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.
My grandfather met Sebastian at a car wash in Providence and the rest is history. Jesse Holstein was my teacher from the very beginning. He was a big part of my sticking with it. He was just so supportive.
I loved the workshops. Once a month Community MusicWorks has someone present some musical idea or genre. We had experimental music, we did electronic music, folk music. Starting out, I was completely not interested in classical music. After a certain point it switched. It probably had to do with the workshops and hearing the stories behind why this music was written, and doing camps where people were super into this type of music. Now at this point, I’m always on the edge of my seat when I listen to classical music. I still listen to hip hop and R&B and rock but I can’t imagine not having classical music. It’s what I listen to most of the time. It’s so complex. There’s really something for everyone if you give it a chance.
Between 11 and 14, you’re really trying to figure out in which direction you’re going as a human being. Those years are really important to feel supported and encouraged and I totally felt that at Community MusicWorks. The connections that I made with people were super-amazing. Having that trust and friendship changed who I am as a person. Coming from a lower-middle-class African American family, I never ever felt different, like bad different, at Community MusicWorks. Diversity is very much celebrated. There’s lots of different kids and there’s lots of different parts of Providence represented. Everybody works really well together because we all love music, and we love that community that we’re in, and we love the diversity that we have.
Once you start getting older, you start discussing things that aren’t part of that perfect civilization. You start discussing how tough the world can be outside of what we wish the world could be. And I think that is an important part of building great people who can go out into the world and spread this CMW way of thinking. You can see that in the kids who leave the program. People are like, “Oh, you’re so open, and you really know how to speak to people, and you’re so friendly.” You can change the world. It seems like such a huge thing but it doesn’t really take much to start that ripple effect. If you have the right thought process and know how to treat people, which I think CMW really helps kids understand, they feel like they can do anything by the time they leave.
For people who’ve just heard about Community MusicWorks and haven’t really experienced it, they don’t get that it’s not just a place where they are trying to pump out great musicians. It’s not just, “Learn these scales. Learn these etudes. Learn these pieces. You’re great. Go be a great musician in the world.” That’s also completely awesome, but there’s much more to it than just the music-making. The community-building–being part of a society where you are really thriving and supporting the other people that you’re around–is such a huge part of CMW.
The hardest part is having to leave. It had been my life for eight years. My family and my friends and everything revolved around this music-making and this community. Having to say goodbye, or not even say goodbye, but not be a student anymore, was so hard. My first year after graduating I was kind of distant. I almost missed it too much. Then I came for the Fantasia concert and I was like, “Why have I stayed away so long?”