Excerpts from Notes on Phase II, Nov. 4 '05
It was late Friday afternoon at the end of the first school quarter. The students dribbled in slowly with instruments and backpacks. The weather was lovely but the week had been long and some were dragging, plopping down and stretching out at 45 degrees, completely limp.
The Providence Quartet moved the furniture around, creating a space in the big room full of round tables and chairs in which to make a circle. There were over twenty of us: the students, the Providence Quartet, Rob Jones (the facilitator), and myself. Rob began by asking three questions: what has been going well for you, that is, what are you proud of? What have you not been doing, or what are you feeling bad about? And how are you feeling about Phase II in particular?
Some of the students volunteered, and after that we went around the circle including everyone who had not yet spoken (me too, as the only comparative stranger). The good news included being on the honor roll, getting high honors, working on the yearbook, and the bad news included getting an F in algebra, having a terrible time with a job. Some of the disappointments were spoken so quietly, often with head down, or hand over the mouth, that it was hard to hear. The remarks seemed honest and the fact they were willing to share them suggested this was already a group that had developed considerable trust.
The staff also spoke of ups and downs - a successful performance, planning a wedding (hearty applause), good practicing, illness, and neglected paper work at home. When it came to the Phase II question, the Providence Quartet members expressed frustration with getting the new Phase II quartets started, as members would fail to show up at scheduled times, leaving the others handicapped. Students also regretted not making the quartets a priority among the many things they were trying to do. Rob zeroed in on the new quartet program and the need to make membership a commitment. Someone asked about the plan to play in the community. Rob opened up a discussion about how the quartets would decide what venues in the community they would like to play in.
At first, people were vague about how to proceed, and he reminded them that they had been given a three page handout, which described the steps in detail for developing ideas for sites, contacting a key person to explain about the quartet initiative, finding possible dates to play at the site, checking out proposed dates with quartet members etc. He directed each quartet and their coach (member of the PSQ) to work together for ten minutes and brainstorm possible venues, identifying a contact person where possible. The groups moved swiftly to work, as if this was important to them.
When the groups reported back they had identified excellent community venues where they might play - sites with which they had some familiarity -- City Hall, the school and the community center, both of which provide space for their lessons and workshops, a library, a nursing home where a parent worked, the sidewalk by the storefront office of CMW and others. The students worked with great attention and the reporting back was done with clear, strong voices, -- unlike most of the earlier communication -- with some lively interaction between the groups, a bit of competition for the "best" list, some delight on coming up with some of the same places.
After a supper of chicken wings and drumsticks, bread and salad, the seats were rearranged in a half circle for the first master class in the new quartet program with Jenny Elowitch, a professional violinist invited down from Boston to work with the Phase II students that evening.
By the time they had worked for forty minutes, the piece was sounding very together and pleasing. The students had learned that the first violin may not be the key voice in spite of its prominence, that rhythm may come from moving notes rather than emphasized beats, that learning to listen to what each part is playing is part of the undertaking of quartet playing. She had built on what she had covered with Tae in interaction with the group on dynamics, and how you can make a greater distinction between a forte and a piano. Moreover, a number of students who thought they had things all figured out were enabled to see how much more was going on than they thought. The interplay between the audience and the players as elicited by Jenny's questions and ways of involving them in mutual support and inquiry further strengthened an environment of interdependence.
-Karen Romer, Board of Directors