Friends remember Speight ’06

When The New Blue releases its latest album next month, it will be a testament to the a capella group’s enthusiasm and talent, but it is also laden with memories of their friend Rachel “Ramie” Speight ’06. Recorded last spring, the album features two arrangements and a solo by Speight, a member of the group, who was killed in a bicycle accident in June.

“Our CD is dedicated to her,” said Sarah Graham ’07, the group’s business manager. “That will be for her, in her memory.”

Speight was struck by a car and died June 19 while riding through Kentucky as part of the Habitat Bike Challenge, a fund-raiser to benefit Habitat for Humanity. She was riding in a single-file line of five other bikers on U.S. 60, when she lost control of her bicycle and was struck by a car going in the other direction.

A memorial service for Speight, who would have been a senior in Branford College, will be held on campus Sept. 25, Branford Dean Thomas McDow said. While the service is still being planned, representatives of The New Blue and the choir Schola Cantorum said both groups plan to perform at the service.

Before embarking on the cross-country bike ride, Speight and her fellow riders each raised $4,000 to benefit Habitat for Humanity, an international group that provides housing for low-income families. In addition, participants present slideshows about the organization to stimulate interest in the group.

The Habitat bike ride was only one of many activities Speight had planned for the summer, which started with a Schola Cantorum tour to England and was to end with the choir’s trip to Hungary and a New Blue retreat in Florida.

On their retreat, The New Blue attended a release party for the new album, which includes Speight’s arrangements of “Fire and Rain” and “These Boots are Made for Walkin’.”

Graham said the group would miss Speight’s musicality but especially her humor and spirit. She said during the long recording sessions for the new album, which required many takes of the same song over and over, Speight often stepped in to remind the singers why they were there.

“The first time that we sang ‘Fire and Rain’ this summer, when we were on our retreat … we made it through the song,” Graham said. “But when we got to the end was when it brought back all the memories of her and what had happened.”

Simon Carrington, a professor at the School of Music and the conductor of Schola Cantorum, praised Speight’s consistent professionalism at rehearsals and performances for the demanding and selective choir. In April 2004, Schola Cantorum was conducted by James MacMillan, a renowned Scottish composer, in a performance of his piece “Seven Last Words from the Cross.” Carrington described a duet from the cantata written for two “very, very high voices” as a challenge that could intimidate even very experienced, professional singers.

“Everyone was frightened of this whole thing except for Ramie, who stepped up and said, ‘I can do this,'” Carrington said. “I just thought she had tremendous guts.”

At their first performance at the International Monteverdi Choir Festival in Budapest, Schola Cantorum departed from their usual repertoire to perform the U2 song “MLK” in Speight’s memory.

“The singers felt they just wanted to do something,” Carrington said. “The choir, really, was a hard thing to deal with, to get up and sing without her.”

Speight, a Houston native and a music major at Yale, wanted to attend a graduate program in music history and then become a professor, said her father, Howard Speight.

Speight was also remembered for what many described as her “quirky” sense of humor. Her father said she loved to quote lines from “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “Futurama,” and she could use humor to lighten tense situations.

“Her sense of humor was remarkable, her comedic timing, her body language, all of it,” Graham said. “She had this way of making situations, even if they’re bad, really funny.”

Ilya Gidalevich ’06, who lived near Speight in Branford, said he would miss her presence in his daily life at school.

“It is strange to come to terms with losing a person after you have spent so much time with them, and see them many times a day,” he said. “Now there will be a void there, in many respects. I’ll miss seeing her brush her teeth in the morning, getting to speak to her, We have all lost a very good friend.”

— Staff reporter Susie Poppick contributed to this report.

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