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Finding her voice
Soprano Rachel Grider returns to university for alumna recital
Soprano Rachel Grider is returning to CSU Stanislaus for an alumna concert, where she will performs songs from 19th century Russia works. - photo by Photo Contributed

California State University, Stanislaus Alumna Rachel Grider, who became a standout for her stellar soprano voice, is returning to the university for a special recital of Russian songs and arias.

Grider will return to the CSU Stanislaus campus March 14 to perform a recital of 19th-century Russian compositions in the Bernell and Flora Snider Music Recital Hall. The music will include works by Cui, Glinka, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakv and Tchaikovsky.

 “I feel quite accomplished now that the faculty who gave me my first serious music education consider me a professional and have invited me back to give a vocal recital,” Grider said.

A gifted musician and vocalist, Grider’s journey into the musical realm began on a sour note. Grider was born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a genetic eye condition that causes severe vision loss as birth and can progress into blindness, as in Grider’s case. But Grider’s mother wasn’t going to let any obstacle keep her daughter from pursuing her dreams and finding her talents. Grider’s mother saw a spark of musical ability in her daughter and cajoled her to join the choir at 6 years old.

“I hated singing,” Grider told the Journal in 2007. “I was really shy and didn’t want to be up there in front of everyone, but my mom made me do it. She just knew I had some talent for it.”

It turns out mom did know best. It wasn’t long before Grider started playing the flute, piano, and guitar, and of course, she was singing at every opportunity.

“I love music because it’s a way of expressing your emotions in a way that you can’t do by talking,” Grider said. “For me it’s a deeper form of communication, kind of like painting a picture.”

Grider really started to hone her musical talents at CSU Stanislaus under the tutelage of her professors and faculty mentors.

“I feel that I have always been particularly fortunate to have encouraging professors, especially at CSU Stanislaus,” Grider said. “I grew a lot here, both as a musician and in my independence.” 

Grider was a recipient of the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement and was recognized as a Rogers Scholar. She also performed a leading role with Townsend Opera of Modesto during her junior year.

“Rachel was a really excellent student,” said Deborah Kavasch, chair of the Department of Music at CSU Stanislaus. “She takes on challenges with a great deal of confidence and poise.”

Grider earned two bachelors of art degrees in vocal performance and in composition. She completed her master’s degrees in voice performance and in music theory pedagogy at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Since I am blind, there were challenges to my teaching a college-level course, which is a requirement of the music pedagogy program,” Grider said of her time at Peabody. “But I persisted, and ultimately one of my professors saw some potential in me and accepted me as a graduate assistant. Even though there was initially some doubt that I could teach a course at this level because of my lack of vision, the experience became one of my best memories of graduate school.”

The Russian music Grider will be performing has been a long-time love for the singer. She said it began when she was in sixth grade and she purchased an album of Rachmaninoff piano concertos with some extra Christmas money and was instantly enraptured with the sounds.

“I think if more people knew about these works, more people would sing them,” said Grider, who performed at a special event at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., during her studies at Peabody. “These songs have a lot of beautiful text painting. Even though the lyrics are in Russian, you can hear what’s happening in the music — the burning of a letter or the sound of a waterfall.”

Grider plans to continue her studies and earn a doctorate degree in music theory, composition, or voice. She would ultimately like to teach at the college level, and she is also interested in participating in a Fulbright Scholar program in Russia. She also is interested in starting a local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, an organization with which she volunteers regularly.

“There are not a lot of resources for blind people in this region,” she said. “Some people are hesitant to ask for help when they need it, and having a local resource would give them the ability to live more independently.” 

The show is set for 7:30 p.m. March 14. Tickets are $12  for general admission and $8 for students, CSU faculty and staff, seniors and military. Tickets are available online at Free parking will be available in Lot 3. View maps and directions at