10 Years... 10 Stories

An interview project celebrating the tenth anniversary of Community MusicWorks.

Interviews conducted by:

Fidelia Vasquez,
Community MusicWorks cellist & board member
and Chloë Kline, Community MusicWorks Fellow

Special thanks to all of our interviewees for sharing their time and their stories, to Liz Hollander for the inspiration to start this project and brainstorming help, and to Liz Cox for her transcription heroics.

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Tenth Year Violin

10 Years... 10 Stories

    Josh Rodriguez

    Vanessa Centeno

    Sara Stalnaker

    Karen Romer

    Zeeny & Patrice Wolfe

    Tae Ortiz

    Itza Serrano

    Sebastian Ruth

    Carolina Jimenez

    Jesse Holstein

Sara Stalnaker,
Providence String Quartet
                                     Photo by Patrick Roberts

Fidelia Vasquez: Sara, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?


Sara 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.

FV: How did you find out about CMW?


SS: 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 meet him.

FV: How do you think being in CMW has changed your life?


SS: 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.

FV: How have the people in CMW affected your life?


SS: 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.

FV: When did you realize CMW was going to be an important part of your life?


SS: 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.

FV: You do all the workshop organization. Can you talk a bit about what the workshops are for, and why they matter?


SS: 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.

FV: What was one of your favorite Performance Parties or Youth Salons?


SS: 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!”

FV: How have you seen the Phase II discussions change and grow, and people in Phase II?


SS: 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.

FV: Last question. What's your favorite thing about CMW?


SS: The people. No question.


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