Italian Kisses: Sugar Roses on a Wintery Day, Projo

Posted on January 27, 2015
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Special to The Journal

While most of the little town on the water was sighing from the winter doldrums, Grandma had a January birthday and a smile on her face. Although she liked to say, “No fusses about this; it’s just another day,” she always looked forward to the Italian cream and rum cake decorated with a dozen pink frosting roses. The second reason for her happiness was that her niece would go back to the convent school for “girls on the wild side.”

Miss Mischief was usually there for the birthday celebration, except for the year the nuns threatened to expel her from school. She had to cut short her holiday to return there to study.

There was always drama and tears as Gram felt somewhat guilty that she had sent her brother’s only daughter to live with the good sisters of the Immaculate Heart of the Most Holy Mary. While she hoped that the nuns’ purity would rub off on Missy, instead some of the other girls there taught her to smoke and swear.

Although Grandma’s brother and his wife lived near the school and brought Missy to their home every weekend, Grandma lamented: “Family is supposed to take care of family. How could I send my brother’s only daughter away?”

But then with Missy home for the holidays, we could hear Grandpa whisper, “Annunizata, she will be the death of you.”

“But Anthony her mother died in that sanatorium. She only had us. What did we do wrong?”

Grandpa would smile: “God gave us a chance to watch over a little angel who lost her wings. Missy is a good girl with bad habits who likes to tease the nuns.”

Since the nuns were filled with faith and prayer, their hearts had little room left for humor. The day they wanted to expel her was the day she was asked, “What do we do to save our souls?” And instead of the Baltimore Catechism answer Missy said, “Walk on our heels.”

Soon after Missy’s shortened holiday, Grandma transformed herself. The plump woman who lived in flowered cotton house dresses became a grand lady on her birthday. Wearing a navy blue gabardine dress, with a white crocheted collar, earrings and a pearl necklace, she made her grand entrance down the winding staircase and into the dining room.

Then after a rousing song and before cutting the cake she said, “We celebrate my birthday so I can thank God for every year I share with all of you. And my brother took a cake like this to the convent today so that Missy can celebrate there with us. May all the sugar roses help her to become a little bit sweeter.”

Rita Esposito Watson, also a columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Published on 25 January 2015  Rita Watson: Sugar roses sweeten a winter’s day.

Embrace the New Year with Gratitude and a New You, Projo

Posted on January 27, 2015
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We are less than two weeks into the New Year and for many of us those New Year resolutions are already wishful thinking.

With resolutions, people often make a pact with themselves to turn around bad habits. Instead, try embracing acceptance, gratitude, and happiness. In doing so you can turn 2015 into the year you became more loving of yourself and more gracious towards those you care about.

Embrace acceptance: If you are having trouble feeling good about yourself, chances are that you are focusing on those extra 10 pounds. In doing so you are ignoring the positive qualities that make you a good friend and a loving person.

Whenever I fall into that pattern, I think about Suzanne Sugarbaker of “Designing Women,” an early ’90s television show. Despite weight struggles, actress Delta Burke, both on-screen and in life, often dressed looking like the beauty queen that she was in high school when crowned Miss Florida. Accept yourself and work towards a healthy weight. Dress to feel beautiful.

Embrace gratitude: Becoming more loving of those we love can be glorious or a chore. Instead of being a complainer, express gratitude for all of the people in your life and become a listener.

First listen to your inner voice and ask yourself why it is that the habits of certain people exasperate you. Researchers tell us that we oftentimes see ourselves in the shadow side of others.

Part of a gratitude exercise is being grateful for yourself, including your shortcomings. When you begin expressing gratitude, you even become more tolerant of those who are thorns in your side.

Embrace happiness: Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project,” has a gift for putting challenges in perspective. When I spoke with her about relationship problems, she pointed out the need for “arguments that are productive and loving, not exhausting, unpleasant, and pointless.”

A few of her tips include: “Joke about the conflict. Take a 20 minute recess. Hug and kiss.”

Keep in mind that acceptance, gratitude, and happiness are attainable. Simply make the decision to do so even if it means reinventing yourself.

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for The Providence Journal and

Published on 11 January 2015 Rita Watson: Show gratitude for a new year, a new you


An Italian Family Tradition: Struffoli Day

Posted on January 2, 2015
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On the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day we had a tradition that came to be called Struffoli Day. It was the Italian family Christmas for all of our relatives. No one asked what foods they should bring; they simply cooked a favorite recipe.

