Arts & Culture

Annual free concert features works from composer Bach

Organizers of event hope concert inspires interest in music among underserved Providence communities

Staff Writer
Monday, November 6, 2017

Sunday afternoon saw Providence community members filing into the MacMillan Reading Room at the John Carter Brown Library for the Freda Bromsen Bolster Memorial Concert. Affectionately named “Bach and Friends,” the concert is an annual event presented in collaboration with Community MusicWorks and features works of Baroque composer J.S. Bach.

“Bach and Friends” aims to “invite people from the community into the John Carter Brown Library for a free and public concert,” said Tara Kingsley, coordinator of academic programming and public outreach for the library. The Sunday performance marked the eighth year the event has taken place. “It’s a great way to connect the local community with institutions like the (JCB) and with organizations like (Community MusicWorks),” Kingsley added.   

Community MusicWorks is a community-based organization in Providence that uses “music and music study as a strategy to help people gain a creative voice in society,” said Sebastian Ruth, founder and artistic director of the organization. Its members are comprised of “professional musicians (who) commit themselves to a career that combines performing, teaching, community activism and community development,” Ruth said, adding that this year marks the organization’s 21st season.

Community MusicWorks’ primary mission is to bring change to the lives of children from underserved communities in Providence, said Katie Sklar, director of development for the organization. Community MusicWorks hopes to help children “speak up for themselves,” become “more community minded, envision whatever dreams they might have and help (their dreams) become realities,” she said.

Ruth cited Community MusicWorks’ focus on serving the west end and south side neighborhoods of Providence as an important factor in achieving its goal. “Our work is very much intentionally focused on access,” Ruth said. Their programs are “situated in (these areas) because they are underserved neighborhoods, which have a higher percentage of families living in poverty than anywhere else in the city.”

The “Bach and Friends” concert was not only a traditional chamber music performance but also a reflection of Community MusicWorks’ focus on social justice and community building. Though the program was centered on Bach, it also featured a contemporary piece composed by Linda Catlin Smith — part of Community MusicWorks’ efforts to play more pieces composed by women, Ruth said. “Female composers are generally underrepresented in classical music,” he explained, adding that the current concert season aims to have equal representation of women and men as composers.

The concert also featured a concerto by Joseph Hadyn, which showcased a student in Community MusicWorks’ free education program.

A standing ovation ended the concert, representing the awestruck audience members impressed with both the quality of the performances and Community MusicWorks’ success in leveraging classical music as a tool for social justice.

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