Smith Brothers Restaurants
HomeBlocksFront-GridMaking Muse/ique Together

Making Muse/ique Together

Much like the stacked vinyl player with a 6-inch spindle that would transition to the next record in her childhood home, the expansive soundtrack to Muse/ique founder and artistic director Rachael Worby’s upbringing was colored with an assortment of genres.

One LP after another, from Bach to Thelonious Monk to “West Side Story” and more, they all exposed Worby to a melding of diverse artistry and influenced her life’s purpose — a calling that would involve the future musician, conductor and artistic director to draw from her longtime affection for mixed genres to eventually form Muse/ique, a Pasadena-based nonprofit whose mission is to pioneer new musical experiences for people by creating curated live music events and outreach programs.

“I always felt that if music is a basic human right, and it is a basic human right, then what can I do to ensure that music is not just appreciated and understood but ingested by as many people as possible and in a way that changes their life, because music has changed my life,” Worby told the Tribune. “I know the power of music because of that, and I feel duty-bound to deliver that to as many people as possible.”

For as long as Worby can remember, she said there is no memory of life without music.

“When I was growing up, though I was raised in a working-class family who could barely make ends meet, music was essential to my father and to my mother. So, while we had very little, one thing we did have was a record player,” Worby said.

Worby founded Muse/ique in 2011. The member-supported, nonprofit performing arts organization was the artistic director’s way of changing live music from how she and the world had traditionally known it to reflect the way she believed it should be.

Her vision for the nonprofit was shaped by many experiences, one of which was Worby’s more than a decadelong tenure traveling the world as a music director and a conductor for opera soprano Jessye Norman.

Photo courtesy Muse/ique / Muse/ique founder and artistic director Rachael Worby in her element.

“When [Norman] was presenting a concert, whether it was in China or Bulgaria or France or South America, something astonishing would happen, which is that as soon as one of her feet would appear from the side of the stage, everybody — 100,000 people in a stadium or 10,000 people in a concert hall — would stand up and applaud and then sit down. As she sang, song after song, people would lean in and experience the magisterial and magical aspect of her voice and her message as an artist.”

Working with Norman, who died in 2019, for 15 years taught Worby about what it means to be an artist who has the distinct ability to change lives through their music. She emphasized that artists with this “certain gift” are often simply born that way.

“They are Yo-Yo Ma and their cello playing, when you hear it, changes your life,” Worby said. “Or they are Bob Dylan and their lyrics and the seriousness of their efforts when you hear his song, changes your life.”

Through thematic, curated musical masterpieces of mixed genres, in addition to thoughtfully and expertly using her platform to express the deeper meaning of the music and its underlying implications, Worby aimed to enhance listening.

“There are many conductors who come out onto a stage, take a bow, turn their back to the audience and spend the rest of the concert conducting and the music the orchestra creates changes some people’s lives,” Worby said. “But that’s really rare, because it’s rare that 100% of any audience will be able to hear all a composer intended and then synthesize that with what they heard. So, I found myself wanting to say a word or two about the music that I was presenting — from the beginning, that is what I wanted to do.”

Worby’s former role conducting Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall was another critical piece of her professional journey, which led her closer to Muse/ique. The position allowed her to demystify live music to children for dozens of years. It was the same job conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein once had.

Photo courtesy Haoyuan Ren / Rachael Worby feels the music on stage with artists by her side.

“Taking a page from Bernstein’s approach from Young People’s Concerts, which was to talk and explain what the kids were about to hear, I too deconstructed and dissected and curated and opened doors and let the light in and brought hundreds of thousands of kids into this world of a live orchestra, and I was extremely successful at it,” Worby said.

“Kids were standing up and giving a standing ovation and screaming ‘More, more, more!’ They are fifth graders and sixth graders, and they are sitting there in Carnegie Hall wanting more. Why? Because I didn’t want anything to be a mystery. It’s challenging enough to walk in and see an orchestra on a stage, so I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do to bridge that gap? How am I going to equal it?’”

From Worby’s perspective, live music has always had an “unequal” quality, beginning with the performers being high up on stage and the audience being seated below.

