Rachel Nelson    BardLive Music and Productions   bardlive@gmail.com   651.353.3370









School & Library Programs



Frame Drum Classes

Press Pak



School/Library Programs & Community Workshops

I use an experiential, hands-on approach to teaching.  I believe that entertainment, fun, and learning can go hand in hand.  I am listed on Minnesota's COMPAS school roster, and have worked in MN and North Carolina schools.



“Rachel brings an energy and a joy to her music that outshines all of the other 12 artists

with whom I have worked.” 

- Amy O’Neal, Visiting Community Artist Coordinator, Wilson Technical College, Wilson, NC.


"Rachel is a true entertainer and can hold attention and involve the audience members in the performance.  Before they know it, they have learned something." 

- Curtis Smalling, Southern Appalachian Historical Association

SCHOOL PRESENTATION:  Musical Stories (gr. K-6)

Musical Stories mixes storytelling with music and song.  This favorite among librarians finds Rachel telling favorite stories from children's literature (including Dr. Seuss and A. A. Milne) along with her own original stories accompanied by songs and music.  Fiddle, banjo, guitar, hand drum, and washtub bass back up the stories and songs, and there is plenty of interaction with the audience.  Students sing along, make rhythm, and come up to help tell a story or two.  Each booking school gets a copy of the I'M AWESOME SAID THE POSSUM cd for their school library.  Curricular tie-ins include language arts, storytelling, theater, and  music.  Can be booked in conjunction with Storytelling or Whirlwind Song workshops.

SCHOOL PRESENTATION:  Finding Your Voice (gr. 6-12)

Finding Your Voice is a BardLive show mixing original songs, stories (some autobiographical), and poems or spoken word.  This blend of oral performance art forms is part cabaret and part theater, spinning around the theme of finding one's own authentic voice.  Rachel serves as her own theater musician, using a range of unique instruments including guitar, fiddle, banjo, hand drum, and washtub bass to back up songs and provide background music for stories.  An invitation to find and use your own voice!   Curricular tie-ins include writing and language arts, public speaking, personal narrative, storytelling, theater, music, and current events.  Can be booked in conjunction with workshops like Spoken Word Explorations or Making Tracks:  Using Movement in Storytelling.

SCHOOL PRESENTATION:  Music of Appalachia (gr. K-6)

Appalachia’s rich heritage of music, storytelling, and handicrafts is a unique blend of several cultural traditions that met in our country’s eastern mountains.  Musically, the Scotch-Irish (“Arsh”) and English fiddle tunes met the African-American banjo to produce the Appalachian stringband sound. 

Rachel Nelson weaves together Appalachian music and stories to tell the bigger story of how this Stringband tradition developed over time.  Using fiddle, banjo, guitar, and washtub bass, she entertains as she educates.  Audiences sing along and volunteers demonstrate homemade instruments onstage.  Discover an often-overlooked American roots musicCurricular tie-ins include language arts, history, storytelling, and music.  Can be booked in conjunction with When is a Violin a Fiddle?, Fiddle 'n Banjo, or Whirlwind Song workshops.


“You really made an impression." 

- Liz Fuller, 4th grade teacher, Brevard, NC.

Spoken Word Explorations (6-12)  This participatory workshop uses existing short poetic texts to practice oral performance skills.  Together,  we go through a series of guided experiments reading the same text multiple ways to a series of partners.  Our guide will be the musical lexicon of rhythm, tempo, pause, and dynamics.  We culminate by performing small-group pieces for each other using rhythm instruments to accompany and reinforce our spoken word performance choices.  This workshop was a hit with middle school students at the Northwestern MN Young Author's conference (and also a hit with teachers at the North Dakota Reading Association conference)

Making Tracks:  Using Movement in Storytelling (6-12)  This participatory workshop uses movement vocabularies developed by Kari Margolis and by the Red Eye Collaboration Theater to scaffold a growing awareness of the power of movement in storytelling and acting.  As audience and performer, experience the visceral power of movement, a language older than words.

Performance Skills Workshop (8-12)  Call it an exploration, or call it a warm-up for your participation in theater, debate, or poetry slams.  Spoken word artists, poets, storytellers, and musicians are invited to bring a short (5 min. or less) piece to share as you work on your live performance skills in the safe community of other artists.  You'll learn just as much from being an audience for your colleagues as you do from working in front of them.  Rachel will introduce the process and gently coach, and by the end of our session we'll all be giving nurturing feedback and experiencing others' performances with newly sharpened eyes and ears.

Storytelling Workshops (4-12)  For classes that have prepped for this workshop by writing their own personal narrative or original story, we'll practice putting that story up, getting it off the page and telling it in pairs and small groups.  Other classes will choose their text from 5 or 6 simple written folk tales.  Either way, students graduate from reading the story to embellishing it with an eye to sensory detail, looking at place and character development.  With each retelling, the simple story develops.

When is a Violin a Fiddle? Older student version (4-12)  Students in grades 4-12 learn about cross-tuned fiddles, Scotch-Irish roots of tunes, how the blues influenced fiddle rags, and how the fiddle anchors the Appalachian dance band.  Hear the subtle bowing and rhythmic patterns that have been handed down by ear.  Includes traditional fiddle lore and stories about various fiddlers that were the sources for these tunes. 