But one year, in addition to a main dish, everyone brought a bowl of struffoli. Made from bits of marble-sized dough, struffoli are deep fried, then drenched in honey and covered with colored sprinkles. Quite unexpectedly, this day of family love turned into a bit of rivalry.

Grandma explained, “My mother made a large bowl of these on Christmas Eve for sweetness after our traditional meal of the Seven Fishes. Papa always put too many salty anchovies into the puttanesca.”

Grandpa said his mother built them up on a platter into the shape of a Christmas tree, just as he had taught Grandma. “Then starting at the top, using our fingers, we popped them into our mouths one at a time,” he said with a smile.

Each year Gram’s struffoli tree seemed to get higher, and this year she considered it to be a work of art. With so many people bringing struffoli, she placed the bowls on a sideboard with little dishes for individual servings, since they were picked up and eaten like little pieces of candy. Then just before dinner Gram made a grand entrance with her struffoli tree sprinkled with multi-colored nonpareils and laced with silver tinsel. The family applauded.

Grandpa’s sister, Zia Agatha, said: “Annunziata, your struffoli — che belle dolce. We should keep it as the centerpiece and eat the others. You know that with a Christmas tree shape those delicate morsels will be dry as a bone by dessert time. I know this because our mother’s struffoli were always dry.”

Then turning to Grandpa she said, “Isn’t that right, Anthony?” He shrugged.

Gram turned away and simply said to all the women, “Let’s bring out the meal.” Almost like magic, an endless stream of food filled three dining room tables.

Once everyone sat to eat Grandpa said grace. Then expecting Gram’s words to be: “Now let us enjoy our family and this feast,” she added, “I’ve placed cellophane over the struffoli tree to keep it moist. And next to my tree there is a crystal bowl of honey and shot glasses filled with toothpicks. If you think my struffoli are too dry, you can stick them with a toothpick and dip them into the honey. Amen.”

And at that moment we were certain that not a single person in that room — except for Zia Agatha — would dare to put a toothpick into Gram’s crunchy Neapolitan delight.

Providence Journal link: Dec. 28, 2014 Rita Watson: Struffoli Day was a sweet family tradition.

Rita Esposito Watson, also a columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Spirituality: The body and soul of ballet, ProJo

Posted on December 20, 2014
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R.I. dancer explores the body and soul of spirituality

Published on 16 December 2013

n talking about the spirituality of ballet with Jennifer Ricci of Johnston, who has been dancing since age 4, she relates the story of two fellow members of Festival Ballet Providence.

In a recent performance of “The Pieta,” husband and wife Mindaugas Bauzys and Vilia Putrius portrayed the Michelangelo sculpture of the Virgin Mary and the lifeless Christ. As the mother held up her son’s arm, which flopped limply when she touched his face, the audience wept.

“It is that kind of spiritual connection between two bodies on stage that, to me, is so breathtaking,” Ricci said.

“Practicing in quiet or on stage — when you are working as one with your partner, even for me as a dancer to see how they move together as one soul, one person matching each other’s movements — it is unbelievable. They have a connection because they are married. You can feel the intensity through their emotion. For me, that is inspiration.”

Since she works with so many different partners, Ricci must find ways to connect with each of them.

“It pretty much happens while you are performing, even during a rehearsal before the actual stage production,” she said, “because by that point, you forget who is watching and you take cues from within.”

For Ricci, ballet happened almost by accident. She kept dislocating her shoulder and a physician suggested gymnastics to give her strength. She’s now been with Festival Ballet Providence for more than 20 years.

Until 10 years ago, Ricci danced with her sister Jaclyn, who had many health problems. Dancing always helped to heal her mind and soul, Ricci said.

“My sister was and always has been my inspiration and when she stopped dancing, I felt as if I had lost a part of my soul,” she said.

One of Ricci’s favorite roles is Arabian from “The Nutcracker,” because of the passion and emotions it brings out in her.

“Dancing that role is something I had dreamed of since age 17 and each time I dance, I bring different styles and different emotions to the part, and it just consumes me.”

Ricci, a graduate of Rhode IslandCollege, calls herself an actress who is also a dancer.

