Alum Alexis Nelson: Onwards, to Boston Conservatory!

Community MusicWorks congratulates alum AlexisMarie Nelson, who will attend The Boston Conservatory at Berklee this fall. Here, Alexis reflects on her ongoing connection to CMW and the experience of meeting a new pal, Yo-Yo Ma, in April. 

In the spring of 2005, my grandfather pulled into a community car wash fundraiser on the West Side of Providence. As his car was being washed, he made small talk with another man who was also waiting there. Who would have known that this conversation between my grandfather and Sebastian Ruth all of those years ago would have led me to Community MusicWorks, one of the most influential parts of my life? And ultimately, to this point: preparing to attend The Boston Conservatory at Berklee in the fall.

CMW has truly helped form me into the person that I am today, and not only as a musician (even though that was a big part!)  I learned how to set goals for myself in lessons and really apply myself while practicing at home. I was able to become a strong, informed member of the community at the same time that I was improving my technical skills and expanding my repertoire. At CMW I discovered my love for chamber music AND social justice. I became a member of amazing musical ensembles, and also a family.


Growing up, I had always known I wanted to do something to change the world. By the time I was in my early teens my sights were set on doing so through music. After graduating from high school and spending three years working in early childhood education as an AmeriCorps member and a teacher assistant, my vision for the future had shifted once again. It is now my goal to find a way to combine my love for working with the world’s youngest citizens with my passion for music. I’m still not sure how I’d do that yet (which is totally okay!), but I’m hoping these next four years will send me in the right direction! I’d also love to continue to be an active chamber musician because that is where my heart lies.

IMG_6332In April, I had the privilege of attending a convening on Cultural Entrepreneurship in New York with Sebastian. I spent the day listening and interacting with artists and innovators who were doing exactly what I hope to do: make a social impact. While there, I was able to speak with Yo-Yo Ma (omg) about my own observations of the day. I realized that there is so much that goes into being an artist who wants to make a change in the world. One has to have such strong intentions and well thought out goals within their artistry and beyond to really make the impact they hope for. It really made me think about how much thought, time and devotion goes into a program like CMW every day. This is something I will keep in the forefront of my thoughts as I move forward on my own journey.

Looking back at my time as a student of Community MusicWorks, I have so much to be grateful for. Some of my closest friends and greatest experiences have come from CMW. The staff have always been so supportive and caring of each and every student and I still feel that warmth every time I visit the office or attend a concert. I’d like to say a special thank you to Jesse Holstein, who was my private teacher, mentor and confidant from my first day in 2005, and who I can still call on to this day. Community MusicWorks has and will always be a part of me, and I hope to spread the spirit of the program with me wherever I go. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.

AlexisMarie Nelson

Quartet of Happiness Visits CMW

On the evening of Tuesday May 31st, The Quartet of Happiness joined Community MusicWorks students and staff for the final Workshop of the school year.  It’s difficult to label exactly the type of workshop these four gentlemen from Boston gave – a workshop that defies description.  Everything began simply enough, with an introduction to their instruments (a jazz combo of drum set, double bass, tenor and alto saxophone).  The opening number started off as a pleasant lullaby duet between the tenor sax and bass. Soon, however, the alto and drummer seemed to become anxious. They suddenly interjected a brief but raucous line of music, interrupting the lullaby.  From then on the lullaby devolved into a furious duel between the two duets, culminating with the two contrasting moods of music combined as one!

From that point on we knew this was no ordinary workshop. The Quartet of Happiness continued for the next hour with a series of performances and performing activities which engaged and involved the audience. They played music, including a piece designed to create the sounds of randomly scanning through channels on the radio. They took volunteers for on-stage competitions, with the audience as the judge. They made us break out into hysterical laughter and in quite the climax made everyone scream with terror as one of them morphed into a monster and proceeded out into the audience!


The Quartet of Happiness certainly captured the attention and enthusiasm of us all.  I happily watched as my students laughed together, sang along, and even shrieked with glee during the high points of the performance.  We are all so grateful to The Quartet of Happiness for giving us such a fun and imaginative concluding workshop of the school year!

Lisa Barksdale, Resident Musician


CMW Senior Spotlight: Aiden

Join us in congratulating Aiden, a CMW violist for 10 years, on his graduation from the program. Josie Davis talks to Aiden about his experience at CMW and future plans.


How old were you when you started lessons at CMW?
I was 7 years old when I started lessons at CMW.

What is your favorite CMW memory?
My favorite memory about CMW is the bug opera. We got to eat cooked bugs before going to see a bug opera…literally.

How has music and CMW shaped your life?
CMW has kept me busy and doing something productive that has given me countless opportunities, like going to New York and playing with my Phase 2 family.

Can you tell us about a favorite performance experience?
My favorite performance was the Fantasia performance in New York because it was the first time I traveled for a performance with Phase 2. And I honestly feel like I have never gotten closer to people that fast until that trip. I feel like they are truly family thanks to that performance.

What are your plans after graduation from CMW?
I plan to go to college for studio arts and continue working.

How do you think music will play into your life in the future?
Music has already taught me very valuable skills that I can now take into the world like how to mentor and teach other people. And many public skills like how to perform and talk in front of a crowd. And, of course I will still keep practicing the skills I have learned here in CMW on how to play the viola. I might continue to perform.

