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The Rhode Island Spotlight Weekly Feature

Much More than Music

Can music transform kids - and the neighborhoods they live in? It's a question the founder of a non-profit organization called Community Music Works first asked more than a decade ago.  This year 120 inner-city children are receiving free music lessons every week, but it's not just music they're learning about.


Late on a Friday afternoon, when most kids are already in weekend mode, a dozen six-year-olds gather in a makeshift classroom to learn a new song. Some on the violin, others on the viola or the cello. They are the inaugural class of the Daily Orchestra Program.
The kids meet in a room at the John Hope Settlement House in Providence every afternoon for an hour, five days a week. It's a new concept for everyone here.
Ruth: ``This idea that music learning is a daily program and kids start by playing in an ensemble right from the beginning.''
Sebastian Ruth is a Brown University graduate who founded Community Music Works in 1997, The non-profit organization offers free music lessons to more than a hundred children every week - ages six through 18. The Daily Orchestra is the newest program,  launched at the beginning of the school year.
The kids participating in Community Music Works come from South Providence and the city's West End.
And there's waiting list of 270.
Ruth: ``Our kind of theory about all of this is the music can become a really important part of kids' lives. It can become part of their social fabric, their intellectual fabric, their sense of how they belong in community and in order to do that deep work we choose to focus on a small number of kids, so we have about 120 kids involved.''
Community Music Works is wrapping up its 16h year and has grown dramatically from its modest beginnings as the brainchild of a college graduate who wanted to combine music and public service. CMW now has 18 full- and part-time staff members. It is a non-profit organization funded primarily through grants and donations.
Most of the action goes on here: at the Trinity Academy for Performing Arts charter school - the old Asa Messer Elementary. The charter school gives Community Music Works the third floor after school hours.
From private lessons, to larger ensembles - all of the students are here at least two days a week, and some up to five. The average duration in the program: about five years.
Ruth: ``That means some kids are here for 12, some kids stay for just two. What think of as the successful opportunity, a successful experience a kid could have here is to come in and stay with it as they grow older, as they go on through middle and high school and then join Phase 2 and start to have a really deep experience with their peers.''
Hummel: ``Has the mission evolved since you began or has it stayed pretty much the same -- what you want to see this program do?''
Ruth: ``The mission has stayed pretty much the same. The way we express it has evolved. So the core mission has been to create a cohesive urban community, through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children families and musicians.''
As part of its commitment to the community, CMW last month held concerts over three nights at this soon-to-be renovated house on Broadway. The performers: four of the organization's fellows. It gave Community Music Works a chance to showcase itself and Community Works Rhode Island, which is transforming the historic house.

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