“The most difficult role that I ever performed was Giselle — it is a very controlled role with a lot of dancing. It is beautiful to watch and once you dance it you understand more about the character,” she said. “But for me, the most exciting role, which is my personality, is that of Princess Zobeide from the ‘Scheherazade’ — it is exotic, drama, and I love dramatic roles, whether it is passionate or you want to strangle someone — I like the acting as opposed to straight contemporary pieces that just show lines without telling a story.”

Once, when trying to perform a piece called “In Passing,” she got frustrated because she wanted to make the performance stand out.

Then her director said: “You do it with your eyes.”

“And whatever happened in the end, that feeling inside that I had to conjure up worked,” Ricci said. “He said it was the best he has ever seen performed. And I felt as if I had to perform as if I was almost angry inside so as not to be too melodramatic. But I am. That’s because I’m Italian.”

Ricci’s principal roles include Arabian, Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker”; Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Cinderella; Neopolitan, Pas de Trois and Big Swan in “SwanLake”; Snow White; Princess Elena in “Firebird”; Mina in “Dracula”; Prelude and Seventh Waltz in “Les Sylphides”; and Giselle.

FBP’s Artistic Director Mihailo “Misha” Djuric considers himself lucky — he can see the passion in the dancers as they perform and sense the emotions of audience members as they watch.

[It’s a] “genuine privilege to watch these talented dancers — they have an intensity of spirit which radiates, which we can feel.”

For more:

Rita Watson (, who has a master’s degree in public health, is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal

Bring Romance into Your Holiday, Projo

Posted on December 14, 2014
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Unlike today, when the shopping frenzy begins after Thanksgiving, the tone for the holidays when we were growing up was set by television specials with Perry Como or Bing Crosby.

Dad and grandpa would build a fire while mother and grandma made hot chocolate and cookies. Then we would all snuggle around the TV listening to winter wonderland music occasionally interrupted by the snapping of kindling. The adults held hands as we three girls giggled watching them.

There is still time to bring romance into the season, while the children are dreaming of sugarplums and the adults have disconnected from the cyber world. Set aside moments between now and the New Year to rekindle simple loving with movies, music, and these few naughty but nice tips.

Make some popcorn and watch one of the top romantic holiday films:

“While You Were Sleeping,” with Bill Pullman as the romantic lead, features Sandra Bullock playing with loneliness and love.

“Serendipity,” with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack, is a department store romance in which they trust fate to reunite them.

“Love Actually” has Hugh Grant as prime minister in a romantic comedy with a simple theme — “Love is everywhere.”

Music always sets a mood. For those following the escapades of “Jane the Virgin,” her fiancé said “I’m sorry” by putting their favorite song on his iPhone and surprising her.

Make playlists of your favorite holiday and love songs. The top songs still include “Winter Wonderland” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” along with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

For lovers, the music streaming service Spotify identified “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from “Dirty Dancing,” as well as “Bolero” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” as taking top spots.

Now for those naughty and nice tips:

At the next party, pull your special someone into a corner — pretend no one is watching — and kiss generously.

Write a fantasy love list: The two of you should confess your secret desires on paper and then decide which you might both enjoy.

Design an all white bedroom: De-clutter and make a movie set room of white plump pillows, gauze fabrics, unscented candles, red roses and fresh pine-tree greens.

In the world of holiday gift lists, create the ultimate one of love notes and gratitude. Fill a mug or glass jar with Baci candies; each comes wrapped in foil with a love note. Sit them on a table next to a white scroll tied with red ribbons. The scroll should list all the reasons you are grateful for your love. And be sure to add thanks for memorable moments you shared.

Wishing you days overflowing with blessings and joy.

Rita Watson: Bring romance into the holiday season/ Providence Journal link

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for the Providence Journal

The Italian Christmas Tree Challenge, ProJo

Posted on December 14, 2014
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The upside down wedding cake chandelier adorned the entrance parlor in Gram and Grandpa’s house on the water. Each year on the first week of December, Grandma would send us to the attic to bring down boxes of Christmas ornaments so she could decide how many new snowflakes to crochet for the tree, which was always under the chandelier. Then she would sigh, “Watch how Papa is going to say, “Annunziata, it’s in everyone’s way.”

