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It’s been nearly a month since performing a recital in Walker State Faith and Character Based Prison. The experience was no doubt memorable, but after finally reading all of the surveys prisoners filled out and notes jotted down by prisoner mentor, Alan Bonderud, it was clear we had something uniquely special.
The reoccurring theme on the prisoners’ surveys was the impact they felt sharing their emotions or interpretations while experiencing each musical work. There was a distinct value placed on the living composers works and that sentiment was also mentioned a number of times within the surveys.
According to the surveys, it was as important to have an open discussion after each piece as it was to include living composers’ works on the recital. For the survey responses, the phrase It was nice allowing our voices to be heard kept appearing over and over again.
Prisoners’ experiences and reactions varied with each piece, but the frequent statement of the importance of sharing one’s emotion and one’s impression was extraordinary and meaningful.
Likewise, it was important to have the living composers’ voices heard. From the survey responses, the phrase I liked being introduced to modern composers’ works was another common reaction. For living composers, there can often be obstacles or frustrations when a new piece is written. The work can be promptly ignored or poo-pooed by the public or performers because it is new and/or unfamiliar. Getting these works played was allowing for voices on both sides of the spectrum to be heard, and that is exactly what music should do.
The comments on the surveys indicated a profound connection with what the living composers wrote, more so than the Bach I also included during the recital. Stories, emotions, impressions all seemed much deeper with works by composers Marc Mellits, Jim Stephenson, and Jennifer Higdon.
The living composers’ voices were heard very distinctly that evening, and point counterpoint, the prisoners’ voices were heard as well. Our musical conversation is just the beginning into finding relevance and meaning in all of our emotions. And as human beings, that is exactly what we all need.
For all works on the program, I played a small sample to get ears and minds primed. A brief discussion of prisoners’ emotional take or impressions of the works were shared. Fostering an open discussion like that puts Walker State Prison apart from the stereotypical prison scene. Below are a few impressions taken from the surveys and notes during the discussions.
Allowing the voices to be heard turned out to be the unofficial theme of the evening. Prisoners, living composers, and even a gentle maternal voice was felt. The power that music has is boundless, especially if it is not restricted with agenda or insincerity. We humans just need to be present and curious; amazing things happen when one listens with an open heart and mind.