“We’re on a stage, you’re sitting down. The whole thing starts out unequal,” said Worby, who added that she intentionally made sure that Muse/ique’s stage is built low so that she and the musicians are accessible, and the audience can be as close to eye-to-eye with them as possible.

Before Worby was a conductor, she was a musician and a music major in college. All her life, she felt there was room for improvement in the realm of live music.

“I always knew there was something wrong with the concert hall experience for 90% of the people, because I see them, I sit with them and while the music is playing, they are going through their playbook or … they are looking at their phones and scrolling to see who the major donors are who took the ads out.

“It’s hard to be present for live music unless someone really invites you in and leans forward and says, ‘You … I’ve been thinking about you, and I’ve been thinking about the world and what it must be like to be you right now in this world with so much chaos and so much social injustice and so many things that are frightening in the world and the United States.’”

To combat the monotony she has seen throughout her life, she took inspiration from what she knew and decided she wanted to put it into practice.

“I just basically looked out at the world of live music, and I said, ‘What’s missing, what are my strengths and how can I fill in those missing pieces?’ And as luck and hard work would have it, I was able to create Muse/ique,” Worby said.

Muse/ique has historically curated concerts in unconventional spaces such as the Rose Bowl locker rooms and an ice rink. The backdrop of the first performance Worby brought to life for Muse/ique was in a building where Rose Parade floats were built on Raymond Avenue. She invited jazz trumpet player Arturo Sandoval to join her in what she described as a late-night talk show host setting. The two shared in conversation while sitting on two stools in front of a humble audience of about 50. In between chats, Sandoval played his craft on trumpet and piano.

“People were gobsmacked because it was so intimate. … It was like, “Wow, can music really feel like this?’” said Worby, who added that guests were so close they could hear the valves on the trumpet.

Muse/ique’s next small concert had about 90 attendees, but when Worby decided to incorporate a full orchestra into the experience, a stage was built at Caltech. Five hundred guests gathered to see Norman, the evening’s singer, who came out from behind the audience with a headlight shining upon her as she sang “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”

Norman’s huge voice kept concertgoers completely captive, with the whole audience holding their gaze as she sang, Worby recalled.

“Norman then climbed up on the stage, she finished the song facing the audience and nothing happened when she was done — no one applauded, no one moved. They just stood there, and I said to myself, ‘You must be on to something.’”

Thirteen years later, Muse/ique has come a long way since playing for audiences of 50. Though it has grown exponentially, Muse/ique is known for intimate concerts, by playing for no more than about 750 people at a time. And Worby said she aims to keep the concert experience a personal one.

“The result is that we repeat the concert three to four times, but in that way, I know that even in the back row I can see them and they can see me,” Worby said. “We’re attached.”

Photo courtesy Haoyuan Ren / A scene captured from a 2023 Muse/ique season performance.


Muse/ique President and CEO Brian Colburn is proud of how far the nonprofit has come since stepping into his role in 2012.

“We’ve grown 10 times the size we were in its founding two years, and it’s incredible to see those benchmarks of growth and see thousands upon thousands of people come in and enjoy [the events] and tell their friends,” Colburn said. “When I see people who get fired up about inviting their friends and bringing them in … it’s proof of concept of the model, and it’s really singing to people.”

Colburn, who said he initially envisioned himself exploring other avenues after Muse/ique found its footing, said he’s glad he didn’t because he would have missed out on all the nonprofit has become over time.

“Music is a very experimental endeavor and to see something that is different come to fruition and to see a vision of what once didn’t seem possible become real is a rare opportunity,” Colburn said.

Worby has forged longtime relationships of support while building up Muse/ique. Along the way, early on in the journey, Harvey Knell and Jerry Kohl were among the trio of founding board members that saw something special in Worby and believed wholeheartedly in her foresight and helped make sure her vision could be fully realized.

Outlook file photos / Jerry and Terri Kohl, Rachael Worby, and Ellen and Dominic Ng, CEO of East West Bank, enjoy an evening of live music. East West Bank is a prominent Muse/ique corporate sponsor.

