This Part of the World
By Rachel Bell
The pandemic has been a wild ride for all of us. For me, it has been a strange mixture of grief and contentment, of losing my way while somehow also finding a version of myself that I didn’t know existed.
I had been thinking of putting together a book of my tunes for ages, but had trouble even beginning the process when I was constantly traveling from one gig to the next. The pandemic forced me to sit still long enough to dive into some big, long-term projects, and that was such a gift. Last fall, I set to work combing through the 100+ tunes I’ve written in the past 15 years. They were a jumble, some still in scribbled form, others transcribed in various notation programs with very little consistency.
I finally settled on a list of 80 tunes and then buckled down to work through them all. I never would have dreamed that I would have so many decisions to make while compiling this collection. I wrestled with endless questions about chord progressions, bar lines, and ties. Yet during the most intense period of COVID winter isolation, the book provided a welcome focus to my days. It became my companion. I was fortunate to have an incredible support team walking every step of the way with me—at least twelve people who were crucial to the process. They have my undying gratitude, and you can read more about them in the book!
As the months wore on, the proofreading and editing intensified, and I started to feel imprisoned by the project. But then, miraculously, the finish line came into view, and This Part of the World was born. I named the book for a tune I wrote after moving to Brattleboro, VT. The tune “This Part of the World” is one that came into my head fully formed, unexpectedly; other tunes in this repertoire emerged as tiny snippets that I worked and reworked to develop into full melodies.
The thing I didn’t quite anticipate was how meaningful it would feel to watch the whole collection come together. It was like reliving my career. These tunes are my scrapbook, capturing snapshots of significant experiences I’ve had and places I’ve visited, as well as honoring people I cherish. I also began to recognize this as an opportunity for a new kind of connection with the music and dance community that I love so much. I miss being out there playing for dances more than I can even describe. I miss seeing all of you, feeling the joyous energy exchange that happens in dance halls, staying at your houses, and sharing meals together. But I feel a little better and a little less isolated when I imagine that some of you will sit in your kitchens playing these tunes. Perhaps some of you will curl up on the couch and read through the stories. Maybe this is one small way to keep our dreams of dancing and making music together again alive.
In 2018 I moved from Western Pennsylvania to Brattleboro, VT, drawn by the magnetic force of Karen Axelrod, Becky Tracy, and Eric Martin, as well as the dance and music scene in general. Although I miss being near my family, this move is the best thing that's ever happened to me. This place feels so magical, not just because of the music, but also because of the community, the hiking, the waterfalls, the quirkiness, the arts culture...on and on.
This can be played slowly and freely, not quite a waltz, with the feel of an air. I like to play it in a hushed way a few times through and then build up to a fuller version that uses the B♭ and Dm in parentheses.