State arts budget update

This just in from Lisa Carnevale, Executive Director of RI Citizens for the Arts, Rhode Island's statewide arts advocacy organization:

Governor Carcieri cut the arts budget by nearly 60% while all other publicly funded programs were cut less than 10%. His move paints a bleak picture for Rhode Island's creative sector, and its benefit to the state–economically and culturally. Now it is up to the Assembly to restore these cuts.

On Thursday, Senate Finance Committee members will hear testimony on the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts budget.  We need you to tell them to reinstate funding for RISCA.  

Please call or write your State Senator right away and urge him/her to reject the Governor's plan to decimate funding for the arts.

RISCA provides significant annual program support to CMW, along with many other arts and arts education programs across the state. Please join us in showing our support of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff

See photos of Phase III teens performing at the State House last week here.

From a Musical Mentor’s perspective

I have been a teacher for 16 years and have worked with students ranging in age from 6 to 46, but I have never had as rich an experience—as a teacher or student—as I have had this year as a Musical Mentor to Alexandra, a 10-year old violist at Community MusicWorks. I began working with Alex in late October; I practiced with her on Monday evenings. Though I was a stranger to her family, they welcomed me into their home that crispy October night to begin a relationship, one that started with music at its core.

What makes my CMW mentoring experience different from most other teaching and learning relationships I have had is that I have become a part of Alex's family's life. Never before have I been able to visit the home of my student, to get to know her family and extended family. Never before have I been able to drive to and from class with a student, talking about life and school and friends on our way to and from playing music together. This is a hugely important aspect of our mentoring relationship, the “downtime” spent not playing music but eating, talking, listening with one another.

Of course, we also play together. I play the violin and Alex plays the viola, and we have fun with the differences. Sometimes we “argue” about which instrument is better (Alex has a great story about the viola players rising up and taking over the orchestra!), and sometimes we play harmonies or duets, utilizing the different sounds of our instruments. (I also play a lot on the D and G strings!).

In our early weeks of practicing together, Alex and I got talking about and experimenting with sound effects on our instruments. We were mimicking trains, cows and squeaky doors when suddenly Alex came up with an idea. She was interested in watching old cartoons on television, with the sound turned down, and trying to accompany the action with homemade sound effects. The next week, I arrived at her home with a DVD of old Mickey Mouse cartoons. We spent our practice time that evening watching all of the cartoons and filling in all of the sound effects with our violin and viola. It was a blast. I let Alex borrow the DVD, and she practiced sound effects all week.

During one visit to their house before the winter holidays, her sister (also a CMW student) came into the living room, while Alex and I were practicing Amazing Grace, picked up a spare viola, and began sounding out the tune with us. During a visit in February, when I was picking up Alex for Fiddle Lab, her brother came bounding into the living room to tell me about that his basketball team went undefeated. As I was pulling out of the the family's driveway last week, Alex's mother came running outside, into the rain, to thank me for working with her daughter. She said, “I know your time is precious, so thank you for giving it to my little girl. God bless you.”

This multifaceted role that I play in Alex’s life and in the life of her family has given me so much. Alex’s enthusiasm for playing, her energy for out-of-the-box tunes and techniques for her viola, and her good ear have impressed me and have given me energy in turn. I am so thankful to have found this opportunity and this family through CMW. My work with Alex has given me joy through music and friendship and kindnesses. I can’t wait to see what’s next. 

-Jenn Cook, Musical Mentor

Knock, knock. (It’s Philip Glass)

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Philip Glass.

That’s how the old joke goes. 

To some, Philip Glass is merely a gimmick. After the opening performance of Glass’ Akhnaten in its 1984 run at the New York City Opera, New York Times critic Donal Henahan wrote, “[Glass’ operas] stand to music as the sentence ‘See Spot Run’ stands to literature.” To others, Glass’ music has a mesmerizing beauty. Mr. Henahan’s colleague at The New York Times, Robert Palmer, wrote: “One listens to the music and, somehow, without quite knowing it, one crosses the line from being puzzled or irritated to being absolutely bewitched. The experience is inexplicable but utterly satisfying and one could not ask for anything more than that.”


At CMW, we had the privilege of having his String Quartet No. 5 in our lives this spring thanks to the dedicated work of the CMW Fellows Quartet. Because of this piece, I now stand resolutely and proudly with Mr. Palmer. 

