Dr. André de Quadros started this workshop listing several eye-opening statistics. 13.4-16.4 million children are in poverty. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population in prison. Black people often serve just as much time for drugs as white people do for physical violence – up to 52 months. These statistics are, in short, heart breaking. Dr. de Quadros has dedicated his life to leading several initiatives to fight these statistics, and to use choral music as a platform for starting to heal people. He works directly with a men’s prison and a women’s prison in Boston and has formed choirs there. He spoke of his experience in talking to the people incarcerated there and how they often feel forgotten. Choral music allows them to feel like they are part of a community again, and feel deeper, more positive personal emotions. He showed us several examples of poetry and other written texts that have been inspired by his efforts in the prison, specifically from a program he held called, “Remember Me, But Ah! Forget My Fate.” These poems were incredibly humanizing and thought provoking to me, especially because I have only had one or two experiences in my life with speaking to people in prison.
Dr. de Quadros also shared an initiative with a choir named “Common Group Voices,” an Israeli-Palestinian-Swedish choir. They take songs of each other’s cultures and recreate and reimagine the songs to fit the customs of their own culture and language. They also have round-table discussions among the members about issues concerning the relationships of their cultures. Dr. de Quadros stated, “We’re not talking about peace, we’re talking about common ground – who are we as humans?” I think this is a beautifully stated perspective to begin to understand each other in a deeper way.
Dr. de Quadros had a guest there whose name will be undisclosed for confidentiality reasons. He was a former convict of the men’s prison in Boston, and had only just been released a few months ago. He spent 34 years there because he was tried as an adult when he was 17 years old, and was supposed to be in prison for his entire life. He spoke of his experience being in Dr. de Quadros’s choir and how meaningful it was to him. I spoke to this man afterwards and could only think of a small but powerful phrase a professor told me a while ago (while on a visit to a local juvenile detention facility) – “These are good people who just made a bad choice.”
It almost seems unfair that we, who are privileged with a warm home and good food, experience extraordinarily different lives from others who might have made a bad decision or who are caught in social tensions. I can only feel that it is part of our responsibility as human beings to reach out to those in need. I have not met a single musician who did not want to share their craft with others in some respect, whether it be through teaching, performing, or composing. Something that struck me, though, was when Dr. de Quadros said, “If you search ‘choral conductor’ on Google Images, what do you find? A white man in a tuxedo. The reason why it is often difficult to convince our administrators of the importance of music is because we’ve placed the value of the aesthetics and beauty of music over the fact that choral music can truly help people and make them better.” Dr. de Quadros declared that we need conductors who know how to be creative, be agents of change, and be social advocates. I know that this session has reinforced my personal aspiration to use my love for music and teaching in order to help and heal others.
-Sunhwa Reiner, IC ACDA President
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