We're pleased to announce that our blog has packed up and moved over to our beautiful new website! Travel over to www.communitymusicworks.org to read our blog, check our calendar of events and learn more about CMW.
I am Hannah, the not-so-new viola fellow at CMW! For better or worse, I have been charged with writing for the CMW blog, bringing me closer into the fold of the Millennial generation than ever before (see new Fellow’s blurbs). Having not even had a xanga in 8th grade on which to post angsty song lyrics, I’m not entirely sure how this whole blogging thing works. Most blogs I read involve food, which means they involve pictures, which means I actually don’t have to read at all.
In any event, it is today, on a bright and cold Wednesday afternoon, that I make my first entry on the inter webs. It was 377 days ago that I first heard about CMW. Before November of 2013, Rhode Island was not exactly at the forefront of my mind. It blended in nicely with the other states in New England that are on the Bolt Bus route to Boston from NYC. I may have even been slightly surprised to discover Rhode Island is in fact connected to the mainland USA. Basically, I knew nothing. But I applied for CMW because hey, I was graduating from my masters degree and I did NOT want to stay in the cesspool of misery and despair that is NYC on a student budget. I was also drawn to the idea of teaching, performing, and being within a community of people who believe in the power of music as a vehicle of change in the world. Despite a case of nasty food poisoning (a story for another post, I think), I auditioned, interviewed, and ended up being offered the position.
My realization of the week is that we’re always in the right place at the right time. A year ago, Rhode Island didn’t exist in my world. Now I live here. I still don’t know much about it. But I’ll keep learning. The right time and the right place are now and I’m excited to see where the next year and a half takes me on the Road to Rhode Island (Family Guy? Anyone?)! My next post may be about banana bread...or knitting. Thrilling stuff, really. Until then!
This Saturday, November 22, please join CMW and many of the other phenomenal youth arts organizations in Providence for Youth Arts Day! This is a rare change to see what several organizations are up to on the same day in the same place. There will be demos, performances, participatory workshops, a community dialogue, a dance party, and more. Stop by and say hello! Daily Orchestra Program will perform at 11AM and Phase 2 is leading drop-in workshops from 12-1:45.
Community MusicWorks "happening" on October 18 in New York was a lot like salsa dancing for gringos. It was hard to keep up. It was hard to know what or who to watch - Venezuelan composer Gonzalo Grau or violinist Johnny Gandelsman or CMW players - and even harder to know how this viscerally charged, salsa-art music-classical collaboration was holding together.
Take the dazzling centerpiece Fantasia con Guayaba Habanera, commissioned by CMW in 2013. Before you grasped one sound, something new had started, a rhumba, a pop riff, a different key or mode or Dionysian blast from the trumpets while violinists plucking their strings. Grau composed and arranged this large shifting composition with fast feet and arms wide enough to hold a CMW classical string section, Latin timbals and horns, and a magical violinist, Gandelsman. Under the wide reach of Latin music, forms were present - along with the creative impatience to turn left, try right, get moody, go elegant, charged for maximum effect.
The hall in the DiMenna Center was nearly full with spry little kids sitting on the floor, and a mix of seated New Yorkers who were there for the cultural experience. The composer, being a bit of a tease, gave no hint to the question: "What kind of experience?" That one you're going to hear, he so much as said, tipping his black bowler. The one you're going to hear as you travel freely with a creative mind through different musics.
The experience began with a suave master of ceremonies, Jainardo Batista, who crooned, played flute and bounced through two charged Grau compositions. Then CMW Players - 28 violins, viola and cellos - came out to join the composition Moros y Cristianos. Moors and Christians coexisted and clashed in Andalusia, Spain, but the piece was inspired by flamenco, the art form of the itinerant gypsies who live in Andalusia. Grau played a few bars of flamenco to show the complex and brooding underpinnings of the music - how notes move without a clear signal of their return to home key. Also influenced by Islamic and Jewish music, flamenco provokes questions about home. It is comfortable in modes of travel and with a continual redefinition of "home". It's music where border crossings are taken for granted, but the forms themselves are rigorously maintained.
This is CMW's purview - crossing borders from stage to community, from one music to another. In his introductory remarks, Sebastian Ruth explained that CMW had commissioned Grau to compose the piece with the question in mind: Could the Latin music that many Providence CMW kids hear at their family homes mesh with classical forms? What if we tried it? What would it sound like?
The resulting Fantasia con Guyaba Habanera floated one of many possible answers while at the same time, remaining undefinable. It is a sophisticated intelligent work - starting with an extended struggling voice of Gandelsman's sometime dissonant violin through various dances and forms. The borders of music kept shifting from intellectual to full sensory to big band dance. At the beginning, individual voices played, then politely listened. They became more and more layered until everyone was joyously playing on top of/with each other. What had begun with one voice ended in a singsong communal chant from the audience.
Just before Fantasia came Johnny Gandelsman. He explained that the piece he was performing, Chaconne, is the product of J.S. Bach's meditating on a Spanish folk dance form as a basis for his classical composition. Gandelsman is a strong physical presence, dipping and swaying, but he dissolved the materiality of the violin to arrive at something freestanding, that existed almost without him. His border crossing was extraordinary as well.
Throughout the day any number of thoughts and feelings pass through our minds. Some leave as quickly as they enter but others stick with us, clouding our minds and pulling us away from where we are and what we’re doing. It’s a challenge at any age to focus on the task at hand and to give yourself fully to the present moment. I for one wish I had had more guidance with this at an earlier age!
That’s why I was so excited when last Thursday Jesse Holstein visited the Daily Orchestra Program and offered to lead a guided mindfulness activity at the start of the class. I admit I was nervous. Would the kids be able to sit still for 5 minutes? Would they start goofing off in the face of something new and unfamiliar? Nevertheless, I knew we had to start somewhere, and I trusted Jesse had something good up his sleeve.
As the kids entered the room I could see they were immediately curious and engaged. They wanted to know what Jesse would be doing with the mysterious array of materials he had laid out on the floor - a glass jar of water, some bags of colored sand, and a bell. He definitely had their attention! Once everyone gathered around close (making extra sure they could see everything that was going on), Jesse used the glass jar of water to simulate the mind. We talked about the different thoughts or events that might upset our minds during the day. Perhaps we left our homework at home by accident, or at lunch someone ate our very last chicken nugget! With each upsetting experience, a student poured a different color of sand into the water and stirred. Gradually the water jar became one dark, cloudy mess! At the ringing of a bell we were instructed to wait in silence, to focus only on our breathing and watch the water.
When the bell struck there was a level of silence and concentration I had never witnessed before from our orchestra. It was truly an exciting moment! For the most part the students breathed calmly while the water slowed and sand settled in the bottom of the jar. Of course, once the sand had settled that wasn’t enough! They demanded to do the experiment again, and kindly Jesse obliged.
I am so happy that Jesse was able to visit us and introduce our students to the concept and practice of mindfulness. We hope he visits us again soon!