Minouchka is the project of composer and accordionist Rachel Koppelman.
Rachel’s musical path has not been a straightforward one…
Growing up, Rachel was influenced by a variety of styles of music, owing to her heritage and upbringing. With her beloved French grandma Sylvie, she listened to Edith Piaf and other French favorites. Rachel also grew up going to synagogue with her family, where Eastern European Ashkenazi melodies were part of her weekly musical diet. In the car and at home with her dad, she listened to a great deal of classical music. And when she expressed an early interest in her parents’ record collection, featuring mostly 1960s rock, folk, and soul, they bequeathed the albums to her, giving her free reign of the record player that was kept in the basement, when she was around 7 or 8.
If her early family life was encouraging of her music listening, her early school life was less than encouraging of her playing music. While in elementary school, she tried to learn the flute, upon discovering it at home (her mother had played it as a teen), but the school’s music teacher gave up on her after only one attempt, telling her that she had no talent. This horrifying incident kept her from attempting to learn an instrument until her teen years, when she entered a new high school. That’s when she met Jeffrey Browne, the school’s music director. After hearing her story, Mr. Browne took her under his wing, personally mentoring her on flute. After one semester of intensive study, Rachel was proficient enough to join the school’s wind ensemble. Much to her surprise, Rachel ended up winning the Music Prize for her freshman class. She continued to play the flute, adding piccolo and French horn to her repertoire of performance instruments, but she continued to search for an instrument that she could really fall in love with.
The search continued through college, during which time she took a break from playing music, yet continued to be an avid listener with notably eclectic and wide-ranging tastes. One of her active musician friends described Rachel as a musician who simply hadn’t found her instrument yet.
Rachel’s love of French, Balkan, and Klezmer music percolating within her, she began to hear the enchanting sound of accordion music from buskers, shops, and music groups around Amsterdam, where she lived for several years after graduating from college. It was almost as if the accordion was following her around... At some point, it clicked: this was her instrument.
She purchased a cheap, used accordion at a flea market while traveling in the Republic of Georgia. Back in Amsterdam, barely having learned to play, she became part of a band formed of musicians from the Amsterdam conservatory, and found herself in a trial-by-fire of learning parts on the accordion and rehearsing with a 9-piece ensemble. Before long, the group was in the studio recording a demo, and soon after had their first club gig.
With the band, the unclassifiable Ghorar Deem Express, Rachel went on to perform in various Amsterdam venues, from underground squat parties to established jazz halls, as well as clubs in Europe and the Northeastern US. Rachel began composing her own tunes for the group, which were incorporated into the band’s performance repertoire. Her first tune, Trampass, made it on to Ghorar Deem Express’ eponymous debut album, and was also performed by the band Troglodytes on their Midwestern US tour. This intensive musical experience allowed her to learn and develop very rapidly, despite her lack of training.
After the group disbanded, Rachel began to pursue her fascination with Balkan and Klezmer music. For several years, she played with The Poludaktulos Orchestra, a Greek and Macedonian brass band, as well as The Jumbo Knish Factory, Tufts University’s Klezmer ensemble. Throughout, Rachel continued to pursue her own compositional style. In 2007, she formed a ten-piece ensemble to perform her original tunes, along with arrangements of Balkan music, for a concert at the Cambridge, MA venue, The Lily Pad, for her 30th birthday. This was the birth of Minouchka. In 2008, one of her tunes was selected for a circus performance by Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band and the Madcap Rumpus Ensemble. Also in 2008, she formed a trio to perform a new batch of her tunes when she was hired to perform as part of an art gallery opening in the South End.
Rachel’s musical life took a bit of a backseat to other pursuits for a while, such as establishing her career in holistic health, and raising a son — but music didn’t take a break from her. Songs continued to find her in moments when she was able to be alone — in the shower, on a walk, driving to the grocery store, in dreams. Although she never gets enough time to practice, Rachel is grateful that music has begun to take a more prominent role in her life, and that she is giving it an opportunity to be expressed through her.