Newport String Project: Year Three


“When I practice with all of my friends, it makes me really happy and it makes me feel like I just want to play more and see more and learn more.”

 – Ryleigh, a Newport String Project violin student

This quote from our student Ryleigh illustrates beautifully what participating in the Newport String Project means in her life – the joy and wellbeing that comes from musical togetherness and how learning new things inspires more curiosity.

Ryleigh’s observation also reveals a sense of momentum and wanting to build on things that are going well – more and more and more… We can all relate to having growth experiences where the world suddenly seemed a little bigger or being struck by a moment of insight that brought new horizons into view. It is a theme that is especially relevant to the Newport String Project in its third season.

The Newport String Project has now grown to include three class groups of students (ages 5-11) who participate in our after-school programming at the Dr Martin Luther King Community Center. With each new group, there is new energy and a new set of complexities to navigate. It’s a time when we are doing all we can to establish cultural norms for the program – a supportive and joyful atmosphere, a family-centered approach, strong discipline around attendance etc. And of course, we are also seeing cultural patterns take hold all by themselves – younger siblings aspiring to learn everything their older siblings can do. The older siblings teaching the younger ones the tricks they have picked up, but also motivated to stay “ahead of the game.” We are fortunate to enjoy a focused presence at the MLK Center in the heart of Newport – a space that allows us to learn about and engage with the community in a very meaningful way.

With each season, the concert series is a process of discovery. From string quartets at the Quaker Meeting House to barndances to chamber music for strings and percussion at the local coffee shop, we dig into this question of how live musicmaking can transform community spaces, maybe even create a moment of surprise or playfulness in someone’s day. The connections we make with audiences at our concerts are a great source of inspiration and feedback as we think about programming. It has been encouraging to see how the performer-audience relationship become more dynamic since our first season. It is an exciting time of experimentation with new venues, as well as enjoying the rituals of venues where we play regularly.

Community MusicWorks’ focus on model sharing has created a vital opportunity for many professional musicians “to play more and see more and learn more.” As Emmy and I progress further in the life of the Newport String Project, we are constantly learning about what works (and what doesn’t) and this is accompanied by a sense of expanding possibility. What might we accomplish if we could add an administrative staff member to our team? What if we could grow our community of volunteers? What if we could have a string quartet of resident musicians – how might that change the experience of living and growing up in Newport? Potential gives us a smile and a wave from the distance!

Year three of the project means that things are no longer brand new, a lot has been achieved and yet these are still very early days. We spend a lot of time living in that hectic space in between “what went well today?” and “what’s next?” – often exciting and rewarding, but sometimes not a comfortable place to be. As with any learning experience, new more challenging questions come up. Dreaming big needs to be tempered by understanding what is sustainable. We share in what I think is a familiar experience for a lot of our colleagues who are doing similar work. How to scaffold the growth of these organizations in a way that supports long-term investment by musicians, families and the community is a critical conversation for all of us. This is fundamentally optimistic long-range work connected to a big social purpose, requiring lots of support, advice and investment. Carving out spaces for students (and teaching artists) to create, innovate, practice their art, reflect – essentially, to thrive – is a bold task and one that needs attention to all the nuts-and-bolts details of resource development. Everyone – musicians, families, audiences, supporters – has a role to play in this conversation… Here’s to the next round of Big Questions!

–Ealaín McMullin, Director, Newport String Project


Reflections on Landfill Harmonic

On Friday February 12, 2016, Phase II was invited to the opening night of the Providence Children’s Film Festival at the RISD Museum. Phase III was given the opportunity to open the event with the piece Drowning By Numbers by Michael Nyman. The directors of the program introduced the main purpose of the Providence Children’s Film Festival and also expressed how happy they were to be a part of it.

Following these presentations they showed the film Landfill Harmonic. This film is about a musical project that started in Paraguay.  The children in the story come from a town named Cateura. They live in very harsh conditions next to the main landfill of one of the major cities in Paraguay,  and their houses are not the best places to live in. These children are given the opportunity to play music on instruments made from recycled materials scavenged and forged together by one of the members of the community. In short the film tells the story about how this “Recycled Orchestra” becomes famous in the world, and they share their story.