Please join us for music and food as we celebrate the end of the year, our graduating seniors, and all of our students’ hard work at the End-of-Year Student Gala!

Tuesday, May 24 at 6pm
Providence Career and Technical Academy
41 Fricker Street, Providence


CMW Senior Spotlight: Orianda

As we enter the countdown to the end of the school year we are getting ready to congratulate our graduating seniors and wish them farewell.  Today’s post features the third in a series of interviews with our graduating seniors.  (click here if you missed part 1! or part 2!)   Today on the blog CMW Fellow Josie Davis talks with senior violin student Orianda about her time at CMW.


How old were you when you started playing the violin with CMW?

I started playing violin in December 2014 when I was fifteen.

What is your favorite CMW memory?

My favorite CMW memory was working on the end of the year performance with the All-Play day ensembles. I remember looking around the room and seeing how concentrated everyone was, and committed to the parts they were playing.  It was also a fun experience to meet other CMW students and practice as a group.   

How has music and CMW shaped your life?

Music and the performing arts have played a big role in my life. It has made me more driven and has allowed me to perform and meet amazing artists in the community. While I haven’t been playing violin for as long as a lot of students who are part of CMW, in the short period of time that I’ve been a part of the program, I have improved so much in my sight reading and musicianship. Being part of the CMW community has made me better not only in violin but has helped me become a better guitarist and bassist.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation I plan on enrolling full time at Rhode Island College to pursue a career in Music Education so that I can work with young, aspiring artists like myself. I feel that I still have a lot to learn and that’s why I want to continue music instead of stopping after I graduate.

How do you think music will play into your life in the future?

Music will always be a big part of my life no matter where I am. I hope to continue to learn while working with other musicians.  I’m not sure whats going to happen in the future but I’m sure of one thing and it’s that music will always be part of my life especially as I go into college.

Please join us for music and food as we celebrate the end of the year, our graduating seniors, and all of our students’ hard work at the End-of-Year Student Gala!

Tuesday, May 24 at 6pm
Providence Career and Technical Academy
41 Fricker Street, Providence 

Power of Community

“Although heavy clouds hung over the city of Providence and cold rain and wind swept through the city, the State House was filled with warmth, happiness, and good music at the Power of Community event.  Quinn, Alex, and I were given the opportunity to listen to each other’s pieces of music as we shared them with the rest of the community at this event.”  –CMW Phase II student VanNashlee


Pictured: CMW violin student VanNashlee performs at the State House as part of The Power of Community Advocacy Day on May 5th, 2016.  Several CMW students had the wonderful opportunity to participate in this event, sponsored by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.

CMW Senior Spotlight: Heather


Today we turn the senior spotlight on Heather, violin student and member of Phase III.  She shares some fond memories of CMW and some of her plans for the future.  We’ll be checking in with all our graduating seniors during the countdown to the end of the season.  If you missed the first Senior Spotlight installment with fellow senior and violin student Alana, you can find it here.  

What’s next for you?

I’ll be starting as a student at Brown University in the fall! So far I’m thinking about majoring in either neuroscience or public policy, eventually leading to pre-med or pre-law. I am looking forward to exploring and finding areas that interest me the most.

Can you tell us your favorite CMW Memory?

There are three CMW memories that stand out to me. I remember a workshop at the William Dabate Elementary School with a group known as Caravan Serai featuring Pakistani singer, Arif Lohar. The music was amazing to jam to. Many of us in the audience were invited to go up and dance with them. I could feel the adrenaline rushing as the audience was clapping and cheering. It was a perfect combination of music, dance, and fun!

Another favorite memory is when Alana and I organized a Michael Jackson tribute in June a year after his death. We dressed in black and white, wore fedora hats, and performed songs such as “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” and “Smooth Criminal.” Sebastian and a former fellow, Carole Bestvater, joined us. I also remember our “Happy Farmer” skit. I played the role of Robert Schumann and Alana played the role of Clara Schumann. According to the skit that we wrote for the song, a farmer (who was happily working in the fields) inspired Robert to write a piece. Carole Bestvater, acted as the Happy Farmer. (By the way, we used British accents to sound more sophisticated!)


What was your favorite performance experience?

I loved playing the Bach Double Concerto this fall at the John Carter Brown Library with Alana and the rest of the CMW players. I’ve heard and loved the piece for so many years and never thought I would have the experience of performing it with my friend and the CMW staff. 

How will music be a part of your future?

I plan to take private lessons and either participate in Brown’s Orchestra or Chamber Music Program. 

How has CMW shaped your life?

Community MusicWorks has been an important part of life and has made me who I am today. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn how to play the violin and perform around Rhode Island, but I also met amazing people with whom I have formed long-lasting friendships. Community MusicWorks is like family. We are all united and help each other out. Since the age of seven, I learned from my peers and teachers. As I look back, I feel very fortunate to have been a CMW student and look forward to visiting from time to time. 


Come support Heather and all of our graduating seniors in their final performances at the End-of-Year Gala!

Tuesday, May 24 at 6pm
Providence Career and Technical Academy
41 Fricker Street, Providence