Two Smithfield High School students have lots to say about making music and music education

MAIA AND MAX SMILING_cropped_deited

Smithfield High School students inspired by music education: Maia Bowker, left, suggested to Max Votolato, right, that he “check out” RI Philharmonic Music School’s Youth Wind Ensemble. He  was hooked after sitting in on one rehearsal.



“I heard about RIPYWE from a family friend whose son used to be in RI Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. At the time, I had never been in a full-sectioned wind ensemble and knew that it would be a challenging but important learning experience for me. I was also very interested in being in an ensemble with students from other schools.”

–Maia Bowker, member of the RI Philharmonic Music School Wind Ensemble

Maia Bowker and Max Votolato, Smithfield natives, are members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School’s Youth Wind Ensemble (RIPYWE).

Maia is a senior at Smithfield High School, and since 2016, she has been a key member of one of the R.I. Philharmonic Music School’s wind ensembles. Max, who is a senior at the same school, has been involved with one of the ensembles since 2016. A member of the Music School’s staff recently sat down with them to learn more about the role music and the school’s youth ensembles program plays in enriching their lives.

Q: Can you tell us about your musical experience? What has your experience been with RIPYWE? What does music mean to you?

MAIA: I currently play two instruments, the bassoon and trumpet. Three years ago, in my freshman year of high school, I started playing the bassoon. Six years ago, when I was in the sixth grade, I picked up the trumpet.

In my sophomore year of high school, I joined the RI Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble. Immediately, I found that sitting among peers who exhibit the utmost passion for music was certainly a heart-warming experience for me. It was inspiring and comforting to play with others who strive to work, grow and mature musically. I have found that this positive atmosphere creates a very strong support system among students, directors, teachers and parents.

To me, music is less of what lies on paper, and more of what resides in the heart. It must be crafted with tears, disappointment, and failure to become a sound of joy. From my own experience thus far, music can be emotionally tolling when you put yourself into it. Failures can be devastating, and successes can be wonderful. Failures can be wonderful, and successes can be devastating.

MAX: I play the saxophone, and when I was in the sixth grade about six years ago I started playing my middle school’s band. In addition, I picked up the trumpet during my freshman year. About three years ago, I started performing with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble (RIPYWE).

At first it was a tiny bit nerve-racking, but what is amazing is that you start improving right away. Soon, it feels great to play music at such a high level. As part of RIPWYE, every year my playing ability improves and gets so much better. My experience with the RI Philharmonic has really cemented my love of music, and my desire to pursue music as a career.

Music is my means of self-expression. I feel, it’s really the only thing I’m good at so it’s an outlet for me to express myself.

Q: What is your favorite piece of music or moment from your RIPYWE experience?

MAIA: My favorite moment from my RIPYWE experience was playing Alfred Reed’s Giligia in concert. The melody in the closing portion of the piece is somber and reflective—supported by flutes in low register. After the last chord lifted and resonated, there was such an incredibly chilling silence before the audience applauded.

MAX: There’s a lot of great pieces that we’ve done but I think my favorite was Percy Grainger’s Gum-Suckers March because he wrote some great sax parts, which as a tenor player can be rare.

Q: How has playing in an ensemble changed your relationship with music and helped you grow as a musician?

MAIA: Playing in an ensemble has helped me become comfortable with sharing my love of music with others. To play with expression and emotion in an isolated setting initially was difficult. One must allow themselves to channel their love into an audibly recognizable state. To display musical emotion in a group setting was a completely different challenge. It can be frightening to be emotionally vulnerable, especially under the critical eye of your peers. However, when playing in an ensemble where members have similar goals, passion and drive, expression is welcomed with open arms. Learning this concept has allowed me to understand that it’s okay feel nervous about playing expressively, and that doing so is encouraged and accepted.

RIPYWE has taught me to constantly crave a challenge. When I first joined RIPYWE, I had very little experience with the bassoon. To be surrounded by those who strive for self-improvement has helped me develop similar values and ambitions. This has not only helped me musically but has also been very beneficial when applied to my efforts in school.

MAX: My work with the Ensemble has made me more focused and definitely more  vigilant in my practicing—for sure. I am more confident. When doing solo material if you fail or play a wrong note, the only person you let down is yourself. In an ensemble, everyone else is relying on you to know your part and perform it to the best of your ability. You are included in a team and motivated to do the best you can.

Q: How do you see music playing a role in your life in the future?

MAIA: My music directors have impacted me and inspired me to make music with love. As someone who has discovered a lifelong passion because of these directors, I find it extremely important for me to share my love of music with others by becoming a music educator.

MAX: After my experiences with the Music School, I know now that I am going to major in music education because I want to share the feeling I get when I play with as many people as I can.

Q: How did you hear about RIPYWE? What made you want to join? What do you remember from your audition? How did you feel when you walked out the door?

MAIA: I heard about RIPYWE from a family friend whose son used to be in RI Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. At the time, I had never been in a full-sectioned wind ensemble and knew that it would be a challenging but important learning experience for me. I was also very interested in being in an ensemble with students from other schools.

I remember meeting Chelsea Anderson and Dr. Neves for the first time. Any nerves that I had were almost immediately gone because of how welcomed I felt. When I walked out the door, I was extremely excited.

MAX: Maia told me about RIPYWE, and I went and sat in on a rehearsal. I had a great time. It felt very comfortable. I auditioned the next week.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

MAIA: I want to thank Chelsea Anderson and Dr. Neves for providing me with the opportunity to play with such ambitious musicians. They have inspired me to strive for greatness, and both have a very special place in my heart. Playing in RIPYWE for the past three years has been a unique and unforgettable experience that I will miss dearly when I graduate.

About the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensembles (RIPYWE)

Founded in 2002, RIPYWE offers advanced woodwind, brass and percussion students from Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut an outstanding opportunity to rehearse and perform high quality wind ensemble repertoire. RIPYWE offers these students a challenging and rewarding musical experience. RIPYWE Symphonic Winds is conducted by Music Director Dr. David Neves, and RIPYWE Wind Ensemble is conducted by John Knasas Jr.

 Students interested in auditioning or learning more about our ensembles should contact: Youth Ensembles Manager Chelsea Anderson at 401-248-7038 or

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