Together, Yes We Can

I was recently asked to serve on an Advisory Committee to the Obama transition team group working on Civic Engagement and Social Innovation. On Thursday I attended a face-to-face meeting of that group in Washington D.C. and I want to share the following reflections.

The excitement started to build as I milled with others waiting to get through a serious security check to enter the building where the transition team is working. Alan Khazy (founder of City Year) and his wife Vanessa Kirsch (founder of Public Allies) were chatting with Dorothy Stoneman (Executive Director of YouthBuild), Jim Wallis (Director of Sojourners), and Geoffrey Canada (Founder and Director of the Harlem Children's Zone). About a dozen members of the committee spent the next several hours with the diverse and energetic young staff talking about how to make Martin Luther King Day an occasion for a yearlong commitment to civic action (not just a day of service) and the role of non profits in meeting human needs in hard times and the importance of supporting social innovations with proven results. The conversation brought home how much this is the best of times and the worst of times. There is so much energy around a shared vision of a more just America with more opportunities for all. There are so few resources, and so many people being adversely affected by the economy.  

We all share the belief that one great hope for the nation is American's deep reservoir of civic energy, concern, and willingness to act that can be drawn upon to make a difference. Each of us can help to make the United States and the world better, even during tough times. We can do it in our daily lives by living green, by supporting our kids' learning, by being as generous as our resources allow, with time and/or money to help those who need us. We can do it through urging every group we belong to to think of others. Our CMW students model this for us when they turn the Youth Salon into a fundraiser for Darfur or Katrina victims. Our CMW parents model this when they rally around a family that has experienced a fire. CMW models this as an organization when we participate in the Providence Youth Arts Collaborative and work together to help sustain as many arts opportunities for our youth as we can, rather than competing for resources. 

CMW is a great example of a social innovation with proven results. We can bring not only music but joy and possibility and leadership opportunities to young people in the worst of times, as well as in the best of times. I am deeply proud of what CMW has accomplished and I enter the new year inspired by the beautiful sounds of our student performers in their Performance Parties and our PSQ and the Fellows Quartet who blew us away with their performance on Saturday evening at the Bell Street Chapel.
Together, Yes We Can.

Liz Hollander, President, Board of Directors

Performance Party (behind the scenes)

In my six years on the Board at Community MusicWorks, I went to many Performance Parties. In the first place, I had decided it was one of the best ways to discover what the organization was all about. It was also a great way to meet families and see the community connections. In the early years, Sebastian gave the audience (of parents, siblings, grandparents, and other fans) guidance in concert manners, i.e. saving your talking and walking for when no one is performing, and listening to players as you would like to be listened to when playing, and other helpful tips. As time went by, that advice was less necessary: most had learned how interesting it was to listen and watch. The focus became on keeping the show moving so the performances were completed within two hours, and then the much anticipated potluck party could begin! Keeping the performances to two hours became increasingly difficult, with 65 kids in the program, many of whom wanted to perform at every party. When the enrollment jumped to 115…well…! By then, fortunately there were a number of large groups of student playing together in ensembles of various sizes, but it was still a challenge.


As an audience member, comfortably in my chair, I enjoyed each student performance. I admired, leaned forward, applauded, was charmed, leaned back and savored every minute. What I saw was a steady stream of performers, of various ages and groupings take their positions, play, acknowledge the enthusiastic applause and then leave in an orderly fashion.


How different it was this week when I was back stage with the players and saw from the inside how this two-hour feat with children ages 7-18 was achieved. All of them had to have instruments in tune, and bows rosined and tightened appropriately; they needed to be reminded of the order they would file in so they would end up with a chair (if a cellist) or not (if violin or viola); they also had to end up in front of the right music on the various stands they would find for their particular piece. And finally, the stage had to be reconfigured after each piece for the next group.


So how did this amazing accomplishment come about? Each of the members of the PSQ, and their four fabulous Fellows plus several mentors, had specific assignments. For example, how did the instruments get tuned? Each instrument group had a classroom marked for them and manned by several teachers and mentors, out of earshot of the audience, where such preparations were made before the children came and sat in their designated seats in the auditorium to wait their turn to play. How was it that the children lined up near the performance area so neatly? Someone had put a yellow strip on the floor at just the right spot for the line to form, and all the children seemed to know it and remember their position in the line. And how is the performance space made ready for either soloists or groups of maybe 7, or 14, or 4? A couple of the teachers know exactly what each piece needs and they whisk stands and chairs away or into place for the next piece, while the previous group leaves the area. (What is more, over the years, I have never heard a teacher's voice raised. The loudest voice one ever hears is Sebastian, the emcee, who adds a comment or an insight here and there, and introduces the next player(s) just loud enough so the whole auditorium can hear him.


In short, the two-hour Performance Party miracle is an immensely well-oiled collaboration between excited, engaged, and well-prepared students and extraordinarily well-coordinated teachers who have developed a master plan attuned to the complex needs of the occasion.


Dear Reader, if you have never come to a Performance Party, do plan to come next time! You may even get to help the CMW community fold up the chairs after the concert before you join the potluck line for delicious home cooking.         

-Karen Romer, immediate past President, Board of Directors

Photos by Jori Ketten

Phase III reflections on DBR

Kirby and Jori spent many hours on a recent weekend putting together this 10-minute video. In it, three Phase III teens (Kirby, Josh, and Louis) reflect on their experience working with Haitian-American composer/performer Daniel Bernard Roumain on the premiere of the Kompa Variations at the RISD Auditorium in October.

Enjoy! And if you are inspired to support us, please click on the link below.


Dinner at Nick’s

Nick's on Broadway has a special offer for Community MusicWorks patrons who stop in for dinner prior to the Providence String Quartet & CMW Players concert at the Bell Street Chapel on Saturday evening.


$10 off per person at the 5:30 dinner seating. The concert (just across the street) begins at 7:30. Call Nick's at 421-0286 to reserve!

Read a 2007 review of Nick's in the Providence Phoenix.

Musician Corps

Did you hear the NPR piece on Monday about Kiff Gallagher and the Musician Corps initiative that he founded? Thanks to new major funding from the Hewlett Foundation, the initiative will be piloted with six professional musicians next year in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here's the link.


Kiff's idea for civic engagement by musicians is explained in detail on the Music National Service Initiative's website. Important to note: President-elect Barack Obama supports the creation of an "Artist Corps" that would consist of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and communities across the country.

Sebastian met Kiff earlier this year in Boston. Exciting to think about the possibilities, eh?

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

Quartet Project demo

Following the Borromeo Quartet's Musical Workshop, CMW's Phase III student quartet performed three brand new short works by composer Geoff Hudson who was visiting from Vienna. Geoff will be continuing his work with Phase III and CMW through next season.



Learn more about Geoff's Quartet Project here.