Sophomore Keely Rendle will perform a violin solo with the Hillsdale College Orchestra this May. Grace Houghton | Col­legian

Practice makes perfect, but Keely Rendle’s talent makes practice short and rewarding. 

By the time most winners of the annual con­certo com­pe­tition step on stage to solo with the orchestra, they will have pre­pared their pieces for a full year.

A winner of this year’s com­pe­tition, sophomore Keely Rendle didn’t leaf through the pages of her Bruch violin con­certo until the start of the fall semester. But according to Pro­fessor of Music Melissa Knecht, the judges declared her per­for­mance “perfect.”

The secret to her success doesn’t lie in a fre­netic semester of practice; it lies in her unique com­bi­nation of musical skill and love for per­for­mance cul­ti­vated through her band, Erwilian. 

The band is made up of six other musi­cians and a plethora of instru­ments, ranging from guitars and man­dolins to recorders and hammer dul­cimers.

“It’s like a second family,” Rendle said. 

Rendle’s love for Erwilian almost kept her from coming to Hillsdale, but her band encouraged her to pursue her interests in both music and in coun­seling, as she plans to major in psy­chology. 

Rooted in Rendle’s home town of Renton, Wash­ington, Erwilian’s seven musi­cians perform, arrange, and compose their own music. The com­po­sition process usually starts with a chord sheet, “the bare bones of a song,” as Rendle explained. Impro­vi­sation is key. 

“Some­times, they’re like, ‘Keely, here’s 32 mea­sures. You have a solo. Here!’” Rendle said, laughing. 

The final product always carries on the Erwilian sound, which Rendle describes as “ener­getic, fresh, and some­times heavenly,” largely based on its use of the hammer dulcimer’s angelic tones. 

Erwilian’s music is purely instru­mental, so Rendle has learned to make her violin tell stories for her. Among Erwilian’s annual Christmas set list is “The Coventry Carol,” a melody that mourns the story of Herod’s slaughter of the innocent children in Beth­lehem. 

“I have high parts, and then really soft, sobbing parts,” Rendle said, “like a wailing, moaning mother.”

Years of per­forming and prac­ticing with Erwilian have kept her fingers and mind nimble, preparing her for the chance to perform on stage at Hillsdale. 

Rendle loves the Bruch con­certo she will perform in May partly because of “the space to breathe between the phrases,” she said, humming the melody and tracing its arcs in the air with her finger. “I can take my time and emote.” 

According to Knecht, Rendle’s suc­cessful per­for­mance com­bined tech­nical pro­fi­ciency, years of expe­rience, and an intel­ligent under­standing of the piece. But what sets Rendle apart isn’t tech­nical skill alone. 

“It comes down to what kind of person you are,” Knecht said. “Keely is this very warm indi­vidual, and it’s that warm, strong presence that comes through in her music. That’s who she is.” 

A truly tal­ented per­former can “touch the vein of those that listen,” Dr. Knecht said. “I think Keely has the ability to do that.”

Bruch’s Violin Con­certo No. 1 caught Rendle’s ear because it matched the mood of her pre­vious playing, but she ulti­mately chose it because she wanted to learn some­thing new. 

Though she’s played in orchestras before, Rendle has never soloed with one in her 11 years of violin. In fact, she only con­sidered the com­pe­tition after Knecht told her to do so.  

Rendle’s prepa­ration for the com­pe­tition bears witness to her love of the process of learning and per­forming great music, rather than her desire for com­pe­tition titles. 

“Some per­formers think they’re too good for instruction,” Dr. Knecht said. “That’s not her at all.”

Rendle has a rep­u­tation among her friends playing off­stage, no matter the audience. Remem­bering one visit to a preschool with a Hillsdale mission trip over this past spring break, freshman Car­oline Hen­nekes said Rendle accom­panied a story with sound effects twanged from her violin to entertain the children. 

Freshman Jenny Buccola, a friend Rendle’s family, said whether in her local church’s youth group or in Erwilian per­for­mances, Rendle “has always shared her music with her friends.”