The We Shall Overcome Project

In recent months, CMW teachers have been working with students on an experiment we’re calling the We Shall Overcome Project.

In this project, all of our student ensembles are learning an arrangement of We Shall Overcome (with parts designed for varying skill levels), and learning more about the history and meaning of the song. Since September, the students have all taking part in weekly activities that explore the text, history, and power of this song, and have been starting to write their own verses based on things that they would like to overcome – in their schools, their neighborhoods, or in the world at large. One student-written verse reads: “We are all unique…we will be ourselves….bullying is not ok.”

The first performance of these new verses were performed at the January Performance Party at Calvary Baptist Church and were a great success. Now, we’ll continue to refine the ensemble performances, and also invite parents, Board members, and community members into the process. Stay tuned for information about ways to participate, including community sings. The culminating performance will be in late March, as part of the Emanuel Ax residency, and we’ll produce a video on the project this spring.

This experiment helps us explore our hypothesis that musical proficiency and community participation skills are mutually reinforcing. We hope that, through the We Shall Overcome Project, students, families, and teachers will work together to more deeply explore the meaning of music and the role it can have in supporting social change.

— Chloe Kline
Education Director

No One is a Stranger

Ever wonder about the history of a particular musical instrument? The musicians it has served, the venues it has seen, the audiences reached? CMW recently received a donation of two instruments from a generous donor. In this account, Karen Romer gives us the story of Carrie Teale and the violins destined for our community of music-loving youth.

Carrie Teale

It was the 1890’s and teenager Carrie Teale had a gift for music. She played the violin so beautifully that Leopold Auer, the great teacher of Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, heard her recital at Carnegie Hall and urged her parents to let him teach her in Germany. Carrie’s parents thought Germany was too far away for a girl of sixteen to go alone; however, her father wanted her to have the best possibilities in America, so he bought her a fine Italian violin.

Carrie continued to play, but not professionally. She married young and had two daughters. Chamber music and musician friends often filled Carrie’s house. Family lore tells of her second daughter, Catherine, once asking her mother how she connected with people who were strangers only minutes before, yet were soon revealing their innermost thoughts. Carrie was stopped by the question, unaware that she was anything special. “No one is a stranger,” she said.

Years later, arthritis prevented Carrie from playing even the standard folk songs and “Pop Goes the Weasel” for her grandchildren, so she entrusted her two violins to her granddaughter, Ann Chalmers Watts. “You can do whatever you want with these instruments as long as they will benefit young people,” Carrie said. Now Community MusicWorks is the fortunate recipient of those two violins. It seems the Powers That Be knew that CMW would be the perfect destination for the violins of someone who thought that “no one is a stranger”.

Recently some CMW students, staff and board members came together to meet Ann and see the two violins she offered to CMW. We sat around two very well worn cases while resident musician Jesse Holstein opened and unwrapped the violins, one by one, from faded yellow silk. One, the instrument that Carrie probably played for her recital, had a golden varnish and appeared to be from the 19th century and German, modeled after an Amati. The other was dark auburn and made by Ruggieri of Cremona in 1671. (That was fourteen years before Bach and Handel were born!) Jesse passed the violins around our circle, and we admired them, asked questions and made comments. A luthier will give them careful attention before restringing and setting them up for a new life in Providence.

One CMW student, Alex, observed that for hundreds of years people like herself had been excluded from the community of classical musicians and thus from the joys and satisfactions of learning about classical music through playing it; she said she is now part of that community because of CMW, and those joys are very much a part of her life, including playing Bach and “Papa Haydn.” She pointed out that she might be the first person of color to hold the Ruggieri violin. 

Finally, to culminate the occasion, some people played wonderfully: Alex played Bach, student Jessenia played Mazas and fellow Josie and Jesse played duos by Bach, Pleyel, and Bartok. There is a good chance you can hear these violins in 2017!

–Karen Romer
CMW supporter and former President of the Board

Reflections on Impact 2: Sharing Tables with Strangers

Community MusicWorks has commissioned WolfBrown, an arts and culture research firm, to evaluate the impact of our mission through various strands of our work in Providence over twenty seasons. Sharing Tables with Strangers is the second in a three-part series of publications. This report, funded by ArtPlace America, is co-authored by Chloe Kline, CMW’s Education Director, and Dennie Palmer Wolf, of WolfBrown and analyzes the ways in which CMW has had an influence on the neighborhoods in which we work, specifically through the lens of a collaboratively-produced concert series in a neighborhood taqueria.

Click here for the 2016 evaluation: Sharing Tables with Strangers


Renewing Our Mission: Give to the CMW Fall Appeal

When people ask, How is Community MusicWorks going?, I find myself talking about a feeling of newness. After two decades immersed in the mission of CMW, what inspires this sense of renewal?