By the second week of December, Grandma sent Grandpa and his brothers to cut down a tree so it could “settle” into the parlor. One snowy afternoon we waited for the tree to arrive, but Grandpa pulled the car into the side garage. Then we heard him on the stairs stamping snow from his boots. When Gram opened the door, he said, “Nancy, before we bring in the tree, I have something to say. The tree farm would not allow any cutting down of small trees, just one big tree.”

Gram suspiciously went to the windows to catch a glimpse of what Grandpa’s brothers were bringing into the house. “Mamma Mia,” she cried out. “That tree belongs to ‘Jack and Beanstalk.’ How will it fit under the chandelier?”

As his brothers set to work fitting the tree onto the stand, they moved directly to the semi-circle of window seats. Gram cried out, “No, not there.” But Grandpa surprised and stopped her. “Look. I bought you a beautiful white tree with bubbling candle lights to put on your table in the center of the parlor.”

Before she could say a word, a white tree with attached tiny candlestick lights replaced the vase of flowers. Then Grandpa went under the table to the central floor plug, and with a flip of the switch, colors danced on chandelier crystals.

Grandma was so overwhelmed that she said nothing. Then there came another surprise. Onto the tree that touched the ceiling the men strung white snowball bulbs made by the Sylvania Company. Once plugged in, the snowballs changed into an array of pastel shades. “These are the future,” Grandpa said.

“Nancy, you always tell the children that every problem has a solution. This is our Christmas solution — one tree for you and one for me.” Then he went over to her, pinched her cheeks into a smile, and gave her big kisses.

Grandma grinned saying, “Now, enough kisses, Anthony. I’ll have to get busy crocheting. Our first floor-to-ceiling tree will need twice as many snowflakes.”

Then to us she said, “You see, just when you think your husband never listens, one day you find that he hears you after all. You just need to be patient.”

Rita Esposito Watson, a Providence Journal and columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Rita Watson: Patience — and love — solved the great Christmas tree tug of war. Nov 30, 2014, Providence Journal link

How to Express and Feel Gratitude, ProJo

Posted on December 14, 2014
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With just days to go before Thanksgiving, many people are a bundle of nerves. If you are hosting a Thanksgiving meal, the planning alone can be overwhelming. However, by looking forward to the day with gratitude, you can feel happier, strengthen your relationships, and boost your immune system. These are some of the benefits found by researchers with a $5.6-million grant to study gratitude at the University of California, Berkeley and UC Davis.

Thanksgiving often brings out the best and the worst in families. Television sitcoms portray the day with under-cooked turkeys and overheated emotions.

Nonetheless, this may be the time to take advantage of personalities and weave them into a family memoir or just one thankful day. Even if you are dreading the grumpy uncle or the know-it-all aunt, try planting seeds of gratitude before guests arrive. With an email or phone call let them know how grateful you are that they will be joining you. “Gratitude” is a powerful word.

Perhaps ask each person joining you to bring a smile and their favorite gratitude saying written on an index card or a piece of paper: Here are three of my favorites:

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust.

“For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.” — Elie Wisel.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy.

When guests arrive, point them to a gratitude bowl. They can either drop in their favorite quotes or reach into a basket set next to the bowl filled with pens and paper to write something personal for which they are grateful.

The value of this is simple — it immediately deflects the tension that people expect will be generated by difficult relatives. Also at each plate you may wish to add a card with a positive saying, such as: “We are blessed that you are sharing this meal with us today.” Then after dinner, each person can take turns reading the sayings in your gratitude bowl.

For those who are alone, perhaps put on an apron, spend the day at a homeless shelter, and with each plate of food you serve, give thanks.

Rita Watson: How to really feel gratitude and share it/ Nov. 16, 2014

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for The Journal and

Obtaining good-quality care for the elderly is critical, ProJo

Posted on November 30, 2014
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Rita Watson: Obtaining good-quality care for the elderly is critical

Published on 25 November 2013

rsing home directors often tout “patient choice.” However, it is unlikely that anyone ever knocked on their doors asking, “May I give up my home and come live here?”

People prefer to age in place. Yet this option can be difficult for caregivers to manage. As such, assisted-living facilities or nursing homes begin to look like attractive alternatives.

Aging is a process and in many instances, with proper oversight, aging in place is a viable choice. Gary Leiter, president of Home Instead Senior Care of Rhode Island, said that many services can help the elderly stay at home. In addition many community agencies provide services to the frail and elderly (if their families can get through the paperwork.)

