Music for Everyone
Every week thousands of people descend on the Rhode Island Philharmonic’s Music School in East Providence, where nearly a third of the nonprofit’s students receive financial aid. But the organization’s reach goes far beyond its own walls, through a variety of partnerships. This month, Jim Hummel sits down with students, teachers and the school’s top administrator to talk about the effect the organization has had on the community.
For more information about the Rhode Island Philharmonic's School of Music click here.
Every week thousands of people pass through the doors of The Rhode Island Philharmonic’s Music School in East Providence.
From a small jazz combo class
To the youth wind ensemble
To private lessons…on a variety of instruments.
This is a place where education and performance hold equal importance - and a third of the 1,500 students enrolled in the music school receive some level of financial aid.
The overriding message from the top down: there is music for everyone.
Beauchesne: “What we know is that when you make high-quality music education available to kids and families, they take you up on it. Regardless of what zip code they live in, color of their skin, cultural background. Music is an innately human thing to do We’re all born with it inside of us. Everybody wants it as a part of their lives.”
David Beauchesne is the executive director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School.
Beauchesne: “We really want to look at: where are people that we’re still not reaching and why and what do we need to do to make ourselves even more accessible to them?”
The music school was created in 1988, but didn’t have a permanent home until a decade ago - when the nonprofit totally gutted and renovated the former Meeting Street School. The building was transformed into the Carter Center for Music Education & Performance: 31,000-square-feet of rehearsal space, private lesson rooms and an area for parents to hang out during practice time.
Beauchesne came to Rhode Island from Atlanta in 2006 to help complete the merger of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and music school under one roof. He says the building’s soundproofed rooms were designed to maximize space.
Beauchesne: “Being in borrowed space doesn’t work for a music school because our rooms have to have the right acoustics, so that you can give a music lesson in one room, and not hear the music lesson that’s happening in the room next to you, otherwise you need to put about three empty rooms between you in the next room and then you need a 90,00-square-foot building instead of a 30,000-square-foot building.
In addition to its own programming, the music school is home to nearly a dozen partner organizations, providing their own much-needed space.
Beauchesne: “What this organization now does for the community, relative to creating access to high quality music education and great performances, because of the merger is far greater than it ever was when the music school was a separate entity and the orchestra was a separate entity. The whole really has become greater than the sum of its parts.
The musicians hail from all over Southern New England and some have been coming here for more than a decade.
Mei Tiemeyer, a high school junior from Providence, started playing French Horn in the 5th grade - working her way up to a spot in the youth symphony orchestra.
Tiemeyer: “When we’re all playing together and you’re in the middle of the music and everyone playing, sometimes I just get chills down my spine when we play it really well. It’s a really great feeling. It’s great being able to work together and produce this amazing music.”
Emma Smith, who sits a row over from Mei, travels 45 minutes from Wrenthem, Mass. She began playing cello eight years ago and has watched the music school grow as a member of the youth symphony.
Smith: “It’s really cool to look back and see where you once were - to see how much bigger the program is now. Because back when I was in it, it was just me and a few other kids. And now it’s so much bigger. And it’s cool to see that they’re going to have so much of a greater experience now that the program is so much bigger.”
Guimaraes: “I remember the first time I walked in here, I was like: what is this? Is this a little oasis in the middle of Rhode Island?”
Piero Guimaraes, a native of Brazil who is the music school’s percussion coordinator, sees the effect music is having on students from the teacher’s perspective.
Guimaraes: “The impact on the students - it’s huge. I think nowadays we’re going through a lot of trouble with students being engaged with each other because of technology. We’re so disengaged and I think the opportunity for them to come - in a room - and just play, all the technology is gone. They have to engage within themselves.”
The school’s reach goes far beyond its own walls. For the past three years 3rd, 4th and 5th graders have gathered in a classroom at the Agnes Little Elementary School in Pawtucket three days a week to play violin or viola.
The program, one of many across the state run by the music school, is part of the Victoria’s Dream Project - named for Victoria Alviti, who was killed in an automobile crash eight years ago at age 22. Her family set up a foundation to honor Victoria’s desire to promote music programs in schools, at a time when some school systems have been cutting back on music and art programs. It was a natural fit for the music school.
Three dozen participants in the afterschool program receive an instrument at no cost, beginning or intermediate instruction based on their skill level and help with their homework.
Magoon: “I spend a lot of time arranging songs and extra parts to the songs that will fit where certain students are, and challenge other students to keep them from being bored.”
Abby Magoon is a product of the music school, where she began taking lessons at age 15 with the help of financial aid.
After graduating from The Boston Conservatory of Music, Magoon returned to the place where she learned to play - now as a violin and viola instructor. Three years ago she became the lead teacher for the program at Agnes Little.
Maggon: “And music has to do with all of life. There has to be other things and surely there’s things about basic respect, teamwork, things about applying yourself, communicating with friends, communicating with teachers. But for our goal is just to know when they leave the program they can look back and know that those two or three teachers valued them as a person and were willing to invest in them.”
Beauchesne said everyone who goes through the program at Agnes Little is invited to be a student at the music school - for free - and given a chance to audition for the youth orchestra.
Beauchesne: “Every kid who had auditioned from that program has gotten in. And not just gotten in, but our faculty has been really pleased how prepared they are. What we’re trying to do through these program is not just pay lip service to the idea that the idea that these kids don’t have music education so we’re going to give them a little bit. We’re trying to give them music education at the same level of quality or in some cases even higher that some of their peers in affluent zip codes might be getting, because they haven’t had access as long and so we need to catch them up.”
On Saturday mornings the youth repertory orchestra plays in one rehearsal room, while the youth symphony, directed by Alexey Shabalin rehearses across the hall. Shabalin, who came to the United States from Russia in the mid-90s, joined the music school in 2001 and oversees five different orchestras.
Shabalin: “It’s a very big commitment, because it’s not only rehearsal time, they have to practice their parts, they have to be ready for the rehearsal.”
Shabalin, who watched arts and music programs cut during the recession a decade ago, says having music in the public schools is critical.
Shabalin: “We cannot exist without public school pogroms. And if those programs are going to be cut we would not have enough students. We have private students, obviously, but the major concern is elementary and middle school string programs.
While some students here will go on to make music a profession, most are here to enjoy playing and realize the benefits learning an instrument offers.
Smith: “Music has definitely helped my math, because there’s a lot of math in music. I struggled with math for a really long time. And once I got to fractions I realized: oh wait - this is just music.”
Magoon: “The thing that meant so much for me, even before they had this building, even before many of the programs were part of it, because it was a smaller community then. The thing that meant so much for me is that people were investing in me, when I was here as a student. People were almost always going above what they had to in order to see me grow in my instrument and be a part of my growth, even administrators, not just teachers.”
Shabalin: “When we play together it’s not only your individual effort, it’s how to blend with other people, how to mesh with the sound. That’s a great experie4nce for kids to have this kind of opportunity, to make a beautiful harmony.”
Beauchesne: “Music is inside every human being. When you give kids the opportunity to tap into that and you tell them that theirs is unique and different and you do that in music a instruction environment like the one we have, where often they’re working one-on-one with an adult who’s telling them: this is something that’s in you, I believe in you and I know that you’re capable of achieving something remarkable if you want to. That’s a powerful message to send to a kid.”
In East Providence, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.