Inspiring Creativity in Kansas Prisons
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Day 3- Written by Hannah Collins and Sarah Frisof
The third and final day was full of drama. We arrived early at the prison at the inmates’ request in order to have extra rehearsal time but we were met with the news that the entire prison was on lockdown due to lighting strikes within a five-mile radius of the campus. All evening activities were canceled, and we struggled to think about how we could possibly leave this project open-ended when everyone involved was so excited for the concert. Leigh, the fearless Arts in Prison coordinator who had helped organize this entire event, suggested that we wait and see if the storms cleared. As we waited near the security gate, we chatted with several employees and volunteers at the prison about the stark challenges the inmates will face when they are released (this being a minimum security prison, nearly all of those held here will be released eventually), including new technology and skills needed in the workplace, family challenges, societal bias, and lack of personal and financial support. All the while watching the radar, Leigh finally managed to get special dispensation for our concert to occur, and we rushed up to the chapel to get set up. As our musical team started to assemble in the chapel, we all met each other with big smiles of relief and appreciation.
During the concert, we gave the official world premieres of the works written for the visiting trio, performed several of the inmates’ own songs (some with impromptu cello, flute and percussion in the back up band!) and finished with our grand finale, the world premiere of our collaborative composition, “Home Is Calling Me,” to an enthusiastic audience of fellow inmates and prison workers. The piece ends with all of the musicians singing, “I have such a long way to go, and home is calling me.”
After the performance, we only had a few minutes to say thank you and goodbye to each other before being separated again. Many of the inmates told us about their next idea for a song or how they might develop one of the musical kernels that we came up with during our workshop. One inmate said, “I’ve been here for nine years, and this is the coolest thing that has ever happened.” On the way back out through security, we learned that the officer on duty who had made the call to allow the concert to go on had once played violin in a community orchestra and had a deep love of music herself.
As we drove away, watching a beautiful sunset and rainbow, we could not stop marveling to each other about how humbling, inspiring, and moving the time had been for us both musically and personally. From our first minutes in the prison hearing the inmates share their earliest musical memories to our final concert, each moment brought a rich array of artistic and deeply human experiences.
Shared above is an audio file of the music we wrote and performed together, “Home Is Calling Me.”
Day 2 – Written by Hannah Collins
We warmed up on our second day with an introduction to Daniel Pesca’s quirky and energetic trio, TOGETHER, APART, TOGETHER. We played through certain sections of the piece and shared the extensive information that Daniel includes in the score describing the action of each musical cell through physical stage directions and specific character markings for each player. This led to a big technical discussion about how we relate to each other as people while playing music, whether by signaling to each other to stay in sync through complicated meters changes or by embodying some kind of character or relationship in our posture or tone like a stage actor.
The rest of the session was devoted to creating our group composition. Returning to our closing idea of day one, we created a board of words that the inmates felt reflected their state of mind while in prison:
loneliness, missing, emptiness, away, doubt, freedom of mind vs. incarcerated body,
love, appreciation, anticipation, purpose, growth, self-knowledge,
strength, hope, laughter, optimism, home
Several of the inmates came in on day two with material that they had written overnight. The structure of the piece took form quickly as one of the inmates, Philip, shared an fully harmonized piano tune he had been working on. Another inmate, Tim, had written some verses that paired well with Philip’s music and improvised a vocal line. Two more, Marvin and Brandon, were quick to add an improvised hook and rap to the mix. By the end of the session we had built a piece with a fantastic arc and structure, with every inmate participating instrumentally and/or vocally. Road map in place.
As we experimented and rehearsed during day two, we found we had more opportunities for meaningful conversations. During breaks in the action, the inmates were eager to tell us stories about their families, things they hoped for after release, and other musical memories that were stirred up by our conversation on the previous day. Perhaps most poignantly, we each had one-on-one conversations with inmates about the role that music plays in their daily lives in prison, whether as a creative outlet, a mental health aid, or a social safe zone, and about the role that they hope it might have in their future lives either as a profession or a meaningful way of spending their free time once they are released.
Day 1 Summary
We opened the first day by each sharing our earliest musical memory. The guest musicians got the ball rolling and the inmates jumped right in sharing cherished stories such as singing along to the radio with siblings while driving down a country road, being encouraged to learn a new instrument while participating in school band, and getting to know a parent lost too soon by listening to musical recordings. With in a half hour, we reached the first of many poignant moments when one inmate asked if we could pause to reflect on the fact that these incarcerated men have spent all day, every day together for months and years, but were hearing these stories for the first time and learning new, meaningful things about each other.
We continued musically by getting set up with instruments and improvising sound gestures in response to words and emotions. This naturally led to an extended e minor jam session on the theme of “loneliness” featuring our unique line up of marimba, flute, cello, keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, and percussion, planting the seeds for what would eventually become part of our final composition.
Next, Ingrid introduced her trio, The Voice of the Rain, and the eponymous Walt Whitman poem that inspired it. One of the inmates gave a particularly stirring reading of the text and through demonstration, Ingrid explained her process of translating text into musical sounds and structures. Upon hearing the entire piece (the world premiere performance), the inmates shared their own observations and interpretations, which added deeper layers of meaning to the piece for us.
