CMW Annual Bach Festival (CMW Fellows Series November 2012)

This article is part of the Community MusicWorks “View from a Fellowship” monthly series. Ms. Latessa is a cellist and first-year CMW fellow.

CMW Fellows at Hardware StoreThe week of November 6th-12th was CMW’s annual Bach festival. This year the festival consisted of two formal concerts, an all-night marathon of Bach’s music and contemporary music he inspired, as well as countless “pop-up” performances all over Providence. For Annalisa and I this meant that over the course of four days we performed at:

  1. the home of a former CMW Board member,
  2. a local, 93 year old family-owned hardware store,
  3. for CMW students at Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts,
  4. a library,
  5. a church,
  6. an art museum!

In addition to these performances, much of our day time hours were devoted to rehearsing Bach concertos and cantatas for our more “official” performances.

Yes, we are exhausted! Yet I can say it was well worth the effort! While in school, I was always working on Bach’s music, but as one of many projects. This past week, for the first time, I focused completely on it: listening to my friends and colleagues perform, playing continuo for the famous Bach double violin concerto, and practicing the first cello suite.

The thing that impresses me about Bach’s music is that it is a never-ending journey. This music constantly challenges you to hear something new. If you listen just a little closer, a little more carefully, you will discover a whole new meaning to a piece that you have known for years. Pablo Casals knew this, and that is why it took him almost a life time to feel comfortable performing the cello suites. Sebastian Ruth, CMW’s artistic director and founder, echoed this sentiment in an e-mail he sent out inviting friends of CMW to come hear his performance of Chaconne. He wrote, “This has been a 21-year+ project for me in loving and learning this piece, and I am still only scratching the surface.”

I think the lesson that Bach teaches us — the importance of listening closer and working hard to hear what the instruments say — extends into every aspect of my work with Community MusicWorks and my life. With students, board members, potential donors, friends and colleagues, taking the time to listen, consider and truly understand their point of view goes much farther than speaking louder and emphatically trying to convince them of MY perspective. For years and years my teachers told me to listen: “follow my directions”, “listen to recordings” ect., and I have passively engaged these activities. Only now am I realizing that I missed their point. Instead of focusing on the individual, the focus must be on the whole, the overall goal. This seems to me to extend way beyond successfully performing music; it seems possible that the solution for many of our society’s contemporary problems lie in the cultivation of this value taught by Bach, the skill of deep and careful listening.

Community MusicWorks is a community-based music performance and education program that provides free violin, viola, and cello lessons for students who live in the West side neighborhoods of Providence, RI. Its structure, as a storefront residency for professional musicians in an urban neighborhood, has become a new model of successful urban arts education over the past fifteen years. CMW’s Founder and Artistic Director, Sebastian Ruth, was a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2010 for his work “forging a new, multifaceted role beyond the concert hall for the twenty-first-century musician.” Community MusicWorks offers four two-year positions to young professional musicians looking to gain a deeper understanding of the CMW model.

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