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East Providence Students Thrive at Music School

The Rhode Island Philharmonic and Music School on Waterman Avenue serves an estimated 14,500 children and adults each year.

Usually, when a junior in high school is absolutely obsessed with music, it involves playing songs at an unusually high volume, begging to stay out late for a concert, wearing band T-shirts like they are a uniform and hanging posters on their wall. Not for Victoria Lima.

Lima spends six nights a week at the in East Providence, where she plays the flute and the saxophone. Her weeks are filled with music: jazz-combo on Monday, wind ensemble on Tuesday, flute choir and big band on Wednesday, duets on Thursday, jazz flute lessons on Friday and the Youth Symphony Orchestra on Saturday.

“It’s my home away from home,” she says.

The school has only been in its new home for two and a half years. Before the Carter Center for Music Education and Performance opened on Waterman Avenue, the music school had been operating out of various public schools, churches and temples.

“It was hard to have an identity, when we were moving around from place to place,” says Christine Eldridge, the Assistant Director of the Music School. “Now, having students all under one roof promotes a sense of community.  It was a dream to get this building.”

The new space allows the Music School to serve an estimated 14,500 children and adults per year — about 86 are from East Providence — with lessons, classes and community partnership programs. The school offers private lessons and performance ensembles ranging from classical, pop, jazz and big band. With so many different programs under one roof, the students are exposed to different types of music. Lima, who is five of the music groups, exemplifies this.

The Carter Center looks like an industrial box on the outside, but on the inside, it is oriented like a curlicue, with smaller rooms surrounding large open spaces and two gracious recital-rehearsal spaces. There are over thirty private studios, small classrooms, a special wing for “jazz, rock and blues,” and a section dedicated to early-childhood music development. The Center is still partially in progress — this summer they are adding a computer music studio and a digital composition class.

Nick Geleney, an East Providence junior who plays percussion, recently expanded his musical horizons from jazz percussion to steel pan drums. “I learned about Cuban music, and music from Trinidad and Tobago,” Geleney says. “It was great, I would just jam with my teacher."

In these exciting new spaces, with a multitude of programs, the students will sometimes keep playing, well after rehearsal time. “Sometimes we have to kick them out because we have to close the building,” Eldridge says, though she says it is a happy feeling to know how much they love the spaces.

The rooms are tailor built for playing music; they are acoustically oriented, sound-isolated, and the lights don’t even hum. The sound-isolation also creates a beautiful effect walking down the halls — when students are practicing they can’t hear their neighbors, but walking down the hall past rehearsal spaces, a gentle cacophony can be heard.

During the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s upcoming concert, at the Vets in Providence on May 22, the students will play a piece that pays homage to their roots at the Carter Center. They will play a world premiere of Credo, a piece written especially for their group by renowned composer Rodger Cichy, who is a parent of a student at the Philharmonic Music School.

Credo is “about the building and people here.  It shows through music what you see here,” Lima says. The first movement addresses the creation of an orchestra — through strings, then to bass. The second movement is titled “667” after the Carter Center’s address; the intervals the piece uses are 667 as well. This movement makes some obvious references to the building, with noises like construction in the background. The third movement, “Community,” is meant to tie everything together, as the Carter Center did for the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Music School.  

“That part,” Lima says, “is fun and happy.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Nick Geleney's last name.

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