Monday, October 29, 2012

My visit to Rhode Island Fiddle Project

Jessie Berne, a multi-instrumentalist and Sistema Fellow at New England Conservatory, spent some time with us this month getting to know RI Fiddle Project, and sharing her love of music and dance, as well.  Here she is joining in on guitar -- and here are her thoughts on her visits!

After spending several days at Woodlawn Community Center meeting all the members of Rhode Island Fiddle Project, the teachers, the kids, and a few of the center's staff, I am filled to the brim with enthusiasm and inspiration to enter this same field of work!

Since September, I have been attending New England Conservatory as a Sistema Fellow, part of a post graduate program that is designed to teach us (there are 10 of us total) the ins and outs of developing non-profit programs that provide free after school music education specifically in regions where it's lacking.

Because of my background in folk music, I was especially drawn to Rachel's program and eager to see first hand how she has been so successful in maintaining her members (with the intent of growing the program to include the 35 students already on the waiting list), and inspiring youth to love playing the fiddle.

My first day in Pawtucket, I met Fiddler-in-Residence and teacher, Michelle Kaminsky, and had the pleasure of sitting in on her lessons with the kids. This was a real treat. I got to see her encouraging the more experienced kids in helping the newer ones, and noticed they were already comfortable with peer teaching. This was evident throughout my entire time there, and is an approach to teaching that we all believe is incredibly valuable for building leadership skills.

Because that day was unique with another Fellow visiting from Community MusicWorks in Providence, we were able to spontaneously form a real jam circle where the kids had the chance to play a critical role in the band setting, complete with guitar accompaniment and two other lead fiddle parts. There were smiles and excitement going around as we threw a couple new upbeat tunes at them. After hearing a particular melody and rhythm, these two astute young girls picked out the part they wanted to learn, and in just a blink of an eye, they were playing along and not wanting to stop! What fun we had!

I then saw Rachel lead a group class where she taught the beginning of a fiddle tune. They all were focused and able to pick up the tune with ease. The more time I spent with the kids, the more I was impressed by the amount and variety of tunes they knew. They were learning classical, pop, old-time, and Cajun melodies, and were quick to learn new ones.

I quickly realized that because the teachers have such passion for sharing their love of music, and folk music specifically, the students are engaged, determined, excited, and always wanting to come back for more. The Fiddle Project provides a supportive environment with teachers who have a true love of the kids.

I felt a very warm welcome from everyone there, and that they are open to meeting new people, learning from them, and flexible in trying new things. I can't wait to come back and visit again, hopefully for the next big dance event!

Thank you to the Fiddle Project for having me as your guest and teaching me so much. We will see each other soon!

With love,

Jessie Rose Berne

NEC Sistema Fellow

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


"Inspired" was a word we heard a lot from students as we were getting ready to leave Common Fence Music after a fabulous concert by April Verch and her band. 

That, along with:
 "I liked everything! The dancing, the playing, the singing..."
"How does she remember all those things?"

We had a packed afternoon which started with a workshop with April, a walk down to the water at Common Fence Point, lots of group games, and concluding with the best seats in the house for her concert (front row on the floor!)

Thanks to April and her Band, to everyone at Common Fence who helped to make this happen, and to those who helped us get to Portsmouth and back again!