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.”