Prior to Muse/ique even playing one note, Worby enlisted the advice of Monsignor Clement Connolly, pastor emeritus of Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, who would later join the organization’s board.

“I went to him, and I said, ‘Monsignor, what do you think I should do?’ Worby said. “There wasn’t a board yet or a name, and he said, ‘You have tilled the soil, you have planted the seeds and now you have to reap what you have sown. You have to stay in this community and continue to nurture all the seeds you have planted.’ And so, I did.”

When the first members came together officially, Knell said they conducted some studies to gauge how people wanted to listen and receive live music.

“If you looked at symphony orchestras, the audience was pretty gray-haired, and we wanted to do something that attracted a whole range of people so that we would have life beyond,” Knell said.

After doing the study, they found that the subjects responded positively to receiving music in a the “mash-up” fashion that Worby intended to curate her shows, by combining music with other mediums such as poetry or dance.

“It just really validated what we wanted to do, because we found out that it was the way people wanted to listen to music,” Knell said.

Photo courtesy Haoyuan Ren / A crowd of attendees come out for an evening with Muse/ique.

Kohl likened Worby to Walt Disney — in the way he was a pioneer for Disneyland — in her field. However, he said what she does is in a class of its own, with no one doing storytelling the way she does.

“She tells stories, inspiring people to look further,” Kohl said. “It’s not just an onion. It’s what’s inside the onion. … She has a way of inspiring people by telling them about history and stories and inspirations. There’s nobody like her. I travel the world. I hear music everywhere. There’s nobody like her. The people of Pasadena and Los Angeles are blessed because we go to New York City and there’s nobody like this. I got to go to the Kennedy Center Honors and there’s nobody like this. Nobody.”

Knell considers Muse/ique his best startup.

“[Muse/ique is] paying dividends because it is making money, and it’s paying dividends in just the thrill and the musical benefit that I get. I think it’s been an extremely successful organization and it has grown,” Knell said. “It’s been very exciting. It’s very well done, and I give a lot of credit to Rachael and Brian.”

Worby said she is grateful to those who have been with her and has joined Muse/ique’s journey to help it continue to flourish and touch lives.

“I was, and am, fortunate that there were people in the community who believed so strongly in my nurturing of a community — the notion that you can nurture a community through the arts and this additional notion that live music is a basic human right,” Worby said.

East West Bank CEO Dominic Ng said the bank was also there for Muse/ique’s programming since the early days as a sponsor.

“Supporting Muse/ique holds great significance for East West Bank, as we share a mission of making unique cultural experiences widely accessible to all,” Ng said. “Muse/ique’s use of music as a storytelling medium aligns with our belief in the power of the arts to inspire, transcend borders, build bridges and nurture greater cultural understanding.”

Photo courtesy Haoyuan Ren / The Muse/ique team, led by Rachael Worby, bring their collaborative efforts to the stage.


Through Muse/ique’s Offstage Community Programs, the organization aims to deliver live music to those who otherwise would not have access.

Muse/ique Board of Directors President LeeAnn Havner was first introduced to Muse/ique while she was a board member for Hillsides, a Pasadena-based nonprofit that offers foster care and adoption services.

During an Offstage Community Programs performance at Hillsides, Havner witnessed firsthand the impact of Muse/ique, which led her to becoming a board member in 2013.

Havner said she saw an “incredible transformation” occur regarding the childrens’ interests in the program almost immediately.

“With some of the teenagers, they would walk in and have their hoodies on like ‘Ugh, we have to do this,’ and by the end of the program, they were on the edge of their seats,” Havner said. “They were asking questions, and they were engaged. It was just heartwarming to see.

“There’s so much richness to the formula of what Muse/ique does, that it can’t help but bring you into the performance. I also think by sharing that experience with others, it brings people together in a very unique way that tears down boundaries.”

At a Muse/ique concert, unlike other orchestra experiences, it is customary to congregate, socialize and not immediately go straight to sitting beforehand.