As we mark our 20th season, the original spark has more clarity as we draw from our lived experience of the mission. We are recommitting to aligning musical excellence with social justice: work that leads to a more just world, and in return becomes a catalyst for greater artistic expression.

Your support keeps our work in motion. The impact of your gift may resonate loudly through our performances, or more subtly through our work with our students. Over time, the effects of both have been profound.

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When doing aspirational work, there is an interplay between the ideal and the real. In the beginning, the gap between the vision and the day-to-day could be so wide as to be disheartening. But that distance has narrowed. We see our vision taking shape in the activities of our musicians, students, and community members every day.

For example, as every student learns the music of We Shall Overcome this fall, they also take part in weekly discussions about the song’s history in the Civil Rights Movement. Students and their families will identify what overcoming feels like to them in their communities and how music plays a role. In this rich context of a deeper learning of music, students’ awareness of the world is changing and expanding. Their ability to discuss important issues grows more thoughtful. They are becoming citizens of the world.

Intention and effort are also coming together for us as performers. With our new ensemble name, MusicWorks Collective, we are expanding our repertoire and concert locations to reflect our vision that performances can transform audiences and musicians alike.

As we renew our mission, I invite you to also show your support and join us in celebrating our 20th season with a gift of $20, or $200 – or perhaps even $2,000.

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Your generous gift directly supports CMW’s mission to transform lives, and will be felt, seen and heard in every classroom, rehearsal space and performance hall. Your support will reach every CMW musician—from faculty to student—and audience member.

I thank you for being part of Community MusicWorks 20th season, and our shared inspiration to find meaning and make a difference in our communities.

With all best wishes for the holiday season,
Sebastian Ruth
Founder & Artistic Director

P.S. Please be sure to share your email address with us when you make your donation or online at You won’t want to miss our monthly e-news, including special concert announcements, photos and program updates.

Make your online donation here, or send a check to:
Community MusicWorks
1392 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02909



Healing Through Art

Reposted from the Brown Daily Herald, written by Nancy Safian.

Wednesday morning, Rhode Island National Public Radio’s political analyst Scott MacKay tweeted a link to Joe Conason’s blog post for the National Memo, “What Do We Tell the Children About Their Country Now?” As the mother of a 12-year-old and a 17-year-old who are both worried about the election outcome, I’ve been reading quite a few blog posts on this question. But what helped me the most was a meeting I attended Wednesday morning with the Providence Youth Arts Collaborative, a coalition of nonprofit organizations that offers free after-school arts programs to thousands of public school children in neighborhoods around the city.

At about 11 a.m., eight of us entered Everett’s Carriage House Theatre in Mount Hope. Sebastian Ruth ’97, artistic director of Community MusicWorks and assistant professor of the practice of music at Brown, silently took out his violin and for 15 minutes played Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chaconne” for our small group. The reverberating sounds of his violin filled the space, sounding to me like waves of cries and sighs of loss. Ruth told us that Bach wrote the song after learning his wife had died.

We sat in silence for a long while until Anjel Newman, director of AS220 Youth, in response to the piece, read her reflections on what the election means to her as a mother and a woman of color. After that, Jan Marie, an artist at Everett Company, slowly and methodically listed all the names of the young people she works with, citing each student’s personal stories (one is gay; another’s mother recently passed away; another has brothers in jail) along with their strengths (kindness, artistry, compassion and camaraderie).

Vanessa DeNino, Americorps program director at Providence CityArts for Youth, asked the very question from MacKay’s tweet: How do we talk to the children now? Her face was etched with concern, regretful that she was not successful in convincing a middle school teacher to support an art project because the teacher was worried it was too political.
In an election when the data failed us, when the media pundits seem unmoored by what happened Tuesday, I found comfort in the people in that room. I have always been skeptical of our over-reliance on data — in education, especially — when it comes at the expense of empathy, intuition and creative thinking. In this election, I was swept away into believing that the data and polling would prove true.

But I sat in this room with seven overworked, underfunded and concerned arts leaders, and what they said in the end gave me hope. Newman was actually optimistic about President-Elect Donald Trump’s election because she believes it will now be impossible to sweep injustice, violent language and inequity under the rug. DeNino concurred that she will redouble her effort to create avenues for complex conversations on civics and social justice in school-based art classes. I found hope in Ruth’s beautifully played music and in the compassion and closeness Marie expressed toward the students at Everett.

I’m not sure what will happen next. I’m concerned about access to freedoms of expression and thought, which the young people in our communities take for granted. But I choose to remain hopeful that the creative young people in the PYAC programs along with the artists who work beside them — many of whom are Brown students — will find ways to use their art to create positive stories and images and to raise their voices with renewed energy for peace, justice and compassion.

