How the Workplace Treats You (CMW Fellows Series December 2012)

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

How the Workplace Treats You

“What you do” is only part of what makes your job everything that it is or isn’t. “Who you work with” might be equally important, and I’d be willing to bet that “how your workplace treats you” would round out the top three.

Luckily, CMW is hitting it out of the park on all three counts. This month, I have a lot to celebrate in the “how your workplace treats you” department.

The first event that caught my attention and warmed my heart was my birthday. I turned 25 on November 26th, and have successfully made it since then without a single quarter-life breakdown (only 48 weeks to go)! I think it’s indicative of CMW’s culture that each staff member’s birthday is listed on the All-Staff Google Calendar, the result being that I was treated to surprise birthday texts and e-mails throughout the day. It may sound like a small detail, but the emotional impact of those brief messages was huge. My next birthday surprise arrived a few days later, when we were enjoying Phase 2 Dinner with staff and our roughly high school-age Phase 2 students. At one point during the meal, the entire cafeteria turned to look at our staff table. I panicked. Did we just swear loudly enough that they all heard it? Did I really have that much food on my face? As the students broke into an enthusiastic “Happy Birthday,” I l scanned the room to figure out whose birthday it was. Wait, was it mine? Oh, of course, they were singing to me! How fantastic!

The next morning we switched gears and celebrated the beginning of three months’ maternity leave for Chloe Klein, our beloved Education Director. Senior Resident Musician Sara Stalnaker organized a gorgeous surprise dessert reception, and our new Managing Director Kimberly Young was drafted into holding a fake meeting with Chloe to set her up for the surprise. After at least two false starts, we managed to get our timing right for Chloe to experience that confusing combination of feeling startled and feeling loved that comes with a bellowed surprise party “SURPRISE!”

We had a beautiful party. Sara presented Chloe with a group-knitted wrap (the existence of which reinforces that positive “who you work with” piece of the CMW puzzle – more than half a dozen staff members contributed rows of stitches and our parent rep finished the project’s assembly), and then everyone adjourned upstairs to our weekly staff meeting. To my surprise, I was treated to yet another rendition of “Happy Birthday,” and presented with a birthday candle-adorned petit four. (There would have been an entire cake had we not already gorged on surprise cake only hours before. Honestly, I barely powered through the miniature cake at the time.)

A mere forty-eight hours later, we were in the midst of the final party of the week, a bittersweet farewell brunch for our outgoing Managing Director Heath Marlow. We had teamed up to decorate our office’s third floor, and the potluck’s table was overflowing. I can’t resist bragging about the spread: baked french toast, baked home fries, bagels and smoked salmon, fruit salad, gluten-free chocolate zucchini cake, cheese and tomato-adorned polenta, an Asian slaw, pastries, and more. I couldn’t resist going back for seconds, and even thirds, and somehow we still had piles of leftovers. Liz Cox, our Manager of Communications and Administration, and Chase Spruill, one of our Resident Musicians, put together an incredible video tribute to Heath. It was equal parts artistic, comedic, and poignant. Given that this was CMW, it was exactly as it should be.

It was a wonderful week at CMW. Every organization and business necessarily builds its unique culture as it grows and develops, and that culture informs the mission’s execution just as essentially as does the mission itself. CMW has an exceptional culture. You can tell by how great the parties are.

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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