Ira Glass

For anyone who is a fan of Ira Glass, here is a link to a radio piece that he created in order to document arts programs for teenagers, the kinds of programs that can often fall through the cracks for many funders. He cites the compelling evidence from Shirley Brice Heath that these arts programs are perhaps the "single most effective kinds of programs to help kids develop."

Community MusicWorks is grateful for the continued support of many foundations and indviduals this season. Maybe if everyone took a moment to listen to something like this radio documentary, there’d be more than enough money to go around for all the deserving programs like CMW.

Ira, a Brown University graduate, created this piece to present at a Grantsmakers in the Arts conference in Chicago some years ago. Enjoy!


-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

Final Performance Party

Saturday’s Performance Party in Olneyville Square brought to a close a fantastic semester of performances and hard work by Community MusicWorks students. Sebastian handed out certificates to each of the graduating seniors who performed, including Vanessa (violin) who will attend Rhode Island College and Joe (cello) who will attend the University of Rhode Island.

Joe was in the program for about a year and a half, and at seven years, Vanessa was one of the CMW stalwarts who have seen the program develop almost from the beginning. [You can read more about Vanessa in The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine profile found in the Media section of the CMW website.]

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As is always the case, the end of the year brings both recognition and change to the Community MusicWorks family. Among many people who were recognized and appreciated, Sebastian singled out Sara and Jesse for their five years as Resident Musicians and members of the Providence String Quartet. (Can it really be five years already?) Also, Anne will be leaving CMW at the end of the summer, and she will not be an easy person to replace. As Sebastian told everyone at the Performance Party, Anne was integral to almost all aspects of the program and is responsible for many positive and important developments over the past three years. She will be missed and we wish her well in her next job.

Along with two new fellows TBA, Minna Choi will be re-joining Community MusicWorks after the summer as the coordinator of the new fellowship program and additional violin teacher. Having three new teachers for our tenth season means that we can take 35 students off of our long waiting list, something that we have been looking forward to for several years. Congratulations to Minna for completing her Masters of Violin Performance at The Hartt School of Music this month!

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

Providence Quartet photo shoot

This was no ordinary shoot. This was a shoot for VW magazine. No, not Violin World… not Viola World… that would be VW as in Volkswagen!! (Yes, that’s right – Volkswagen.) In case you’re wondering, none of the quartet plays a Volkswagen instrument… but they do love VWs! Cellist Sara Stalnaker describes the shoot:

For our VW Magazine shoot on Tuesday, we spent the afternoon lazy-ing up against cars, widening our pupils, and chatting CMW-style. CMW-style chatting is a collage of healthy sarcasm, pressing concerns, and broad considerations and that go something like this — Oh, Jesse, can I get those summer rental forms to you by Wednesday? Question: Do we help pay for non-music related summer activities for our students? Sebastian, you’re channeling Keanu Reeves particularly well today." They told us to start interacting for the camera then, I believe, quickly regretted the request, because they couldn’t get us to stop!

-Sara Stalnaker, Providence String Quartet


Cello Chix

A reaction to the Cello Chix workshop, from CMW student (and cellist) Carolina Jimenez:

This workshop was probably the best one all year – the loudest at least! The Cello Chix (and drummer chick) started off the workshop by blasting the roof off with Jimmy Hendrix’s Purple Haze.  They continued on to play other songs — Bouree, Carmen Habanera — and then we all joined in with Rob Bethel (the master of Improv) on our instruments for The Oily Weasel. Throughout the workshop they demonstrated how powerful cellos can get (when hooked up to amps and electrified).

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Teaching Moment: A Breakthrough

All year two of my violin students and I have been struggling with our class. Their interest hasn’t been great, and middle school woes often have their minds distracted when they arrive for class. Learning our repertoire has been going very slowly, and often I would finish their class feeling frustrated with their disrespectful attitude and their lack of effort. At Community MusicWorks, it’s been our philosophy that it’s incumbent on the teacher to find avenues through which to re-inspire kids when they’re in such a slump, but I was running out of ideas. Until recently that is. One day I had my recording equipment set up from a previous lesson when one of these two students arrived, and I spontaneously suggested we record something—a rap. I think the surprise factor piqued his attention, as he and the other student in the class must have felt a similar slump coming to lessons. 

We recorded several tracks of improvised violin “beats” that day—some melody and some rhythmic tapping on our instruments, and then a track of one of the students free styling some raps about his recent experiences. When the other student came the following week, he joined in with us, and we recorded some more. I think having the tables turned, where they were in control of the material, and I was just a collaborator, woke them up. Our lesson atmosphere began to shift over the course of a few weeks, such that they began coming to lessons with good attention and energy for working on our project. 

Last Friday, we took a version of this project to the Youth Salon for an experimental performance, and the process forced us into an even more productive mode—with them in the hot seat to make it work. 

The result was a performance of the three of us—rapping, creating rhythmic tapping on the violin, and playing an ostinato tune (a short clip repeated throughout), all accompanied by a recording of one of our previous sessions.

The next week we returned to our earlier violin repertoire with completely fresh air in the room!  I was so pleased to see that the attitude was focused, respectful, and possibly even eager to get it right. Most importantly, the feeling in the room today was still one of colleagues, not of frustrated teacher and apathetic student. 

The victories in teaching are small yet powerful steps in a long, long journey. This felt like one of these small victories. 

-Sebastian Ruth, Providence String Quartet

Vartan Gregorian Elementary School Presentation

Today the Providence String Quartet gave their final presentation to the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. As always, it began with a dramatic entrance: this time while three members of the Quartet onstage were playing the accompaniment to the opening theme from Smetana’s From My Life, from the back of the hall came the rich viola solo as Sebastian Ruth sauntered down the aisle, stopping and whirling dramatically  every few steps to focus his attention on a child. (Der Uberbrachte!) He was wearing a bright green cloak and hat ("leprechaun" color said one child), which for those who had heard the previous session on the Art of the Fugue signalled "follow the green dot" if you want to know who has the theme.  


All four members of the quartet took turns with the presentation. (Jesse H began his comments by asking who supported the Yankees…and then the Red Sox! Great Excitement!  He pointed out the similarities to a team-playing Quartet.) The four reminded the children of the previous sessions — the connection between music and emotions, the idea of the theme moving around among the instruments, the different kinds of sounds the instruments make to simulate mood or activity. The Quartet elicited from the children once again the word for the emotion they felt on hearing each principal theme in the four movements of the Smetana quartet. Whenever the musicians posed questions to the kids, there was a huge waving of hands eager to respond. And every time the Quartet finished one of their short introductions of a theme, a huge round of applause swept the room.   

The culmination of the session was an invitation to the children (now experts in the string quartet and the Smetana in particular) to go home and share what they had learned with their parents and friends, and invite them to the school for a free pot luck and concert in two weeks time, to hear the whole of the Smetana. It took some time to empty the hall. So many of the children wanted to ask a final question of the quartet members, or shake their hands, or tell them something important.

–Karen Romer, CMW Board member