“People do not want to feel isolated,” Worby said. “They want to get together in community, which is why before each concert, we mingle. … By the time the concert starts everyone knows each other, and one thing that they have in common is that they are there to feel inspired by live music and to feel more hopeful when they leave than they did by the time that they arrived. That’s my job. That’s the job of all of the musicians at Muse/ique, and we all take that job very seriously.”

Outlook file photo / Rachael Worby (second, from left) with Huntington Hospital Board Chair Jaynie Studenmund, Huntington Hospital CEO Dr. Lori Morgan and Huntington Hospital senior executive Jane Haderlein attended a Muse/ique performance in 2018.


The level of research and effort that goes into each concert is one aspect Worby finds most rewarding about what she does.

“The focus and depth of our concerts …. are thoughtfully nurtured over the course of many, many months before anybody ever hears them and that’s such an integral part of why we have grown,” Worby said. “We create concerts that are so different from anyone else’s because they are thematic and reach into the depths of not just music, but music in society, and music and live art as a driving force of social change.”

Another aspect is the collaboration among the musicians.

“The collective of musicians that we work with is more deeply committed to us than I ever dreamed a group of musicians would be,” Worby said. “Some of that is because we’ve seen the number of concerts increase, others it’s because they’ve seen the size of the audiences increase, which is incredibly rewarding for them. … But it is also because they’ve devoted their lives to playing live music, and they also believe it is essential for people to understand what they are playing.”

Worby has put the musicians in a more forward position in the organization where each of them has an equal voice.

“I didn’t want to repeat what I had seen all my life, which is that the musicians file onto the stage, then they sit down, then they tune, then they play, then look up at you,” Worby said. “I didn’t want to be looked up at, I wanted to have a peer group, and at the time, I didn’t even know it was possible, but it turned out, every musician dreams of him or her or themselves being a soloist and being seen and not sitting and sort of being lower down.

“I wanted to create a community for musicians, of musicians and by musicians, of which I would be the instigator and impetus, but one of the leaders. And I think over time that is really happening and more and more of the musicians of whom we work with want to step into positions of leadership.”

From the drawing board to the stage, Worby said the process is a conversation.

“It’s all a conversation — first between the musicians and me and then that conversation is what we present to the audience,” Worby said.

Michael Valerio, who is one part of Muse/ique’s collective, is the organization’s principal arranger, principal bass player and also acts as a special adviser to Worby. He said the conversations behind the scenes wield a result on stage that is unique to his time with Muse/ique.

Photo courtesy Haoyuan Ren / Rachael Worby conducting her team of musicians.

“We talk all the time,” Valerio said. “We often bounce ideas off of each other as a first step in programming. We talk each other off of ledges often. We are each other’s guard rails. We discuss how to cast the group from one program to the next. We are continuously tweaking major and minor details right up to the concert. And then we tweak some more, changing the program, or the order of the program to get better flow, to have more emotional impact. And during the performances, the collaboration on the stage is the greatest extra sensory perception I’ve experienced. There is so much trust that’s baked into the equation.”

Valerio also said he appreciates that every concert features brand-new arrangements that have been created specifically for that show.

“This means that every concert, you are hearing new music for the first time,” Valerio said. “It may be a familiar song, but I guarantee it’s presented in such a fresh way. It’s like hearing music for the first time. Name any ensemble that has that kind of dedication to present new music. It’s literally a world premiere at every show.”

The process by which Muse/ique’s team of musicians brainstorm until the very end to achieve their desired result is a feat and opportunity that does not exist in many orchestra settings.

“The way that all the members of this organization chip in to get it to the finish line every time is absolutely inspiring,” Valerio said. “It’s not a large machine, it’s several very versatile, intelligent folks who are all wearing a lot of hats to make it work. It is the opposite of many of the other arts organizations in town. And the attitude is infectious.

“My friends and colleagues dedicate themselves to making the concertgoing experience a moving, inspiring, high-quality experience that you just won’t find anywhere else.”

To learn more about Muse/ique, visit the website at

Outlook file photo / Mark Cohen (from left) and Muse/ique artistic director Rachael Worby are joined by Muse/ique Board of Directors President LeeAnn Havner and her husband Ron Havner.

Most Popular

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=3]