Friday Inspiration: “What Prisoners Taught Me About Music Appreciation”

Back in February, 2016 Chattanooga Symphony & Opera concertmaster Holly Mulcahy published the first article in what ended up becoming a series at Neo Classical about a program she started to bring classical music into a prison. She wanted to see if the music could heal, change lives, and inspire.

Adaptistration People 058She partnered with Alan Bonderud and Steve Hawkins, both of whom serve as mentors at Walker State Faith and Character Based Prison. Together, along with the support of several supporters, the trio put together a program that used a performance event as a medium for people to access emotions, use music as a coping mechanism, and a way to offer a new outlook.

The pilot program was an enormous success and the subsequent event recently transpired.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the program is just how much of a positive impact the events have on inmates. In addition to what Mulcahy recounts from her first-hand observations, her program partners also help design and process feedback surveys completed by each inmate attending the events.

The surveys are well crafted and being in a unique position to review inmate responses, I can’t underscore just how profound and sincerely touching they are.

Mulcahy’s latest article, What Prisoners Taught Me About Music Appreciation, excerpts a number of uplifting and stirring observations.

Since the last time I brought music into the prison the number of prisoners who have experienced live classical music jumped. For many, my performance in April was their first encounter with a live classical music experience.

Many prisoners said they never had the opportunity nor could afford attending concerts prior to being incarcerated. But there was a distinct appreciation, a palpable need for keeping live music in their lives.

Talking with prisoners after the performance it was said again and again: “I didn’t know I needed this until now,” and, “I wished I knew about this type of music before.”

Not only is this entire series inspirational, but it goes a long way toward reinforcing the intrinsic value of classical music. At the very least, it is a wonderful resource next time you find yourself in one of those stereotypical justification type of conversations.

But the part I keep coming back to is how meaningful everything becomes when you strip away pomp and pretense and make an event about the people attending.

You can find the series archive here.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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