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CREATIVE THOUGHT AT WORK In the black with la vie en rose

As a junior at Skidmore, Elaine Rach- lin ’62 got back a French paper with a D and a note from her professor: “Change your major.”

She says, “It changed my life, but not my major. After that I sat with a French dictionary and worked in painstaking detail instead of just trying to get by.” Rachlin, who also studied theater and voice, went on to earn a master’s from Middlebury College’s graduate program in France, receiving an A+ on her thesis. She says, “Overcoming that D made it possible for me to thrive in Paris, to stand in front of a movie theater with my guitar and literally sing for my sup- per, and to fall in love with the music of Edith Piaf.” (Along with legendary chanteuse Piaf, Rachlin also names Billie Holiday among her “heroes,” though her first inspiration was her mother, Mary, a former radio singer.) She recalls “listening to Piaf and sipping French wine night after night, until I melded with her spirit.” Today, at 71 and after a three-decade career in high finance, Rachlin is herself a singer of French cabaret and American standards. The fusion of French and music was natural: she had been singing and playing guitar since childhood, and she has both a talent for languages and a compelling voice. She performs in Eng- lish, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, German, Yiddish, and Ladino and says, “I don’t learn the songs by phonetic memorization. I understand what I am singing.”

After Skidmore, Rachlin taught French in elementary schools and on education- al TV in the Schenectady, N.Y., school system; and after Middlebury, in schools in Westchester County and Long Island. Her approach was to create an “immer- sion environment” with only French per-


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mitted in the classroom. “I even taught the kids French drinking songs,” Rachlin laughs. “They loved them.” She says music is an ideal vehi- cle for language, embed- ding the words in mem- orable sound and mean- ing, as well as show - casing their intrinsic beauty.

But she craved a new challenge, and her pas- sion for singing became a hobby as she consid- ered “practical careers.” She parlayed her French, teaching, and analytical skills into a position with Crédit Lyonnais; moved to Israel, where she taught English to soldiers planning to go to medical and dental schools; and returned to New York City, where she became a certified fi- nancial planner and in- vestment specialist. “As a French student at Skidmore,” she says, “I learned to be analytical in ‘explica- tions de textes’—a process by which we would explore and explain a passage, a paragraph, or just a few lines in great detail.” Hence her abil- ity to excel in finance without prior academ- ic preparation for it. “My interdisciplinary

humanities background trained me to be clear and creative with information and to take risks.” She adds, “Being at Skidmore also made me a confident woman, able to function in a man’s world.”

Rachlin married twice, both times to notable jazz musicians, but she is quick to point out, “I get my own gigs.”



Though she has appeared in bands with both husbands, these days she sings with her jazz trio at the historic Rhinecliff Hotel in New York’s Hudson Valley, where she resides. One of her favorite memo- ries is singing at her 25th Skidmore reunion. Samples of her music

are at To be a shrewd businesswoman and an emerging artist, she observes, “you have to be aggressive and enthusiastic,” and her efforts have brought her “both joy and suffering.” But, in Piaf’s famous words, she concludes, “Je ne regrette rien.” I do what I love, and that’s success: la vie en rose.” —Helen S. Edelman ’74



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