Nancy Safian is the academic programming and facilities coordinator for the department of theatre arts and performance studies at Brown University. She can be reached at 

Post-Election Reflection

Our work with young people feels ever more urgent today, as so many today are feeling afraid, unwelcome, targeted. Paolo Freire insisted upon critical consciousness in considering the world around us. Young people need the tools and the experience to critically examine our current reality, to challenge the status quo, to come together with others to resist. We will be working yet harder to help young people understand that this election outcome can’t spell a new reality where racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric is acceptable or normal. We need to constantly insist upon and work toward the reality we seek. Now more than ever. Through music, through dialogue, through the pursuit of diverse and supportive community, we will dig in and work harder, with love.

–Sebastian Ruth

Reflections on Impact: Community MusicWorks at 20

“Twenty years ago, CMW virtually founded the field of place-based music making with an emphasis on social justice in the U.S. Two decades later, their original values and practices show up in the mission statements and goals for virtually every community embedded music education program – Sistema-inspired and others. But what doesn’t show up in those other programs is the deliberate program design and the hard work of implementing the design in daily practice. That is where CMW’s excellence and value to the field lies. But that’s also the challenge – on the one hand, CMW’s vision has been normalized. On the other hand, what remains unique – daily hard work and evolution – isn’t as glamorous as high-minded promises.”
–Arts Educator and Author Eric Booth, from the 2016 Evaluation of CMW’s “Extending Our Reach” Initiative

As Community MusicWorks celebrates its 20th season, we are pleased to present “We Are Each Other’s Magnitude and Bond,” a report that focuses on CMW’s efforts to share our model and practices over the past decade.

We Are Each Other’s Magnitude and Bond is an evaluation of Community MusicWorks’ Fellowship Program and Institutes for Musicianship and Public Service — two long-term efforts funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation designed to extend the impact of CMW’s twenty-year urban music residency to a wider field. Led by Wolf Brown’s Dennie Palmer-Wolf of WolfBrown, the evaluation documents the effectiveness of the Fellowship Program and Institutes in diversifying the classical music field, promoting the uptake of CMW’s model in new communities, building supportive networks, and developing a next generation of entrepreneurial, community-invested musicians.

Read We Are Each Other’s Magnitude and Bond here.

Bach Around Town 2016

Our annual celebration of the music of J.S. Bach continues with “Bach Around Town,” a series of pop-up concerts around the city of Providence.  These performances are also part of our 20 Popups Series, which is an ongoing honoring of our 20th Season, featuring 20 informal popup concerts around the city throughout the year.


Scenes from 2015 Bach Around Town  when Resident Musicians Chase Spruill and Lisa Barksdale performed in the rotunda of the Rhode Island State House

The 2016 Bach Around Town Schedule is as follows:

November 1
10:30 AM
Providence Public Library, Empire St. Foyer
Chloe Kline, viola
11:00 AM
Amos House
415 Friendship St.
Ashley Frith, viola

November 2
12 PM
RISD Museum Pearl Café
Ashley Frith, viola

November 3
1:30 PM
Park View Nursing Home
Josie Davis, violin, and Adrienne Taylor, cello

November 4
10 AM
Rhode Island Foundation
Chase Spruill, violin
4 PM
Illuminate Thanksgiving
Performance on a street corner
Chloe Kline and CMW students

November 9
2 PM
Campus Fine Wines
Zan Berry, cello

November 10
12 PM
Café la France (Amtrak Station)
Sebastian Ruth


Actor Marcus Guy to Join the CMW All-Student Retreat!

Next Tuesday is our All-Student Retreat! CMW students will be heading to Canonicus Camp & Conference Center for a day of music, games, and a special workshop led by NYC-based actor Marcus Guy. 

Check out the interview below with Marcus about his life as an actor and his approach to teaching.


Can you describe your background?
I come from small-town Scotland, somewhere between Glasgow and the Western coastline. It’s picturesque, it’s small and to many people back home, my being in New York City, pursuing the career that I am, is simply unfathomable. I attended public school through the equivalent to 10th grade before going to Scotland’s only performing arts school to study Musical Theatre. There, I attained my diploma in Musical Theatre performance, but discovered my love was more for truthful storytelling and less for performance in a “showy” sense. I auditioned successfully for Juilliard Drama in my senior year of High School and moved to New York just weeks after my 18th birthday. As a child actor I had a lot of experience in pantomime (something of a cultural phenomenon in the UK) and on Scottish Television and Radio with the BBC but was also always involved with Theatre in Education programs touring Scotland and playing some of our largest arena venues so outreach, in a very broad sense, has always been an integral part of my life and work.

