Building Community One Note at a Time



This week’s Monday Bow featured a link to a powerful story about a professor building community through music. This is a clear sign that the role for transforming classical music (and of using classical music to transform society) is not reserved for flashy world-famous performers. Community MusicWorks (CMW) demonstrates that non-profits fighting for social justice are needed in the classical music world as well.

Founded in 1997 by Sebastian Ruth—a violist, violinist, and music educator who graduated from Brown University—this Providence-based organization transformed a simple string quartet into a powerful force for empowering and enriching the lives of urban youth and their families.

Now in its 14th year, CMW employs a unique model. Ruth and his fellow quartet members take up residence within the inner-city community they serve. In this way, they stand by their belief that music is a necessary aspect of building and nurturing any community. CMW provides all students with an instrument on long-term loan, close mentoring relationships with instructors, and exposure to a variety of music through workshops and field trips.

I first wrote about Sebastian Ruth and CMW in parts 3 and 4 of our introductory series “The Future is Now.” In part 4 I explored possible factors for what has made CMW successful.

  • They have continually and persistently pursued a singular artistic vision “creat(ing) a cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families, and musicians.”
  • They formed a 501 (c)3 non-profit and a board of directors to help the organize and become more effective
  • They were creative and unique from day 1—with a vision for the impact they wanted to have, CMW was able to break new ground in terms of what had been done to serve the community… and this would become a powerful attracting force for funds
  • They built rapport with participants in their program and stakeholders in the community
  • They reached out to a traditionally under-served market
  • They continue to make new and exciting opportunities available to those they work with
  • They incorporated new technology such as video and Internet

Sebastian Ruth also brings in artists-in-residence from other musical disciplines, offering fellowships for conservatory-caliber instrumentalists and commissioning works with powerful themes that connect with diverse urban communities. Through Community MusicWorks, Ruth continues to build incredible opportunities for a demographic that often finds itself on the outside of the classical tradition.

In October 2010, Sebastian Ruth and student Kirby Vaquez were honored at the White House as 2010 MacArthur Foundation Fellows.

Community MusicWorks is an incredible vehicle moving towards a powerful vision. Stay tuned for more on CMW, and some practical advice for empowering your future…

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