The term “minimalism” makes some classical music fans groan. Even some “minimalist” composers shudder at the word. In a nutshell, the term refers to a repeating cell (basic unit) of melody or rhythm that evolves over time because of rhythmic and/or melodic transformation. The first examples of minimalism in music date from the 1960s with the work of Terry Riley and Steve Reich on the West Coast. Philip Glass began experimenting in a minimalist style during his studies in Paris. From 1964-66, Glass studied composition and form on a Fulbright grant with the French composer and pedagogue, Nadia Boulanger. To pick up extra cash, he worked for Ravi Shankar, transcribing music for a score Shankar was composing for the American film, Chappaqua. The repeating rhythmic and melodic patterns entranced Glass, who had never before heard Indian music. In 1965, Glass wrote music for a staging of Samuel Beckett’s Play, using two saxophones that repeated the same two notes over and over, but in different meters—a variant of the “phase” technique introduced by Steve Reich. He would never look back. 

He returned to New York City in 1967 and formed the Philip Glass Ensemble the following year as an outlet for his cyclical compositions. Initially, the Ensemble performed mostly in loft spaces and galleries, and Glass had to supplement his income by working as a mover, a plumber and as a cab driver.

Over time, his audience continued to grow and in 1976, he experienced one of his first global successes with the plot-less opera, Einstein on the Beach. While he had already been legitimized by the pop world with glowing endorsements from Brian Eno and David Bowie, the classical art world began to take notice as well. Commissions and projects in a variety of genres and media poured in, and in 1978, he could finally retire from non-musical jobs and devote himself full time to his craft. Today he is one of the most powerful and influential people in the arts, and one of the most global names in classical music.

In conversation with Los Angeles Times critic and writer, Mark Swed, Glass describes the string quartet as a genre representing a spiritual and personal checkpoint for composers. “In an odd way, string quartets have always functioned like that for composers. I don’t really know why, but it’s almost impossible to get away from it. It’s the way composers of the past have thought and that’s no less true for me.”

When he set about to write his Fifth Quartet (actually his eighth foray into the genre, as his first three attempts were discarded works from his youth), he was unfettered by the need to write a “serious” work of art. “I was thinking that I had really gone beyond the need to write a serious string quartet and that I could write a quartet that is about musicality, which in a certain way is the most serious subject.”

Completed in 1991 and written in five continuous movements, the work opens with a centering, bell-like pizzicato followed by warm, radiant incantations. The first movement is essentially a prelude or a call to worship. The second movement has a feeling of inevitability, with an ostinato rocking bass in the cello propelling an excited syncopated melody above. The third movement announces itself with an energetic, dancing fanfare. It is not difficult to imagine a group of revelers lifting their hands up in a joyous dance of life. Like the slow movement of a Bruckner symphony, long melodic lines, propelled by ostinato arpeggiations and the familiar rocking motion of the second movement, swell to peaks and acquiesce to valleys in a beautiful, slowly paced fourth movement. The final movement opens with repeating, pentatonic shimmers a la the French composer Maurice Ravel. Gradually, a rhythmic groove emerges from the watery texture, which transforms into frenetic scales racing up and down the ladder. A reprise of the quartet’s introduction is then heard before it merges with the quicksilver scalar passages. A controlled hoedown follows before we hear the work’s introduction one final time accompanied by pizzicato echoes of the rocking motor from the second movement.

-Jesse Holstein, Providence String Quartet

When to applaud?

On Wednesday evening, Aaron, Jason, Adrienne and I were discussing the conventions around applauding during a performance. This came up because we had just attended the St. Lawrence String Quartet's brilliant concert presented by Rhode Island Chamber Music Concerts, and experienced the awkward silence after the thrilling and breathless conclusion to the first movement of Mendelssohn's F Minor Quartet. Awkward because the silence almost begged to be filled by an emotional response. Instead we sat on our hands and listened to people coughing and rustling papers throughout the hall…

We didn't have to worry about this during the performance the next evening at the West End Recreation Center gym. Responding to that same intensely climatic moment deliberately engineered by Mendelssohn, most the entire audience, myself included, burst into spontaneous applause. Man, did that feel good!

Alex Ross gave a recent lecture in London on the topic of concert audience etiquette. Here's how he began his remarks:

Last fall, Barack Obama hosted an evening of classical music at the White House—once an unremarkable event, more recently something of a freak occurrence. Beforehand, he said, “Now, if any of you in the audience are newcomers to classical music, and aren’t sure when to applaud, don’t be nervous. Apparently, President Kennedy had the same problem. He and Jackie held several classical-music events here, and more than once he started applauding when he wasn’t supposed to. So the social secretary worked out a system where she’d signal him through a crack in the door to the cross-hall. Now, fortunately, I have Michelle to tell me when to applaud. The rest of you are on your own.”

Read the rest of his remarks here.

-Heath Marlow, CMW staff