The film gives the message that art and/or music are a basic human need. I agree with that because without music or any art life would be pretty dull. The arts are something that make each person unique, and they bring us together. I think CMW is contributing in spreading this message. CMW is also giving the opportunity to lots of children in the community to learn how to play classical music and to be able to appreciate arts in the community.

I very much enjoyed the film and the event. I found it to be a great connection to the work Community Music Works is doing in Providence.

–Jessenia Grijalva, Phase II student and CMW board member

Sonata Series #4: Storms and Tears

Our fourth Sonata Series concert of the season is coming up this Thursday February 18th.  We are looking forward to another cozy hour spent listening to pieces by Benjamin Britten and Ludwig van Beethoven in RISD Museum’s Grand Gallery.


Viola Fellow Hannah Ross will perform Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of Dowland, op. 48 by Benjamin Britten.  This haunting work (literally translated as “Tears”) was composed for violist William Primrose in the year 1950, but it takes its theme from a melody written approximately 300 years prior, a melody by notoriously melancholy English Renaissance composer John Dowland.  Interestingly, for a piece that is essentially a theme and variations, the theme does not appear until the end.


Violin Fellow Kate Outterbridge will perform Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 7. The Sonata is in the key of C minor, a key Beethoven is famous for popularizing perhaps most famously in his Fifth Symphony and “Pathetique” Piano Sonata.  This sonata is appropriately stormy, and Kate remarks, “I love how turbulent and gutsy the piece is!  It is really fun to play!”

Both Hannah and Kate will perform with pianist Ben Nacar.

Sonata Series Event
Thursday February 18th, 7:00pm
RISD Museum Grand Gallery
Admission to the museum and concert is free


Ars Subtilior #5: Meditating on Sound

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with our teenage group, Phase II, on the “Sonic Meditations” by composer Pauline Oliveros. (For a great article on Pauline’s work, see Through these text based scores, we’ve been trying to focus on attentive listening and non-judgmental perception. These are not easily attainable concepts for most, but the students are progressing surprisingly well. At first, our meditation attempts were riddled with uncontrollable giggling, but a week later, we were so wrapped up in our successful group meditation that we unknowingly went past the time parents were supposed to pick everyone up. Through the Oliveros exercises, I’m preparing the kids for a performance of André Cormier’s “Cratères d’Impact”. André’s piece calls for a series of complex sustained tones to be played over 22 minutes with lots of silence in between. My hope is that our meditations will allow them to perform this piece as a shared experience with the audience, shedding all (or at least some) self-consciousness they might have possessed before this endeavor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 4.27.53 PMPhase II in sonic meditation

Also on this program will be a piece that I have composed. I wrote a small idea down for this concert and feel very lucky to have such open and willing musicians to play it. The work is basically a meditation on the note E-flat and some of its overtones. Every note, or fundamental, has a series of notes that make up the defining character of that specific tone. These overtones are sometimes difficult to single out, even for highly trained musicians, but if you listen very intently, you can pick out these notes, which can in turn bring you much deeper into the sound produced. In “finding/obscuring,” I’ve directed the cellos to play their E flats emphasizing different overtones through the use of a special bow technique. While the cellos struggle to get their instruments to make these tones speak, the violinists play those exact notes, but just slightly off. This finding and obscuring of tones (hence the title) should result in moments of crystal clear harmony, mixed with sparks of shimmering dissonance.

The stunning centerpiece of the program is one of my absolute favorite compositions for string quartet, Jürg Frey’s “String Quartet No. 2”. It combines unconventional string playing along with ghostly humming by the performers. It is rarely performed and should not be missed. Hope to see you there.

–Laura Cetilia
Media Lab Co-Director/Resident Musician and Curator, Ars Subtilior

Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 3pm
Providence Public Library
150 Empire Street – Ship Room