For the last hour, each inmate shared either text or music that he had written or produced. The level of musicianship, passion, and resourcefulness displayed was truly remarkable. One man had a binder of 200 songs that he had written while incarcerated and picked one to share. Another shared a tune inspired by a boyhood memory that he said he had been working on for forty years. Two of the men shared fully produced vocal tracks that sounded as if they had been recorded and mixed in a studio, but astonished us by revealing that they were actually created entirely within the prison using outdated recording equipment to record tracks in any quiet and resonant space they could find, including empty hallways and bathrooms. All of the inmates were quick to voice support for each other’s artistic talents, despite writing in completely different musical styles. They were similarly enthusiastic about the music we brought in to share with them, eagerly incorporating language we used to discuss ideas like structure and orchestration into their musical vocabularies.
In the final minutes of our first session, we asked the inmates to think about what the theme of our group composition might be. One man said, “A lot of us who are incarcerated are missing someone outside, but at the same time there’s hope that we can do something better when we get out and that we can be reunited with everyone and go home. Maybe we can write about that.”
The photo is of an inmate reading The Voice of the Rain, a poem by Walt Whitman. The poem was the inspiration for Ingrid Stölzel’s piece.
Our residency at Lansing Correctional Facility took the shape of a three day workshop featuring four visiting musicians: cellist Hannah Collins and percussionist Michael Compitello of New Morse Code, composer Ingrid Stolzel, flutist/project organizer Sarah Frisof, and nine incarcerated men with a strong background or interest in music-making. Our goals as workshop leaders were to: 1) foster an environment of musical exchange which included performing music for each other, improvising and experimenting with musical ideas together, and facilitating discussion of the key issues that the incarcerated musicians desire to express through their music; 2) present techniques of contemporary classical composition and chamber music performance through our lens as professional musicians by sharing works written by our composer collaborators especially for this project; 3) create a brand new piece of music including everyone’s input and some of the techniques discussed to be performed at the end of the workshop by all thirteen musicians together.
We are excited for our first workshop at the Lansing correctional facility today. We have two new pieces from Daniel Pesca and Ingrid Stölzel that we can’t wait to share with the inmates. Over the next three days, our project will allow us to work with the inmates on creating a collaborative musical project.
Project Dates finalized- May 2018!
We are pleased to announce that our project dates at Lansing Correctional Facility have been finalized!
Mike, Hannah, Ingrid, and Sarah will present workshops May 21-23th with a final concert on May 24th. Sarah and Ingrid are in the planning stages for the workshops, while Ingrid, Tonia, and Daniel are currently working on their new works.
We are thrilled to embark on this project!
Our goal is to bring the process and creation of contemporary classical music within the prison walls in Kansas. Currently, there is a small prison arts program at the Lansing, Kansas Correctional Facility including a prison choir—however, there is no program at the prison that directly engages prisoners in the active creation of music. With this project, we hope to create and foster a relationship between Kansas artists and prisoners, establishing a platform for ongoing collaboration.
Composers Daniel Pesca, Tonia Ko, and Ingrid Stölzel will write works for flute, percussion, and cello to be played by flutist Sarah Frisof, cellist Hannah Collins, and percussionist Michael Compitello. Concurrently, Ingrid Stolzel, Sarah Frisof, Hannah Collins, and Michael Compitello will facilitate three workshops on the creation of new music, leading to a collaborative composition between the inmates and the musicians. All four works—the three by established composers and the fourth a collaborative composition—will be premiered at the prison in a fourth session.
We believe that all people should have the opportunity to participate in art, and that the creation and experience of new art can be an opportunity for reflection and transformation. We hope that this collaboration will bring a voice to the prison community and we plan to present the works to the greater Kansas community through concerts at the University of Kansas and other community venues throughout the state. This project will serve as the first step towards an ongoing collaboration between the University of Kansas and the Lansing Correctional Facility.
Tonia wrote “Hush” for cello/percussion duo New Morse Code in 2012. Each of the 3 movements is inspired by a fragment of text from Virginia Woolfe’s “The String Quartet.”
Listen from the beginning for a sense of the work’s soundworld, and from the 3rd movement (6:37) for a sense of the piece’s demands on the musicians, which includes speaking and singing in addition to playing.
“There are Things to be Said” takes its title and inspiration from a poem by American poet Cid Corman (1924-2004). The poem expresses universal human experiences—loss, sadness, loneliness but also hope. I was struck by the simplicity and openness of Corman’s words. It is often in such elemental simplicity that we find true and powerful meaning which is also something I strive for in my music. Please start listening at: 1:06.
Daniel Pesca’s solo flute work “A Memory of Melisande” freely transforms and paraphrases fragments from Debussy’s opera. These melodic strands hang suspended in the air, like Melisande’s fading memories of her brief tryst with Pelleas. The work showcases Sarah’s beauty of tone and elegant phrasing.
Start from 1:49 to hear the way the phrases gradually gain strength through the flute’s registers, building over the next minute and a half towards a virtuosic outburst.
Start and End Dates
05/01/2017 — 05/01/2018