When is a Violin a Fiddle? (K-3)  For grades K-3, Rachel does a special version of this workshop built around a story, “How Cindy Learned to Play the Fiddle.”  Cindy's story becomes a participatory introduction to Appalachian music and stories.

Fiddle ‘n Banjo Up Close and Personal (gr. 3-12)  Students see demonstrations of two old-time banjo styles, clawhammer style and two-finger banjo picking.  They discover the secret magic of tone that happens with a cross-tuned fiddle.  Through stories about the players that were Rachel’s sources for learning these tunes, students get a more personal context for the traditional process of learning by ear.  The question and answer period at the end of this workshop always uncovers key points.

The Whirlwind Song (gr. 3-12)  For groups who can’t do a week-long songwriting residency, this 50-minute workshop has been producing fine songs in schools for 20 years.  As a class, we borrow a folk song’s melody and write new words for it, using the rhyming scheme and repetitive structure of the original song.  This is a great way to discover how it feels to write metrical-syllabic verse.  The melody is a strict taskmaster for concise writing!  Rachel has seen students who catch fire in this workshop come back to school the following day with three or four new verses for their class song.  Teachers can maximize workshop time by brainstorming with their classes for a song topic on the day before the workshop.


“She has that ability to communicate, not only as a musician but as a human being."

- Dick Tarrier, songwriter and musician


A story is the seed--a song is the result.   This language arts residency involves writing, collaborating, recording, revising, and performing songs.  Good  storytelling techniques provide action words, sensory description, and carefully chosen repetition.  Matching words to melody sensitizes student ears to the rhythms and music of language.

Grades 1-3 adapt a favorite story book into a song; older classes work in small groups from original or chosen stories.  Oral story work teaches language arts concepts that transfer to writing:  beginning-middle-end, main idea, theme, action, character, sequence, setting, and comprehension.  And it's fun!

“Throw your right ear across the room,” my old fiddle teacher used to tell me.  “Then you’ll hear what you really sound like.”  In Story to Song residencies, audio recording becomes the concrete way for students to “throw their ear across the room” and listen to their song drafts.  Students hear what works and what doesn’t.  Real revision happens—and the students are in charge. Adding  recording to a songwriting workshop is the key to letting students feel ownership of their song.   They hear it; they own it - it’s theirs.  

My own songwriting has included work for many theaters, including At the Foot of the Mountain Theater, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, and Tennessee’s Wood and Strings Puppet and Mask Theater. As Bard:Live, I have written songs for topical performances such as the environmental show Finding Our Place and the theatrical show After Leaving Eden:  Living the Questions.   My CDs Change is a Thousand Hearts and "I'm Awesome!" said the Possum feature original songs and stories. 

Each school presenting my Story to Song residency will receive a CD with their student's songs at the conclusion of the residency.   They will also receive a copy of  "I'm Awesome!" said the Possum for their school library.

“First of all, your visit with us was wonderful.  Second, you are the best.”

– Shane Weber, 2nd Grade Teacher, Excelsior Elementary School 


“Thank you for the mp3s and CDs. The children love listening to their songs.”

– Xia Du, 2nd grade teacher, Excelsior Elementary School

"Rachel Nelson was a wonderful addition to our curriculum this year.  Her enthusiasm for the written word and music is contagious.   - Katie Schultz, 6th grade teacher, St. Joseph's School, West St. Paul

“Rachel taught in a way that honored the students' viewpoints and was true to the integrity of the music as well."  - Mara Coyle, 5th grade teacher, Como Park Elementary School, St. Paul


My stringband residency, long popular in North Carolina, is also built around practice.  Students become the band and record a song, either one we write quickly as a class or one they choose from the stringband repertoire.  They make arrangement and production choices based on hearing the playback, and then record again, incorporating those choices.  Designed in conjunction with teachers, this residency may also include instrument building, storytelling as a part of stringband tradition, or workshops on the by-ear transmission of fiddle and banjo tunes.  Curricular tie-ins include history, geography, language arts,  and the acoustics of sound production



Rachel Nelson shares whole-brain rhythm teaching techniques that can reach many styles of learners, including those who feel they have no rhythm.  20 participants can join in experiencing these methods, borrowing a small frame drum from the facilitator.  Drum circle work is a wonderful way of building community and growing  those self-feedback skills essential to any practice.   The strength of the group helps all players to grow and feel the thrill of creating something together.  An introductory workshop at the 2006 Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs conference made a big impression, as teachers experienced the power of this whole-brain rhythm "learning in community."


can be designed in conjunction with a BardLive Performance

I enjoy facilitating Community, College, and Senior Residence workshops. Corporate workshops are my new offering this year. These workshops invite creative expression and cooperative ensemble work.  Community workshop possibilities include:

Frame Drum Workshops - see Frame drum residency description above.  Startlingly effective in building group awareness and cooperation!  A great community builder for companies.

Fiddle Workshops - Hands-on group instruction in Cross-Tuned, Rags/Blues, or Fiddle Backup techniques.

Stringband Workshops - inviting participants to bring instruments & voices into group ensemble.

Songwriting Workshops - Songwriting can be done in community with wonderful results, as happened at University of North Dakota at Fargo, whose group wrote a song I still perform!  

Cabaret Workshops - invite participants to bring in a song, story, poem, or spoken word piece which we put together collaboratively to create an evening performance.


08/28/2012                         Copyright  BardLive Music     2012