20 Years, 20 Stories

This year Community MusicWorks turns 20!

To mark the milestone, we are gathering the stories of 20 members of our community–musicians, students, parents, graduates and supporters. Look for new stories throughout the season. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and edited to create personal narratives in each subject’s distinctive voice. Read a behind-the-scenes post about the project, written by Linda Daniels. We hope 20 Years, 20 Stories captures the many flavors and varieties of CMW experience. Join us at a concert anytime to start creating your own CMW story.


Sebastian Ruth is CMW’s Founder and Artistic Director. 20 years ago, Sebastian was a Brown University student with a passion for music and social justice and an idea about creating musical opportunities for musicians and young people in Providence. He never imagined leveraging a one-year grant into an award-winning non-profit organization that redefines what it means to be a classical musician embedded in the community. Sebastian is a 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and received an honorary doctorate degree from Brown in 2012.
Read Sebastian’s story here.


Liz Cox has worked at CMW since 2006 as Administrative and Communications Manager. She played drums, percussion, sang lead vocals and wrote music in the bands Christmas and Combustible Edison. Liz performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, recorded the soundtrack for the film Four Rooms and sang Lesley Gore’s “My Secret Love” for the film Grace of My Heart. After hours, Liz volunteers as a drum and vocal teacher for Girls Rock! RI and writes fiction.
Read Liz’s story here. 


Adrienne Taylor is a resident musician and director of the Daily Orchestra Program, which she founded in 2012 to combine the core principles of CMW with ideas and practices from El Sistema, Venezuela’s youth orchestra and social action program. Adrienne collaborates regularly with artists in film, theater and dance, and especially enjoys working with composers. She recently recorded for an album by Cape Verdean singer-songwriter Benvindo Cruz.
Read Adrienne’s story here.


Cellist and resident musician Laura Cetilia came to CMW in the inaugural class of fellows in 2008. She curates CMW’s experimental music series Ars Subtilior and co-directs the Sound Lab. Laura also performs avante garde music in her duo Suna No Onna and electroacoustic improvisation with husband Mark Cetilia in Mem1, which performs internationally. Laura received the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts 2017 Fellowship in Music Composition, a highly competitive grant designed to recognize and support artists doing exemplary work.
Read Laura’s story here.



Joshua Rodriguez is the Community Partnership Coordinator at Brown University.  He graduated from Community MusicWorks in 2010 after studying viola with Resident Musician Jesse Holstein and Founder and Artistic Director Sebastian Ruth. He has a degree in viola performance from Guilford College. Josh mentors at the Daily Orchestra Program.
Read Joshua’s story here.


In 2001, fresh out of Rice University with a degree in cello performance, Oregon native Sara Stalnaker drove East. She thought she might find work as a waitress in Maine. But then she heard about a job for a cellist in Providence and found “what I had been yearning for– something really new, exciting and energizing.” After serving as a CMW resident musician for fourteen years, Sara now pursues a solo practice.
Read Sara’s story here.



Alexis Nelson is a freshman at Boston Conservatory at Berklee College of Music. She joined Community MusicWorks at age 10, first studying violin and then viola with resident musician Jesse Holstein. She graduated in 2012. Alexis returns regularly to CMW to attend concerts and performance parties and also works at CMW’s summer camp.
Read Alexis’ story here.


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Andrew Oung joined CMW at age 7. He studied violin with resident musician Jesse Holstein and continues to study music at Rhode Island College. Andrew serves on the CMW Board of Directors and volunteers at the Daily Orchestra Program. Andrew’s older brother Paul graduated from CMW in 2010 and younger brother Karl will graduate this spring.
Read Andrew’s story here.



Erika Ramirez is the parent of two former students, Rusbel (cello), and Alana (violin), who graduated from Community MusicWorks in May 2016. Erika immigrated from the Dominican Republic more than 30 years ago. She has an associate’s degree in in office administration. She was a member of the CMW board of directors, serving on the finance committee.
Read Erika’s story here.



Mark Hinkley joined Community MusicWork’s Board of Directors in 2013, where he serves as treasurer. He also mentors at the Daily Orchestra Program. After stints in radio, submarines, and urban planning, Mark spent his career in reinsurance before retiring in 2007. Mark has an interest in jazz improvisation.
Read Mark’s story here.


Minna Choi began studying the violin at age 7. But she didn’t fall in love with the instrument until high school, thanks to a Anne-Sophie Mutter recording of a Mendelssohn violin concerto and a happy experience playing chamber music at summer camp. At Brown University, she joined a quartet and began playing music with Sebastian Ruth, never expecting the violin to become a career path. The rest is CMW history. Today, Minna is the Fellowship Program Director and continues to play violin with the MusicWorks Collective. She has a master’s in violin performance from Hartt School of Music and has performed with numerous regional orchestras.
Read Minna’s story here.


