniac, the more you have to lose. so cut the loss and move on.
From Eric Godfrey
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 5:02 AM
Al says it well. Some comments of my own nonetheless:
From Robert Niles' blog:

Nowhere in the comments section, however, did readers hear anything from a staffer at the Tribune. No one with that authority stepped in to admonish the rude, correct those who posted wrong information, or to respond to those who had questions about the story. Without that leadership, the Tribune lost the opportunity to forge a community based on these readers' common interest in this engaging story. Readers were left just to argue among themselves. The hostility and confusion in this article's comments section reflected upon the Tribune's credibility, to that member of my wife's website. She, and other readers, saw a leader-less debate.

I can't really blame the Tribune. Try reading comments in the or about any major news story. Not matter how admirable the person is (and Rachel has to be up there at the top of the heap), an amazing range of vituperation, hostility, and outright ignorance (they seem to go together) invariably is posted in on-line comments, along with more reasoned ones.

I don't read such comments any more, and didn't to this story. They are too depressing, in that they show a segment of the public that lacks the ability to reason, to read and process information, to think critically, and most of all to respect their fellow human beings. Perhaps they don't respect themselves, are alienated, watch/listen/view too many hate web sites, shock radio commentators, and/or TV (I used to point out when I was teaching, studies have shown that the more TV a person watches, the more difficulty they have in telling the difference between fiction and reality). Whatever the reason, such comments do not reflect well on our society or civilization. As data, the proliferation on the net of hate/inaccurate comments also reveals significant social problems, but that's a topic for an entirely different forum.

Having heard Rachel Barton Pine in person (and in rehearsal, etc. - see discussion thread #11000 on, I can only say she's a superb violinist and admirable person, and deserves the greatest success possible. I'll go hear her play any time. The negative comments to the Tribune article (which I have not seen, but know the genre and have seen what sounds like identical comments in much earlier stories about her legal case) should be treated as the work of small and troubled minds, sad to see, and be ignored. I can't help but think of the chorus of critics in "Ein Heldenleben" - Strauss wrote it better than I can say it. Enough.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 7:32 AM
I'm not sure there's even a legitimate reason for a comments section at the end of a news story. I don't know what is has to offer readers it except entertainment. In the grand scheme of things maybe it provides some kind of check and balance on the journalism, but I doubt it.

What I meant to type above was I'm not sure you should hand hold people who don't believe your article, or obviously haven't read it, and so on. It fired off by itself or something. Coulda been worse :)

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 11:37 AM
I basically chanced upon the story earlier in the week while I was at work--I browse for a work break sometimes--and it was so riveting I couldn't stop reading. Even when I really should have been doing something else. I learned about Rachel Barton Pine on this website, I've bought and downloaded a few of her recordings from iTunes, I read her blogs, I listen to her podcast, and I had absolutely no idea she had survived something like that. I commute by train every day to work. I carry my instrument on the train when I have lessons. Scenes from that article have stayed with me all week since I read it. I feel like I want to help, but anything I can think of, every gesture that comes to mind seems feeble.

But like others here, I didn't read the comments. I have to be in a certain strong frame of mind to read comments on the internet from people I don't know without them getting under my skin, and I'm not always in that frame of mind. Sometimes I have to consciously take a break even from the discussions here on before I get too wound up and upset.

But I guess I have a slightly different take on the effect of the internet. I think it's easy to blame the internet, the anonymity and quickness of email and all that, but I'm not sure that's really the point.

People say nasty and stupid things in person too--and as far as I'm concerned that can be worse than in an email or on the internet because there's no record of it so they can just deny it later or pretend it never happened. You get into these totally pointless yet hurtful arguments about who said what, when. There's no frame of mind I can be in that enables me to deal well in person, in real time, with rude and nasty things that people say. You can't turn them off and there's no delete key.

And I used to get wound up, pre-internet, from reading newspapers and magazines too. There was still that argumentative writing style to the articles, the perceived need to present "both sides of an argument," even when there were more than 2 sides (or less than 2 sides), or when there wasn't actually an argument but one still had to be manufactured in order to "grab people's attention" and "sell newspapers".