Where are you currently based?
I currently call New York City home, though I have a huge desire to continue traveling. As an actor trained in the theatre, New York City is the best place to continue working in that medium as well as forging exciting professional relationships in films, television, and the commercial world.

Describe your current work.
Most recently I have been developing new work (my own and others’) as well as focusing on outreach and continuous auditioning. In September I travelled to Bangalore with ASTEP, a NYC based organization, to work with students at Shanti Bhavan conducting workshops in the fine and performing arts with students aged 3-18. Right now, I am in Central Florida launching a new part of the stART Program, which offers aspiring performing artists a bespoke college preparation program that really focuses on the specifics of applying to degree programs with a focus in the performing arts. Recently, I have also had the great joy of working on a lot of exciting auditions — taping them on the road and sending them all over the country — and planning out what 2017 might look like.


Can you give us a preview of your upcoming workshop at CMW?
When I think about my immediate connection to music – rhythm comes first. As a child I could not stand still when music came on and love finding how my physical self can relate to an auditory experience. A lot of my actor training was scored with talk of acknowledging and pursuing impulses and this seemed like an idea that exposed both the hallmark of my training and my continued work in the professional work and my relationship to music itself. I hope students will learn to act, react and interact in person, in space and with their instruments in music over the course of the day and also find a level of empowerment in self-expression that moves beyond the sheet music and into something more free form that is imagined on the spot.

Tell us about stART and the inspiration behind it.
stART is really my adoptive child. My friend Evan (a fellow Juilliard alum) started the program in his hometown in 2010 and I joined as a teaching artist in 2011. Since my involvement began 5 and a bit years ago the program has grown from being Evan’s way of giving back to the community that raised him to a true professional breeding ground where young artists, in a variety of disciplines, can make serious and meaningful connections with young and emerging professionals. As we enter our 8th year of programming, we are excited to change the structure of the program to really focus on collaboration between artists of different skill-sets. I am proud to say that our students have gone on to some of the most prestigious performing arts colleges in the country and represent us on the highest level — a student from year 1 was at the Emmy’s this year!

How do you approach teaching acting?
I approach any teaching setting with the idea that I should never ask my students to do something that I can’t do, which funnily enough is a trick that won’t work for me at CMW — I am not a musician! However, my spirit will be the same. I am always willing to try things, to dare, to be playful, to risk and to fail knowing that I’ll have more information for my next attempt. I think students can only take that vital and often daunting leap successfully when they see the person who is supposed to be motivating or inspiring them doing the same thing. I am high-octane, motivated and always willing to say “Yes, and…” to an idea before considering shutting it down.

We are looking forward to Marcus joining us on our all-student retreat!  

–Josie Davis, Violin Fellow

BachFest Begins at Providence College and the JCB


The Sunday event at the JCB is sold out, but please join us Saturday, October 22 at 7pm for our Providence College concert.

The MusicWorks Collective is excited to present our annual “Bach and Friends” concerts this weekend featuring works by J.S. Bach, Padre Antonio Soler, Georg Philipp Telemann, and Benjamin Britten.  We are also thrilled to welcome back Fred Jodry as harpsichord soloist.  This year Fred will be joined in duet by Paul Cinnewa, fellow harpsichordist.  Our Founder and Artistic Director Sebastian Ruth will perform the solo viola part of Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major, and we’ll bring some of our students on stage to perform with us for the beloved Air from the Third Orchestral Suite in D (also known as “Air on the G string”) by J.S. Bach.  We’ll conclude the performance with the always energizing Simple Symphony by Benjamin Britten.

This weekend’s concerts kick off our annual BachFest, with pop-up Bach performances all around Providence, culminating in an all-night-long Bach Marathon at Manning Chapel on November 11th

We hope you can join us this weekend as we begin our celebration of Bach! – either in the beautiful Ryan Concert Hall at Providence College on Saturday evening or in the John Carter Brown Library on Sunday afternoon (tickets for the JCB performance must be reserved in advance).

Full Program details below:

Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C Major, J.S. Bach BWV 1061
Fred Jodry and Paul Cinnewa, Harpsichords

Concerto II for Two Harpsichords by Padre Antonio Soler   
Fred Jodry and Paul Cinnewa, Harpsichords

Viola Concerto in G Major, Georg Philipp Telemann 
Sebastian Ruth, viola

Air from the Third Orchestral Suite in D, BWV 1068, J.S. Bach 

Simple Symphony, Benjamin Britten

Saturday, October 22, 7pm
Providence College
Smith Center for the Arts
Ryan Concert Hall
61 Eaton Street
Providence, RI
Admission is free and no reservations required.
Free parking available in lot adjacent to the concert hall.  Use #61 Eaton Street for GPS directions to the Eaton Street Gate.

Sunday October 23, 3pm
John Carter Brown Library
Brown University
Providence, RI
This event is sold out.