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String quartet brings global sounds to Granoff

Community Musicworks explores themes of nostalgia, memories in folk songs

On the evening of Feb. 1, community members streamed into the Granoff Center for Creative Arts to enjoy the Providence-based ensemble Musicworks Collective perform a series of string quartet pieces inspired by traditional music from the East to the West.

The first part of the show featured pieces composed by Zhou Long, who incorporated elements of folk songs from different regions of China into his music, and Claude Debussy, a French impressionist composer. In one of the pieces, titled “A Horseherd’s Mountain Song,” a folk song inspired by the Chinese province Yunnan, the musicians added chants in intervals of the melody, a common technique in traditional Chinese folk songs.

The theme of tradition, nostalgia and memory continued into the second half of the concert — students and teachers at Community Musicworks performed three duets composed by Bartøk, who was inspired by folk songs during his travels to Central and Eastern Europe. After the joint collaboration, musician residents returned to the stage and closed the evening with Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2.

Musicworks Collective is an ensemble of musicians-in-residence at Community Musicworks, a Providence-based organization that aims to “create cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families and musicians,” according to the description on CMW’s website.

“Every performance, (CMW musicians) put in so much passion, so much precision,” said Stuart Blazer, an audience member who has attended CMW performances for many years and appreciates the way the organization engages with youth in the community.

Currently, the organization houses an ensemble of 14 musicians, who both perform and teach free instrument lessons to about 150 children generally from low-income families, said Sebastian Ruth ’97, the founder of CMW. Ruth is an American musician, a violinist and the recipient of a McArthur Genius Grant in 2010, The Herald previously reported.

“The inspiration of Community Musicworks grew out of my time at Brown studying music and education,” Ruth said. During his time at Brown, Ruth explored the intersections between classical music, education and social justice. With the support of former Swearer Center director Peter Hawkins and the Swearer International Public Service fellowship, he was able to start a music residency in the West End of Providence by the end of his senior year — the prototype of today’s CMW.

Since its conception in 1997, CMW has grown and collaborated with community partners, sharing its teaching philosophy with other musician residencies while retaining its core model of performing and teaching, Ruth explained.

“CMW is a really special organization. … It does creative, innovative work with youth and youth development that is not just about learning the instruments, but about developing our students as citizens,” said Holly Dyer, a cellist and fellow at Community Musicworks.

Earlier this year, CMW was awarded the $500,000 Lewis Prize for Music, for its commitment to providing children access to music learning, the Providence Journal previously reported.  The organization plans to use this prize money to answer “questions of how this organization is making a long-term presence in this community through the lens of racial equity and social justice,” Ruth said.

CMW intends to use this prize to create an alumni fellowship program that will provide returning alumni with teacher training opportunities. The one-year program will invite alumni fellows to be teaching assistants, allowing them to be eligible for teaching positions at CMW or other music organizations after the fellowship.


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