Even this particular article, comments aside, seems to me to have been a bit of a case in point. For most of it, it was a straightforward reporting of what happened and what the principals thought, felt, and did in response. But there was a section, towards the end, where the reporter started repeating criticisms of Rachel Barton Pine that had been made by others in the past, criticisms that in my opinion should have just been ignored or left out of this story altogether. He repeated that nasty comment made by a Chicago music critic, for example, which I thought really had no place in that article or anywhere else for that matter. I don't know if he was trying to drum up more sympathy or admiration (as if the true events of the story weren't enough already in that regard), or trying to present "both sides," or what, but I hadn't felt manipulated at all by the story until then. But then, I did.

From Shailee Kennedy
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 1:53 PM
laurie, that woman who wrote to your husband who had never heard of the Chicago Tribune and didn't know if she could trust the article because of that---that's a problem in itself, I think. This country has a number of high-quality newspapers---the Tribune, the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, etc., etc. Anyone who gets their news online really needs to have a clue about which news sources and institutions are reputable. It's harder to evaluate the newer online sources and blogs, of course, but it's easy enough to check on long-standing newspaper organizations that care about their reputations.

In addition, the article was obviously of high quality---couldn't she tell that by reading it?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 9:07 PM
No, the person who couldn't tell it was a Trib article is a perfectly intelligent and engaged individual who doesn't live in Chicago. That's what made it so remarkable to me.

The Trib's online branding is weak. I actually was quite familiar with who Howard Reich is, having lived for a time in Chicago, but in trying to show the reader above who he was, I also had an impossible time finding a bio that linked him to the Trib. I don't blame the reporter for this, I blame the online design. It's just rather provincial to think everyone will know of your newspaper and your staff's credentials, IPO!

From Rachel Barton Pine
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 11:30 PM
Hi, everyone! First of all, thank you VERY MUCH for your supportive comments - they really cheered me up.

Regarding online media and message boards, I really don't have a strong opinion one way or the other, never having pondered the issue before now.

However, I thought I would share with you one interesting phenomenon. The last time I was highly visible in the mainstream Chicago media (as opposed to the arts sections) was in the the late '90's and early 2000's. I would often open my email in-box to find many "hate mails" from strangers, who must have taken the trouble to google me, find my website, and personally send me their nasty notes. But this time, I guess they've all been able to get it out of their system on the Chicago Tribune's web site, and I haven't gotten a single hate mail, for which I'm very grateful.

From Erica Thaler
Posted on April 5, 2008 at 11:54 PM
Rchel...we saw you in Tallahassee,and you were a HUGE inspiration! Bless you for your grace and courage. You are an amazing person!
From Gary Foote
Posted on April 6, 2008 at 2:16 AM
I was fortunate to see and hear Rachel with the Tucson Symphony orchestra a while back, and what an amazing violinist as well as person. She thanked all of us for coming to see her, and also paid a very nice compliment to the Concertmaster, Steven Moeckel. Never had I heard a touring soloist do that, but she did. We are so fortunate to have her with us, and the fact that she has overcome so much is just beyond belief. God Bless you, Rachel, you are always in my prayers.
From David Teitelbaum
Posted on April 6, 2008 at 10:25 AM
I first became aware of this superb violinist when I saw her ad in String Magazine for her Joachim/Brahms recording. I could only think along this line: every hack plays and records the Brahms concerto amid others who are great. Why is this recording any different? But see here! The Joachim is never played, let alone recorded…

I had never heard of Rachel Barton (sans Pine at the time) and I could only wonder who this new violinist who dared to veer off the beaten path to record such a musicological and intellectual recording was. She couldn’t possibly be another hack making another tired attempt at the Brahms; she had something far more profound to say with the accompanying piece. I kept her in mind and tried to find out what she really was.

I took out her CD of concerti by black composers from the library. I learned from the very first utterance that she is the unique violinist we yearn for in every generation. She belongs to a world that listens to the music for the sake of the music and not for the sexual implications or status implications so many blockheads in the musical industry bring forth. Her virtuosity is impeccable and her musicianship is original, sincere and warm.

