Ever since musician Sebastian Ruth joined the School of Music as a visiting lecturer this fall, his broad portfolio of work in community outreach through music has proven a strong asset to the Music School’s community.
Ruth has been nationally recognized for his work as founder and director of Community MusicWorks — a public service group that allows musicians to help urban communities in Providence, R.I. through outreach to the city’s children and their families. In 2010, Ruth and Community MusicWorks were awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by first lady Michelle Obama and Ruth received the esteemed MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
“What impresses me so much about [Ruth] is he asks why we should do this… That, to me, is a really important question,” Yale School of Music Dean Michael Yaffe said.
He added that Ruth requires his students to consider how their music can impact communities beyond the concert hall. As visiting lecturer, Ruth currently teaches a course titled “Music and Service” and works with students participating in the Music in Schools Initiative, which supports music education in New Haven public schools. Ruth’s extensive experience in using music as a mechanism for social change provides a new perspective to the community at the School of Music trying to effect such change in New Haven, according to School of Music administrators interviewed.
School of Music manager of communications Dana Astmann said Ruth’s broad insight into the role of music education in the lives of younger students allows him to provide concrete ideas about how to improve urban communities in the Elm City. She added that Ruth’s experience in creating change through music is an asset to the school because he is familiar with different methods’ effectiveness.
In class, Ruth asks his students to think creatively about the various roles music can play in a community, Yaffe said, adding that Ruth inspires his students to grapple with ideas musicians are usually not asked to consider. For example, his students are required to read philosophy and think about music’s function in society. Ruben Rodriguez Ferreira, the lead teacher for the Music in Schools Initiative, said he thinks Ruth is a role model for students.
“It always helps … to have someone who’s young and dedicated to bring that in and focus on the things that are working, and that can effect real and positive change,” Astmann said.
Ruth’s work in Providence demonstrates the way his music has impacted his surrounding community, Yaffe said. As a member of the Providence String Quartet, Ruth played experimental concerts in an abandoned house, seeking to raise the audience’s awareness that the house needed renovation.
Astmann said the School of Music administrators always hope some students will undertake work like Ruth’s after they graduate and that Ruth will inspire their pursuits. Using music as a community service tool is not only beneficial to the targeted communities, she said, but it also provides students with a life-changing opportunity. She added that many School of Music students who participate in music-based service say teaching music in New Haven public schools has influenced their lives and perspectives. Inspiring public school students to develop an appreciation for music can positively affect a community because music is a powerful language, Yaffe noted.
“[It’s] a way to connect to other people,” Yaffe said. “Music has the potential to be a unifying force between diverse individuals in a community.”
Community MusicWorks was founded in 1997.