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Cool Kids

Making and Sharing Beautiful Music: Ana and Rachel Merchant

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04/01/2012 - By Gayle M. Irwin

You may have seen these two young ladies around town, playing music during the Downtown Farmer's Market, at the National Historic Trails Center or various fundraising events. Ana and Rachel Merchant are very recognizable – violins in hand and jet black hair bouncing in the breeze. Later this year, you'll find them on the cover of a CD as they plan to cut their first album with their band known as Ana and Rachel & Friends.

"It'll be a mixture of Irish music and old time fiddle tunes, as well as bluegrass," Ana says. "We hope to do another one after that of just old time fiddle tunes."

Both girls took up the violin at age four and have been playing ever since: jigs and reels at the Trails Center and orchestra pieces with the Casper Youth Orchestra. However, violin is not the only instrument these sisters play. Rachel, age 9, plays banjo, mandolin, guitar and piano. She also wants to learn percussion. Ana, age 13, also plays viola, guitar, mandolin, and piano.

"Music makes me feel really good and others really good, too," Ana says.

When asked if she sees herself as a professional musician when she's an adult, Ana enthusiastically replies, "Definitely!"

She is well on her way. Ana holds five state fiddle champion trophies for the divisions of Little Tyke and Junior Junior. This year she moves to the Junior level. Sister Rachel holds three state fiddle championship trophies for the Little Tyke division; this year, she will compete in the Junior Junior division. Additionally, both girls have won titles in other competitions, such as the High Plains Music Festival held annually in Douglas and the Rocky Mountain Regional Fiddle Contest.

"Fiddling is really fun," Rachel says. "You can play as fast as you want!"

Ana likes the slower speeds.

"I'm really good at playing waltzes," she says, "and I like to play them."

Music is for sharing, and Rachel likes to jam with friends and family.

"You get to play a lot of things; you can choose what you want to play," she says.

Her sister shares music not only with the public and friends and family but also with younger children. Ana is currently teaching two students fiddling and classical violin, and she says she enjoys helping the younger kids learn.

Their parents readily encourage the girls' musical pursuits. Father Kim, a former educator, is part of the band; he is also on the Youth Orchestra Board. Mom Leah, also a teacher, is not currently active in music but participated in choirs and played piano. Ana follows her mother's footsteps, joining choir and the 7th and 8th grade orchestras at CY Middle School. Both credit other adults' influence in their children's lives, from the band members to people they've met at competition.

"The girls have had some really great adult support," Leah says.

Music is not the only way the girls spend time. They share in creating and tending the family's garden and they re-enact. A variety of produce, including potatoes, carrots, beets and squash, are sold at Casper's two summer Farmer's Markets. They also participate in re-enactments at both the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center and Fort Laramie. The girls and their father become a pioneer family along with friend and Casper educator Janet Wragge. The Merchants often park their wagon at the sites and showcase chores an emigrant family would have done. They also play music from the time-period.

These young ladies share tremendous gifts with the community and state, and they enjoy doing so. Look for them this month at the High Plains Music Festival in Douglas and the Casper Youth Orchestra concert. Once you've seen and heard them, you'll understand why a CD is being produced!

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