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, and volunteers for CMW on All-Play Tuesdays.
I started being involved with CMW in 1999. That was through my former employer, West End Community Center. My son was the one who started taking classes. He started taking cello with Heath, and then when my daughter was 7, she got into the program. She started playing violin and she kept at it until the end. My son never finished CMW but he got what he needed during the time that he was here. And my daughter, I’m really proud of her because she finished.
The music, classical music, drew me. When I was little myself, I wasn’t exposed to classical music. The sense that I had was it was limited to a specific group of people, if I can say high-class people. But based on the way Sebastian showed it–it’s for anybody who likes music and wants to try a different kind of music–I decided to put my kids on that. It was curiosity to learn, to see what the program brought for my kids and expose them to something different instead of pop music, so they can decide they like it. That was the best thing that could happen.
I have two favorite CMW memories. The first one is this piece “Fantasia” [Fantasia de Guayaba Habanera, by Gonzalo Grau, to be be reprised at a concert in June, 2017]. Oh my God, they play salsa, they play Latino music. I saw Sebastian dancing. I saw everybody enjoying the time. Sometimes you don’t think that older people from other cultures will be getting to that moment, if I can say that. So I really liked that. I was dancing with my mother. Everybody was dancing. My daughter was dancing. I see everybody enjoying that moment.
And the other moment that I really enjoyed was when my daughter graduated.After all the difficulties that we have, difficulties that I see as a learning experience, challenges that you have in life because nothing comes easy, I am satisfied for what we did. She almost quit. Sebastian, the program itself–changed her mind. One day she told me, “Mom, I’m not going to quit because I want to get that certificate.” So that was really, really a very, very important moment for me and I’m pretty sure for her too, when she graduated.
My life for 12 years was shaped around CMW because I have to base my time, my daily activities, on my daughter’s schedule. It was not a sacrifice. I didn’t see it as a difficulty. It was something that I think I have to do in order to get what I want and my daughter can get the benefits of the program.
CMW wants to use music not only to teach an instrument but as guidance for kids’ daily life. Although we are in this very small community compared to the whole world, when the kids leave this community, they can bring what they learn here and that can be spread on a large scale. Good things start as very small and then they expand. And this organization has expanded a lot in 20 years.
It takes a lot of determination from the team to keep this organization for 20 years and face all the challenges. Based on my experience with other nonprofit organizations, I think it’s hard to keep up an organization based on grants. You have to keep innovating. What motivates me? My son, my daughter. My daughter, my son. No order in that. I’m the closest role model that they have. I try to do my best so they can be good citizens, so they give back as they receive, as they received from this program.