However, it is important to see that the person at home receives help with bathing, dressing, hydration, toileting, laundry, meal preparation and the ever-critical medication monitoring. Medication mix-ups are one of the more frequent causes of hospital readmissions with the elderly.

Leiter explained that when an elderly person with a medical problem chooses to stay at home there are three levels of care options: non-medical, personal, and skilled.

“Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) there are incentives to physicians and physician groups to prevent readmissions to the hospital in those first 30 days after a patient is released,” he said. “Now they will be reimbursed for following a patient home often by assigning a primary nurse to visit with the patient or manage the process.”

On a personal level, Leiter related the story of his late mother who was living in New York while he tried to manage her care from a distance.

“When we finally had to admit her to a nursing home, it was for rehab on her last discharge from the hospital,” Leiter said. “She was to be there for approximately six weeks. But when the six weeks were up, my mother finally admitted that she felt unsafe living alone. At the time I brought her to an assisted living center in Rhode Island where I was able to better manage her care plan.

“When my mother was living in New York, over an 18 month period she had seven hospital admissions at an approximate cost of $500,000.”

After bringing her to Rhode Island, she did not have one admission. Her care included a nurse who monitored her vital signs and made immediate adjustments to her medication. The nurse, through Medicare, visited three times a week over nine months at an approximate cost of $16,000.

As for assisted living, a new book by journalist A.C. Thompson, “Life and Death in Assisted Living” reveals that unregulated and unmanaged care can be a dangerous option, and, for those with disabilities, “exploitative.”

At the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, Dr. John Rowe spoke about designing homes and neighborhoods for an aging population. He said researchers are working to develop a program effective in continuing care retirement — and perhaps extend that model to affordable housing — in which health services for the elderly will be provided at the housing site.

A recent report from a Pew Research survey found that 36 percent of adults were providing unpaid care to relatives or friends. This is up from 27 percent in 2010. Even families who choose the facility care option soon realize the need for overseeing care.

As members of society age — with too few young people to balance out the population — the need for advocacy and quality care becomes critical.

Rita Watson, MPH, is a Journal columnist who received the 2012 MetLife Foundation Journalist in Aging Fellowship through the Gerontological Society of American and New America Media and the 2013 GSA travel grant.


Grandma’s Politics and Puttanesca, ProJo

Posted on November 12, 2014
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Because she never learned to read in English, Grandma appeared to be uninterested in politics. Nonetheless, politicians frequently stopped by for her Friday night puttanesca, an Italian dish of spaghetti, anchovies, olives and capers. During election season, she made this meal in huge vats. On Saturday, neighbors would stop by to ask her opinions. Little thoughts and gestures from Grandma could set people thinking in a voters’ world that relied more on gossip than facts.

Despite backroom politics — as well as heated discussions at men’s private Italian clubs — women would pry Gram for inside information.

Gram would say, “We never know what goes on behind closed doors.”

And if she did not answer in words, it was never a good sign when she tilted her head, shrugged her shoulders, and threw up her hands.

During one particular race, neighbors pushed her for an answer as to her favorite candidate. She smiled and said, “You know I don’t take sides. They are both good men. They often sit at my table. But only one brings his wife — and even his mother.”

“Ahh, that tells us everything,” they nodded.

After every election, Grandma would receive a large basket of fall fruit and flowers.

Many years later, Gram’s influence was still talked about. When I returned to New Haven from New York, where I had been studying, I became involved in a medical center expansion project. The center, focusing on drug treatment research, was tied up by “not in my backyard” activists.

At a crucial meeting of politicians and physicians, when the mayor arrived — even before we introduced ourselves — he looked at me and said, “Little lady, do you have a family recipe for spaghetti and anchovies from your grandmother Nancy? You look just like her.”

Before answering, he told the story of political puttanesca. “Gentleman, if you were running for office some years back, you simply had to knock on the door of Nancy and Anthony and join the family. There was always room for one more.”

“Our family was another story. We were not in politics back then. We had very little money. But every Friday night, her nonna sent over a pot of spaghetti and anchovies and we feasted.”

Then he raised his eyes to the heavens and said, “Nancy, thank you, we are going to make the new center a reality — the puttanesca center.”

