The Connection Between Broadway, Chamber Music, and the Humanities

Anna Vaccaro Gray ’12 M.S. ’16 Communications Coordinator for the Kingston Chamber Music Festival

All good things begin with an idea. And most good ideas take off with collaboration.

On October 15, URI’s Center for the Humanities will join the Kingston Chamber Music Festival (KCMF) in co-sponsoring “Music as Storytelling on Broadway,” an event spotlighting two alumni who are now musicians in orchestra pits on Broadway, Nick Jemo ’06 and Jesse-Ray Leich ’17. This event comes to fruition because of a few good ideas and a lot of collaboration – that all began over thirty five years ago.

In 1989, violinist David Kim (and concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1999) wanted to establish a chamber music festival that would bring some of the finest musicians in the world to Southern Rhode Island for concerts at affordable prices. Then URI President Edward Eddy and Professor Richard Gelles were instrumental in helping Kim achieve his vision for the festival, launching a close partnership between the newly established KCMF and URI. In 2004, the KCMF board established a scholarship to support a student studying music at the university. Jemo was the first-ever recipient in 2004; Leich was a 2016 recipient.

Thirty-five years later, newly appointed Executive Director of KCMF, Beth Etter, visited URI’s current Dean of Arts and Sciences, Jen Riley, with Winnie Brownell, former Dean of Arts and Sciences and current KCMF board member, to discuss possibilities for collaboration. Riley connected Etter and Brownell with Evelyn Sterne, Associate Professor of History and Director of URI’s Center for the Humanities (CFH). Sterne had the perfect avenue: CFH’s upcoming “Innovations in Storytelling” series. And who better to talk about innovations in storytelling than two past KCMF scholarship recipients who now spend their lives telling stories through music?

“For the series, we chose to conceive of the theme of storytelling broadly and identify speakers doing innovative work in a variety of fields in order to stretch conceptions about what it means to tell stories,” Sterne says. “We’re thrilled to incorporate music into this series by welcoming Jesse-Ray and Nick to URI to talk about music as a form of storytelling on Broadway. Their presentation will not only add a unique dimension to the series, but also be a wonderful way to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates as the College of Arts and Sciences celebrates its 75th anniversary.”

“I believe the arts can enhance each other by collaborating in creative ways on projects that provide opportunities for connections to be made — as human beings seeking a fulfilling life,” Etter adds. “Words have historically served as inspiration for musical composition — and vice versa. Reaching out to create together is an incredibly rich experience.”

The people in all of these roles may have changed over the years, but the commitment has remained the same: collaboration to bring extraordinary chamber music and other remarkable programming events to the community for enrichment in accessible ways.

“The stories are waiting to unfold with humor, poignancy and vibrancy,” Etter says.