Providence String Quartet
Photo by Patrick Roberts
Vasquez: Sara, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Stalnaker: I grew up in Portland Oregon. I started cello
when I was seven, and my parents were musicians, and educators.
Then I went to school at Oberlin, where I met Jesse Holstein, who's
in the quartet, and later I went to graduate school at Rice University,
where I met Heath Marlow. And then I went back home to Portland
for about three months, got a little bored with the inactivity with
my life there, and got in a car and drove out to the East Coast,
where I found this job, as well as a job in the New Haven Symphony!
Now I live in Massachusetts, and I commute. I'm engaged to a cellist
who works in Boston, which is why I don't live in Providence anymore.
How did you find out about CMW?
Heath Marlow was in my position before I came out to the
East Coast, and he was leaving to go the West Coast as I was moving
from the West to the East. Heath contacted me when I was here, and
he told me about this teaching job, and that's all he said about
it. Honestly, I wasn't that interested. Teaching can be really exhausting,
and I wanted to perform, so at the time it didn't strike me as something
exciting. But I put in the phone call to Sebastian just to be financially
responsible. And then I came down for the interview, and instantly
tapped into what it was about, and of course got very excited. Sebastian
breathes CMW. In a way he sort of embodies it, so it takes
very little time kind of to understand what it's about when you
How do you think being in CMW has changed your life?
Well, artistically, playing in a quartet has been extremely
supportive for my artistic side, because it's not like orchestra
music, where you're trying to fit into the rest of the larger voice.
You actually have your own voice, which is a very cool thing. And
to have such a supportive audience… it's been a really nice experience
for me to feel valued as a cellist and an artist. Financially it's
been a big support too. There aren't too many jobs at least in places
that I'd like to live that can support a musician the way CMW does.
And I've actually found that having really good health insurance
has changed my life! It's funny. I've really learned to take care
of myself, and I think this organization really does support self-care.
In addition, socially it's been great on many different levels.
One, like I said, there's the larger community that you feel part
of. On a collegial level, it's also been a great experience to be
able to work with the people who I work with at CMW. I think this
kind of mission keeps people really soft in the heart, and makes
them very easy to work with, and very easy to connect to. And then
of course there are my kids. There are larger numbers of kids every
year that I feel more and more connected to. And finally, the humor
is definitely there; I think working with young people keeps your
sense of humor alive, and I think it makes the office feel kind
of like an industrious carnival at times.
How have the people in CMW affected your life?
It's made me more hopeful about people, because I've seen
students change over time. That's a learning process that I'm not
sure I would have had elsewhere. When you work with kids for sort
of a long period of time, and you see that they can grow into a
better place, I think that influences how you perceive yourself
and what you're capable of, and what other people are capable of.
Your vision of people is not quite as frozen as it might have been.
When did you realize CMW was going to be an important part of your
I think it actually took a couple of years for me to not
just feel like I was showing up and teaching lessons, but to start
treating my students like relationships. I think I first explored
that level of connection to my students with the Rosario family.
Jesse Holstein and I would take them out for movies, or do various
things with them. Not too often, but every once in a while. I was
so poor at the time that I could do so little of it, it was kind
of sad. But I think they were the first ones that made me realize
that this was a “beyond the classroom” kind of experience. Just
having conversations with Audrice, and thinking of the family as
this multidimensional thing. That was really captivating to me,
to see these people as stories that I wanted to read.
You do all the workshop organization. Can you talk a bit about what
the workshops are for, and why they matter?
I actually have a whole list of things that the workshops
are for. One, they're a community event. We wouldn't really have
a community if we didn't have community events, if all the kids
did was just show up for lessons. So they serve as a gathering place
for our community. Two, they're supposed to be inspirational for
the kids. Even if it doesn't necessarily inspire them to go off
and practice their instrument more, it's supposed to touch them
on some level. And I think also the awareness of all the different
types of music out there is a good lesson about different cultures,
and different types of people that can come together and share a
common experience. Finally, it's also a chance for the kids to just
jam. We do maybe four workshops a year where the kids get their
instruments out and play with the guys, and get the sense of what
it's like to be part of something that is first rate.
What was one of your favorite Performance Parties or Youth Salons?
I kind of miss the times when I used to have these “all
plays,” where all my kids played at once. I would always have them
at the very beginning of the performance party because it would
take like twenty minutes just to set them up with the rock stops,
and to make sure no one was hitting anyone else with their bows.
But when it was finally set up, there would be this double horseshoe
of all my kids, just looking at me, with this like look of terror
in their eyes! Wondering if I was going to make it okay. And then
they would start playing, and of course fifteen cellos, regardless
of their level, is just beautiful. Really full and lush. I think
those horseshoe moments were probably my favorite. But it's hard.
I get teary at least once a performance party when a kid really
does well. I always think, “That's my favorite moment.” But then
I get teary the next time and I think, “No that's my favorite moment!”
How have you seen the Phase II discussions change and grow, and
people in Phase II?
The Phase II discussions have gotten a little bit more
personal, which I think is really cool. It's not necessarily that
this group has been together longer than the other Phase II groups
have, but I think we've just trusted ourselves to sort of throw
more heavy discussion items or topics at you guys, and we keep seeing
that you guys each time, rise with more of a spark, instead of less.
That's sort of made us just relax a little bit about letting you
guys sort of discuss really difficult issues, and issues that we
don't have answers to, and issues that we haven't ourselves probably
have discussed. A lot this stuff is just sort of, we don't normally
just sit down and talk about. So it's sort of this intimacy that
you're allowing the group to get to, and just hoping that everyone
will be comfortable with it. I'm thinking particularly of a recent
discussion when you guys were comfortable sharing these moments
in your lives that had great meaning to you. And I think that's
a sign that the group dynamic has gotten to a place that feels fairly
safe. And I think that's sort of the key, I mean that's one of the
main objectives for Phase II is to create a safe environment for
you guys to sort of express yourselves in.
Last question. What's your favorite thing about CMW?
SS: The people. No question.