On the last day of the Boston conference, 40 people gathered in a room on the third floor of the conference center to hear a session that we had been told about at the concert the previous night. Earlier in the week, four members of the Trinity Wall Street choir had traveled to Norfolk to lead a session at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute. At their phenomenal concert on Friday night, director Julian Wachner had told the audience about their upcoming reflection session for the next morning. The room was quite packed, and the session started off with a demonstration of the kinds of activities that went on during the choir members’ time at the correctional institute. Using some of the improvisation tools and techniques shown at Friday night’s concert, the singers set a poem with the help of the crowd (who provided a drone tone). Afterwards, the singers each reflected on their individual experiences at the correctional institute, where they had fostered creativity and emotional exploration among the inmates.
Andrè de Quadros, who began the prison ministry program known as Empowering Song through Boston University approximately five years ago, was also present and spoke very eloquently about the mission and goals of the program. He talked about how certain demographics of people have limited access to choral music, and about how this specific program helps inmates to develop a sense of self-worth, enabling individual and community transformation. The choir also performed an example of a poem that one of the inmates had written, which they turned into a rap and a refrain in the style of Mary J. Blige.
De Quadros spoke about how each semester an overall theme is chosen for the Empowering Song program, usually a song lyric or stanza from a poem, which helps the artists to draw inspiration and create meaningful contributions. Perhaps the most captivating part of the entire session was when a former participant in the program and degree holder from Boston University's prison education program spoke about his experience. This man had participated in the program for four semesters out of the 34 long years of his sentence. He spoke eloquently and passionately about the doors that this program has opened up for him, and about the sense of purpose that many participants gain from working with their own creativity and musical skills. His willingness to be vulnerable was moving, and everyone in the room was captivated.
Overall, this session served as a powerful reminder that we as music educators and conductors can always find opportunities to reach the people who are most in need of music.
-Annie Brady, IC ACDA Special Events Coordinator
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