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.
I have always seen myself as kind of a shy kid. Thanks to CMW, I started playing some music and playing in front of an audience and playing with different kinds of people – playing in front of white people, playing in front of black people, playing white music in front of black people—and by white music I mean classical, your Beethoven, your Mozart—and then also playing spirituals in front of black people and then playing those same spirituals in front of white people. Community MusicWorks basically has said, “Screw borders. This is music and this is community and we’re bringing them together.”
When you sing [sings] “We shall overcome,” means the same thing to me that it probably means to you, right? You’re going to overcome something and there is no other way to understand that. That’s why music is so powerful in this way because whether you’re playing “Ode to Joy” or you’re playing “O Danny Boy” at a vigil, you’re feeling a similar emotion that it evokes from you. And that’s why music can be so influential, especially in moments of activism. I wish we had more music now to keep us uplifted. I wish somebody would write a new song about police brutality or grieving over the loss of someone from police brutality, something that people can sing and then people can feel uplifted and it will guide them to feel spiritually a sense of ease but also a sense of, “Okay, this can lead me to the next step in something to do in this community.”
In CMW, being just a young student, it was just all about like playing the violin and having a concert. But then when Phase II [CMW’s teen leadership program] came along it was, okay, we’re not just playing music. We’re having a conversation about environmental justice, we’re having a conversation about the election, we’re having a conversation about genocide. Like, okay, this is not just about music. There is an unsaid agenda that’s being achieved at Community MusicWorks for sure. We need more exposed feelings in this world in order to mend broken relationships. We’re starting to realize that the dream that Martin Luther King has dreamed is not yet realized. People now are thinking about what is possible and are starting to be vocal about it.
When I went away for four years to study music, I felt really disconnected from the community that I was in, musically. So when I came back to CMW, Daily Orchestra Program started. I fell in love with the program and I instantly saw a mirrored version of myself in the young kids. I saw them playing music in front of different communities, and being excited about playing Tchaikovsky and then suddenly shifting over to a rendition of some spiritual or African American or Latino composer and incorporating that into repertoire. I was just so motivated by their passion. And that has helped me realize I’m necessary. They need to see a student who not only left with a musical background but also feels a sense of civic responsibility to return to this place where they learned so much about themselves and their community and engage with them. And that also opened me up to wanting to do more in this community and understanding the environment that we live in, not only in Providence, but in the entire world, and in the U.S. particularly.
Every day I wake up and there’s a new story about another black male being gunned down by a police officer. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get frustrated because I feel like I can’t do anything. Sometimes I get active and I participate in some sort of march. I feel civically responsible as a citizen of color, being black but also being Latino, to represent this community in any way possible that I can right now at 24 years old.