Sixteen years ago, Jesse Holstein thought joining the Providence String Quartet “would be cool.” Today, Jesse’s life of musicianship and community service is rooted in the organization he helped build. A graduate of New England Conservatory, he is an active recitalist and chamber musician, serving as the concertmaster of the New Bedford Symphony. In addition, Jesse teaches at Brown University,  Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music and Greenwood Music Camp.
                                                                             Read Jesse’s story here. 


Frankie Packard, 13, began playing the cello with Community MusicWorks seven years ago. His brother August, a violist, and sister Daisy, also a cellist, are CMW alumni. An eighth grader at Times2 STEM Academy, Frankie enjoys math, has a dog named Noodle and likes to play fiddle tunes. Look for the sparkly shreds of a wide green ribbon he tied on his cello for a St. Patrick’s day concert four years ago. He hopes they will still be there for his graduation performance in another four years.
Read Frankie’s story here. 



Linda Kane is CMW’s food guru. Whether preparing 400-plus meals for a community concert and dinner or catering a CMW fundraiser, she focuses on nutrition, sustainability, and local products. Linda is most revered for feeding delicious meals to Phase II students every Friday night. She has worked at Walt Disney World, as a personal chef and caterer, and taught at Johnson & Wales University.
                                                                                    Read Linda’s story here. 


Karen Romer has been one of Community MusicWorks’ biggest fans right from the start. An accomplished amateur cellist, she first met Sebastian Ruth and Minna Choi when they were undergraduates and she was Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Brown University. They played chamber music together one night and as Karen puts it, “I was enchanted.” After retiring, Karen joined the CMW board, served as president for four years and is now an honorary board member. She is a regular at concerts, Performance Parties, meetings and seminars, and recently became a mentor. She continues to play chamber music and has a special fondness for Bach’s Second and Fifth Cello Suites and the Andante in Brahms’ Piano Quartet, Op. 60.
Read Karen’s story here. 


Alexandra Rosario likes to say that she was “born into CMW.”  The youngest of five siblings, Glademil (violin), Elvis (cello), Natasha (cello) and Jeffrey (violin), Alex demanded an instrument of her own long before she was old enough to officially join the program. Resident Musician Jesse Holstein restrung a violin with viola strings and a violist was born. Today, Alex is a confident 17-year-old senior at Paul Cuffee High School who sings and writes her own songs and poetry in addition to playing the viola. She was recently accepted to Columbia College, a women’s liberal arts college in South Carolina.
Read Alex’s story here. 


David Bourns joined the board of CMW in 2010 following a career in education, first at George School, a Quaker high school in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and then at the nationally recognized Paul Cuffee Charter School in Providence, where he served as Head of School from its inception in 2001 until retiring in 2010. Making a difference in a world where race and poverty curtail opportunity has been a driving force in his life, from his early foray into politics to his work with non-profits and success in increasing diversity at George School, although he is too modest to highlight any of these achievements himself. Besides music, David loves literature. During his tenure, he opened many a CMW board meetings with a poem. He continues to volunteer as an honorary board member.
Read David’s story here. 


Rokhaya Dione has been a CMW parent since 2010. Her daughter Marieme plays violin and son Djibril plays viola. “Everybody calls me Rocky,” she says. Everyone also knows that she is quick to pitch in. “I cannot just take and not give back,” she says. “What other way would I have to say thank you than to help?” Rocky is a music lover, and was introduced to flute, piano, singing and a bit of theory as a child in Senegal. She was an enthusiastic member of a CMW parents choir that met two years ago. She still likes to sing “Coffee Beans,” a challenging round by American composer and New York City street musician Moondog.
Read Rocky’s story here. 



Philanthropist Liz Chace liked what she heard 20 years ago after meeting with Sebastian Ruth about a community project he had launched. “I thought it was incredible.” Liz straddles two worlds: entrepreneurial business and community service. She earned a degree in social work and was an active community organizer. She also co-founded Residential Properties. She has been involved with numerous local nonprofits and institutions, including Brown University, the John Hope Settlement House, Wiggins Village, Trinity Repertory and the Rhode Island Foundation. Although Liz enjoys classical music and especially loves CMW’s year-end student concert, she confesses that she was relieved when her childhood piano lessons ended after a year and a half.
Read Liz’s story here.



Violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery graduated from Julliard in 2003 and came to Community MusicWorks a year later. She was born and raised in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, “a hotbed of cultural activity and community development,” as she describes it. She studied violin at the Third Street Music School Settlement, one of the nation’s oldest community organizations, and brought some of its innovative practices to CMW in the form of Music Lab, where students learn to express their unique instrumental voice through improvisation. After leaving CMW in 2009, Jessie helped found the highly praised PUBLIQuartet, which features its own compositions and those of other contemporary string composers. She was also a member of the acclaimed Catalyst Quartet and is affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latino string players.  She is commissioned regularly to compose. Her album Strum: Music for Strings, was released in 2015.
Read Jessie’s story here.