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Community MusicWorks’ Gather is a monthly series of curated experiences combining exceptional musical performances with neighborhood-building activities, with a goal of drawing resources, people, and ideas to the economically challenged West End of Providence.  Gather grows out of Community MusicWorks’ fifteen-year history of music education, performance, and community-building by resident musicians based in its storefront office and rehearsal space.

ArtPlace spoke with Sebastian Ruth, Founder & Artistic Director of Community MusicWorks about the project:

ARTPLACE: You have a history of turning to your students and families as advisors on new initiatives. How are you engaging them in the ArtPlace project?  What do the students think about this effort to increase vibrancy in the community?

RUTH: We start each year with a retreat with our advanced “Phase II” students, and this year, we took some time to talk about the concept of community, as well as their ideas of what a vibrant community looks like.  It was a really rich conversation.  We started by asking them to define a few words, starting with “unity,” which yielded the definitions of “purpose, togetherness, teamwork, synched, joint vision.”  Our conversation about the verb “to commune” brought up ideas about sharing an experience with others around you, or in one student’s words, “become a part of something else and let something become a part of you.”  Our students’ definitions of “community” reflected a similar sense of shared values and intentionality: “many as one” “a group that forms for a reason” “shared feelings” “come together to change the world and to change others’ perceptions of us.”

We then asked them to describe a time when they had experienced what felt to them like a vibrant community.  It was not a complete surprise to us that these students, most of whom have been part of the CMW community for many years, talked about their experiences with music.  How they described those experience was instructive for us, though, as many of them associated a strong community with the quality of interactions between and among people.  Here are a few of their responses:

  • “Sharing experience of singing with friends after a concert.  Everyone was happy and you could look in other people’s eyes and know they were thinking the same thing as you.”
  • “Open Mic night at AS220.  Everyone had a chance to speak, and we got to hear other people’s voices.”
  • “Singing Halleluiah around the campfire at the phase 2 retreat.  Everyone was participating, either through joining in singing, or through listening.”

There are a few key phrases from the above that we’ll continue to think about as we proceed with planning Gather events: “everyone had a chance to speak,” “everyone was participating,” “hear other people’s voices,” “shared experience.”  While we know the definition of vibrancy has a lot of other facets to it, encompassing economic vitality and other measures that our conversation didn’t touch on, we’re excited to root our work in these authentic responses from our students about what a vibrant community might look like to them.

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