This past weekend, I took part in the Institute for Musicianship and Public Service, at Community MusicWorks, in Providence, RI. In a 2006 article in The New Yorker, Alex Ross described CMW as “a revolutionary organization in which the distinction between performing and teaching disappears.”

Many musicians, myself included, wear several hats, combining multiple part-time positions as performers and teachers to make a living. When I first heard about CMW ten years ago, the idea of a single place to both play chamber music and teach sounded like a dream come true. I am starting a program modeled on CMW this fall (more about that in an upcoming post), and I went to IMPS to see firsthand the model I’ve admired from afar. It was even more inspiring than I’d imagined.

The significance of CMW goes far beyond the unique balance of work for its musicians. They help create an environment in which they and their students grow as musicians, and, more importantly, as members of their community, and the results are, quite simply, breathtaking.

Sebastian Ruth started CMW in 1997, teaching 15 violin students in his neighborhood in Providence. Since then, the program has grown to include 13 resident musicians and more than 125 students. CMW’s students often perform on the same concerts as their teachers (and guest artists such as Jonathan Biss and the Kronos Quartet), in settings that foster connection between audience and performers.

Sebastian is influenced by the work of philosopher Maxine Greene, who wrote of the need for education that enables students to see new possibilities for themselves and effect social change, and it is in this regard that CMW shines brightest. The IMPS participants met and played music with some of the students in Phase 2, CMW’s teen leadership program, and, frankly, I was floored by these kids.

To hear 14 year-olds speak so thoughtfully about their place in the world was a profoundly moving experience, and spoke volumes about the impact and importance of CMW.

I remember the relationships I had with my teachers and colleagues as a young musician, and they continue to be some of the most important I have had in my life. I didn’t, however, have anything like the sense of purpose and place that CMW’s students displayed this weekend – they’ve been given a great gift, and are the kinds of citizens and leaders the world needs.

CMW’s staff has devoted significant time and effort to sharing their model, through the Institute, as well as through a fellowship program for young professional musicians, several of whom have gone on to start programs of their own.

One former fellow, violist Chloe Kline, is now CMW’s Education Director, and directed the Institute with great poise and sensitivity – her ability to manage a discussion so inclusively and thoughtfully was a perfect example of the culture of CMW, and just observing her in action this weekend was a great lesson in itself.

So to Sebastian, Chloe and the rest of the CMW family, you’ve given us a powerful reminder of what music is really for, and inspired many (myself included) to follow your example – thank you and bravo!

Till next time,




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