I saw that I was onto something great. I chanced by the old Tower Records next to Lincoln Center—a sad absentee of the music lover’s life today—and purchased her Instrument of the Devil. I knew now that I had someone good to listen to.

I e-mailed her with thanks because I will not keep my gratitude for such a musician to myself, I must relay it. It turned out that she is a gracious and magnificent person as we corresponded briefly.

So why doesn’t she come to NYC to perform? I wondered.

She sent me a link to her story which basically answered the question.

But now she is plastered as a greedy and malevolent person. I say: if someone hasn’t heard her playing they can conclude whatever they want, but they have no clue! Everybody thinks they have the answers and they don’t know a fact when it hits them in the noggin and they fall into its residue. I’m now not talking about the story, which to be frank, I take at face value and conclude that her suffering was real from the first moment and will never cease no matter what her compensation and/or career status—and no amount of treatments will ever repair her. And that is the PHYSICAL suffering; not to mention the emotional and psychological suffering. Fine.

And here I shan’t even laud her tireless and selfless acts for music and community. There just simply isn’t enough room in this whole forum—or ten of these—for an adequate recognition for all that she’s done.

But her musicianship!

To come back to the beginning of my rant here: I never did end up hearing her Brahms. I can’t afford the CD now and I hadn’t the opportunity in the past to purchase it. In the future it’ll certainly find its way into my library. But her recordings that I do have give me the full picture: a perfect marriage between technique and musicianship that can only be compared to Milstein, Zuckerman and Thibaut—try concocting them all and you’ll get a Rachel Barton Pine.

Then I heard clips from her Scottish Fantasy. You see: all those hacks out there jump onto the same bandwagon a record some half-assed, vulgar recording of the Bruch concerto no. 1. Not Rachel: she records with a musicological idea behind her endeavor. She apparently makes very careful and precise decisions with regard to the content and character of her recordings. She could have long ago released a typical Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn combo like everybody else.

Can she? Of course! But what’s the point? She is unique in that she has carved new niches in the repertoire and pulled them off splendidly. The only one with a similar thirst and quest for the unknown and vital who is also great is Kremer.

In fact, I’d like to humbly suggest a program for a recording she might try: the d minor concerti of both Mendelssohn and Schumann. And add the encore the “In Memoriam” of Bruch. Isn’t she just suited for that music?

She’s suited for all music.

By the way: she really puts the Scottish into the Fantasy; from the vast literature I’ve read on Bruch (yes some of us geeks have found more than short blurbs about that great titan of the late Romantic Era. His symphonies, for instance are well worth listening to, especially the brooding second.) I think with some very scientific conclusion that he’d favor her take over most others. She makes the Scottish aspect come alive like nobody else, including Heifetz and Perlman, yet she maintains perfect adherence and perspective for the score.

In any event: I had the privilege of hearing her at Barge Music in October (I think it was in October) when she played the most awesome and electrifying performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence.” Those who were there must remember the magnificence and larger-than-life performance of that great music. It wasn’t the calming rocking of the boat, with its romantic view of the Manhattan Harbor that was so enveloping; you just closed your eyes and heard Rachel making Tchaikovsky’s heart come alive with yearning. It was wild; it was electric; it was sublime!

I even got an encore when she allowed me to remain to hear some rehearsals with a viol player going through some ancient music; I’m quite sure it went back to Renaissance music and very early Baroque. I was just astounded at her musicality and devotion. Such love and exuberance in her music and playing; have you ever seen someone have so much fun playing music?

But then she was chased out by a cranky venue manager…

I can’t wait till I can listen to all her recordings. I intend on purchasing them one at a time to ensure for myself that I have the leisure of listening to the greatest quality playing available on disc at all times.

But I long for the day that she come out onto the stage of Carnegie Hall or Avery Fisher Hall and play for NY…

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 6, 2008 at 8:53 PM
Rachel, that is fascinating. I AM glad that this meant no hate mail for you, and I'm crossing my fingers that you don't get any. Even knowing that people are just crazy and badly informed, it hurts.

Were you pleased with the piece?

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine