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

Sebastian Ruth,
Providence String Quartet


Fidelia Vasquez: When did you first get the idea of starting Community MusicWorks?


Sebastian Ruth: I first got the idea for CMW when I was a senior in college, and I was interested in doing music in a setting where music would be part of a project for social justice. The ideas of inequality and injustice were really troublesome to me, and I was thinking about what role I could play. One thing that I found motivating was thinking about education, and the way education can introduce people to the ideas of the world, and let them become citizens of the world, and engage with other people.

FV: When did you realize that CMW was going to be a long-term project?


SR: Well, it was about the third or fourth month of the very first year of CMW. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, and he said, “Well, this is really cool what you're trying to do, but you can't do something for kids and then walk away after a year. That's worse for kids than never doing anything at all.” I hadn't realized that. I should have, but I hadn't. And then, several months later, I was realizing that there was very little of CMW set up, even after six months. I thought it would all be set up within the first month or two, and that we'd have this year of lessons and of concerts, of performances, of kids having discussions about the community. Well, I didn't know what I was doing, really, and I'd never had a fulltime job before even, so I was figuring out how to create this job, and make it all happen. It was overwhelming.

FV: How is CMW different from what you envisioned?


SR: That's a great question. I guess the main thing that's different is the way that my day feels. A lot of the things that we do are very much the kind of things I hoped we would do. I hoped there would be a quartet that rehearsed and performed intensively, and I hoped my quartet could be different from other quartets in the way that we made our career, and that has happened. And I hoped we could be sort of flexible to just play interesting little concerts that we created around the community, and that's happening. I hoped that we'd have a band of students who were really excited about playing, and some students who were excited to come together and start talking about music, which has happened with Phase II. I guess what's different is my own job. I thought that my job would just be about sort of waking up every day and playing my scales, and being in the mindset of being a musician all day long. I thought maybe I'd just go out to the street corner and sit on a chair and talk to somebody and then play a little music. What I have had to learn over time is what it means to lead an organization. I never thought of myself as having to be a kind of manager of people, which I've had to do.

FV: Where do you see CMW going in a couple of years?

SR: Well, one tangible thing that we talk about a lot is having a building. Having a place that students work as an after school job, maybe running a little concert stage, running a little café, having a place to just come and listen to music in a music library. I envision people having that kind of space to be in. I think the thing that my heart is really in, though, is just continuing to get more deeply into the idea of what is transformative education. And I guess I feel like there's constantly a need to reconsider how we do education. One of the authors I find really inspiring is Paolo Freire, and he has an idea about education that students have to feel very empowered to have a voice. So I keep wanting us to grow the way that we do education, and more and more have it be about students developing their voice.

FV: Tell me about your most rewarding moment with a student.


SR: There are rewarding moments that happen all the time. And probably each time there is one it feels like the most rewarding ever. But one very emotional moment for me was when Marconi was going to go to Apple Hill [Center for Chamber Music], and he had to learn a Mozart quartet, and we decided that as a way to warm him up for the experience, that he could perform it with our quartet. He and I both played the viola part. I remember doing that, sitting at a Performance Party, and playing this Mozart quartet. I was sitting next to a student of mine who I had started on the violin, eight years before. And that was really special for me.

FV: What about your rewarding moment in the community?


SR : I think feeling accepted and feeling like I belong is a wonderful feeling. Being at the West End Community Center, and being invited to their annual Christmas dinner felt very rewarding. Because I admire that community center a lot, and to feel like I belonged there as one of the people, as the musician guy who did this work with them, was really nice. There are also rewarding moments when a younger sibling of one of the students is old enough to play, and you realize they weren't born yet when we started this. So for their entire life, literally, we've been doing CMW. They just think of it as something that always has existed. Even though for me it still feels like this work in progress, something we're still trying to do. They just come, and it's like a given that they're going to play. That's also very special.

FV: Do you have a favorite workshop?

SR: I guess I have two. Jumaane's workshop last year, where his jazz trio taught us the 12-bar blues. Suddenly all of us, no matter how what level, were playing the 12-bar blues, and then Jumaane just started doing these incredible solos over it. The whole room just felt a groove in this piece. Moments like that, where everybody is feeling the music together, are really special. The other one that I loved, that had a totally different feel, was when Osmany Paredes came last year, and played Cuban jazz. He was just musically really expressive. Sometimes in a workshop like that you don't know if the kids are really going to like it, because there's not a whole lot going on, but everyone was just transfixed because his music was so cool. And he was speaking in Spanish, and Lourdes was translating into English. But really, half of our students or more are Spanish speakers, and as the workshop went on, he would start making jokes, and two thirds of the room would laugh at the joke before it was translated! That was just great, because here was this Cuban jazz musician, and a lot of kids who grew up speaking Spanish, but maybe they wouldn't have connected if it wasn't for CMW. Instead, here they were connecting about Cuban jazz.

FV: How do you think CMW has changed you?

SR: I think CMW has made me a better person because my experiences in the quartet, and with students and staff, and with the Board and the community at large, have made me become much more aware of and passionate about the wisdom in people. I think working with groups of people all the time for something that's idealistic has made me more aware on a regular basis of how much good can come from listening to people, and how much good can come from environments where people can feel safe and encouraged to express themselves.

FV: What's your favorite part of CMW?


SR: Well, I have two favorite things. One is having a job where anything is possible. Where you can think about what you'd like to do in the world, and do it. And you can think about what ideas would be really awesome to do, and do them. I think a lot of people have jobs where they think, “Oh, wouldn't it be great if we could do this, or wouldn't it be great if this would happen in the world,” I love having a job where you can have that idea, and then say, well, how are we going to make it happen. And having the fun of having those ideas.

And my other answer is the people. 



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