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A Universe of Sound

Raquel Acevedo Klein ’16 creates galaxies of music, still imagery, film and painted works, and lays the path for sensory journeys in which audiences are active travelers and explorers of worlds. Drawing from rich layers that include ancestral history set upon universal canvases, the long-time Brooklyn resident finds inspiration in her community and within a family of illustrators, filmmakers, and visual effects animators.

Described in a Washington Post article and a list of 22 performers and composers to watch as “a force to be reckoned with,” her works of multimedia take a sledgehammer to the walls that have traditionally isolated different forms of media and the realms of the five senses from one another.

Klein is a composer, conductor, performer, and painter—her different arenas of talent sending vibrations to one another, her tastes varied and wide. In little more than a handful of years since her graduation from SUNY Potsdam, she has composed the audience-interactive, surround-sound vocal symphony “Polyphonic Interlace,” containing her voice in 40 recorded layers which the audience can play with their phones. She conducted the 2021 premiere of the immersive radio opera “No One Is Forgotten,” and has conducted for the New York Philharmonic and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. In 2019, she sang on tour after recording with the band The National for their album “I Am Easy to Find” —among numerous creative milestones.

klein photoConfessing in an interview with her alma mater that sleep tends to be an afterthought, Klein organizes her life around an incredibly full creative calendar. Among these projects, Klein is co-composing the score and composing the vocals for a theatrical film in collaboration with Richard Reed Parry, a founding member of the Grammy-winning Indie rock band Arcade Fire. The film draws from the true story of a couple who buy a property in rural Massachusetts and build a castle together. Shortly after the castle’s completion, the wife passes away, but her voice remains embedded in the fabric and infrastructure, Klein says, leaving the male character to try to navigate the ensuing chapters and his wife’s memory.

Other projects in the making include a work commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, currently in production and set for filming in the next few months. Klein is the composer of the film and song text in which she confronts the haunting complexities of family. Working with her brother, who is a screenwriter, Klein focuses the storyline on their mother at the commencement of motherhood, and finds her yearning to experience the completeness of a family unit in light of her own estrangement from her father. The work—which also stars Klein in the lead role—leaves the expectant mother with a choice to either stay in New York as a single mother or move back to her ancestral roots in Puerto Rico and try to connect with her estranged father’s family.

A third project in the development stage is a virtual reality experience, undertaken at the invitation of the American Composers Orchestra to showcase the cosmic history revealed by the James Webb Space Telescope, launched in December 2021.

Enduring Roots of Music

Klein began piano lessons when she was six years old, and still takes weekly lessons with the same teacher, who taught her improv, classical music in tandem with non-traditional music, the breaking of musical conventions, and the creative value of the widely varied cultural and musical milieu of her Brooklyn neighborhoods.

“She had a big influence on me in discovering my relationship to music,” Klein says. “She instilled an appreciation of improvisation to establish not just my music composition voice but also music as catharsis for navigating the world, relaxing and decompressing from what can be a pretty chaotic and stressful life.”

Klein has not yet found the bottom of this well. Each week during improvisation, her teacher invites her to relax, open her senses, let the world in, and listen. These acts of mindfulness allow Klein to notice myriad natural tones and ambiances in the room. Music becomes, she says, an appreciation of all the sounds she can hear in the world around her, and these sounds enter into and become part of her creativity, regardless of the room or venue she is in at the time.  

When Klein reached college age, the reputation of The Crane School of Music for excellence in teacher training brought her to the North Country and the Presidential Scholars Program. There, Crane and SUNY Potsdam supported her vision of training outside Western musical traditions, gave her resources to study Arabic music and instruments, and fueled her appreciation for “how vast music is, and how I can interact with it from so many vantage points,” Klein says. Graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree in music education, Klein had the goal of becoming a professional educator. During her last semester at Crane, she worked as a student teacher and conducted several ensembles of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, teaching music theory and voice singing.

"That experience led to my first job out of college,” Klein says. “The chorus hired me to take over seven of their ensembles as lead conductor— a beautiful way to combine music education with my performance degree.”

While Klein is certified to teach K-12, her performance career has taken center stage, where it will remain for the foreseeable future. However, regardless of the particular project, Klein is able to draw from Crane and its lessons in the importance of clear communication. This sense of urgent regard for clarity is key not just to teaching but to conducting, composing and performing—regardless of venue, genre, or the location of a particular galaxy in a universe vibrating with sound and possibility.

Article by Bret Yager