Amid laughter and applause, he turned to me and said, “I have just one request — her recipe.”

The mayor was given the recipe. The center was built. And on that day, years later, Gram’s often repeated words rang true: “Give to others and goodness will come back to you.”

Rita Esposito Watson, a Providence Journal and columnist, is writing, “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”


Rita Watson: Memories of Grandma:  Published on 02 November 2014

Spirituality of Music: Jesse Holstein

Posted on November 12, 2014
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I first met violinist Jesse Holstein through an auction to support the Providence Athenaeum; he would play at a small musical salon for the highest bidder. I kept raising my hand as the bidding escalated, before joining forces with an Athenaeum board member. Just as the auctioneer finished the words, “Do I hear …,” we raised our hands and won.

Later, our guests, who were mesmerized by Holstein, would describe listening to his string work as “spiritual moments.”

That seems to be a theme with Holstein.

Holstein’s passion, dedication and soul has been reflected in his 13-year association with Community MusicWorks, both as a performer and teacher, to “create an opportunity for professional musicians to build and transform their own urban community.”

CMW was founded in 1997 by Sebastian Ruth. Holstein and Ruth met while members of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and became friends. Ruth invited Holstein to join the program that brings bring classical music to urban youngsters through free after-school education and performance programs. Essentially, they wanted to fill a musical void for young people by working and living in the neighborhood with the children and families that they served.

Today, Community MusicWorks is a thriving musical microcosm with more than 100 students. It has received numerous awards and founder Ruth became a 2010 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award recipient.

In his classroom, Holstein has expanded his teaching to bring lessons of mindfulness to students at CMW.

He recently returned from a sabbatical at the Plum Village monastery in the south of France, where Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is spiritual leader. The monk is internationally respected for his teaching and writing on mindfulness and peace.

Holstein says his teaching brought him to a self-realization that inspired him to pursue the practice of mindfulness.

“It was not an easy time at first,” Holstein said. “I am accustomed to multitasking and running from teaching to rehearsals to concerts and to socializing with families of my students. In France I was expected to do nothing but focus on the moment.”

Q. When you returned you decided to convey mindfulness to music students. How do you do this?

A. I have started to address spirituality with students. We are focusing on spirituality in the preteen group for those who want more depth by learning how music intersects with their lives.

We start each session with five minutes of sitting. One of things we do is to ask students to focus on one thing at a time in their lives, whether it is stretching, skateboarding, playing basketball or doing the dishes. We are trying to teach them to become uni-taskers instead of multi-taskers. If music students can be completely focused for 15 minutes, it is reflected in the quality of their work.

When a student wonders, “Why do I have to practice mindfulness?” the answers are simple. It builds impulse control and helps you connect with something deeper, values.

Q. What is the unique nature of your work in terms of both music and teaching?

A. My teaching has brought me to two different stages of self-realization, first through the CMW philosophy and now because of my experience with mindfulness. I think what distinguishes CMW from other programs, in addition to musical excellence, are the teachers, artists and scholars who comprise our community. In becoming accomplished instrumentalists we are trying to create citizens of the world — whether locally or globally — who are socially responsible. What we want to convey to students is our belief that music is more than just playing well.

We also have learned that what works for one is not for all, an older model from my own high school days. Despite being a creature of habit, I now try to meet the students where they are at. To do this, you need to check the ego at the door. We want to set up students for success and to become intrinsic motivators.

One way we do this is to encourage students to select their own music because, when they do, they are much more likely to open the violin case. They may see a skill in an older student, such as creating a vibrato, and say, “I want to learn that.” Then you let them. Or if they say, “When I try to read music the notes are coming too fast.” We trust the student to go at his or her own pace. We find out what works best for each individual.

Q. How does mindfulness help you when you perform?

A. Although I still get performance anxiety wondering what people are going to think of me, from practicing mindfulness I learned that those thoughts are just passing clouds.

What I see now is that I need to make time for my spiritual practice and breathing. When I get anxious before a performance, now I can say to myself, “These are just thoughts, emotions, old patterns that I’ve been stuck in for a long time.”

Learn more about music at Find more information about mindfulness at

Providence violinist finds the spiritual in music  / Oct 20, 2014  (GREAT PHOTOS AT THIS LINK.) Rita Watson is a Journal columnist who also writes for

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