IMCC-Community Choir Writing Sampler #9
Dear Choir Members—- My name is Shanyn Cline and I am a journalism student here at the University of Iowa. I have taken much interest and joy reading, and learning about your success in the Community Choir program. Through my Topics in Human Rights course, I have had the opportunity to explore the importance of human rights to the well being of ourselves as individuals, and society as well. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law. No matter who you are, or the past you hold, you hold these rights as a human being. The denial of these rights is not only a tragedy for the individual, but can lead to social and political unrest. Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. From the passages you all have written, it is clear that the choir has demonstrated article 19 through powerful musical expression in singing and writing. By writing and singing songs, you are not only graciously unifying together, you, individually are participating in a rehabilitative activity to cope with the constraints of prison life. The songs you have sung, written and performed, have done more than provide words to a tune; they have uncovered feelings and emotions that reveal inspirational power. I have grouped your musical experiences under four different themes; reactions to songs, us as songs, working together, and finding hope. I have found positive energy filled with expression in these passages, and I hope you too can seek the strength and hope found in these musical experiences.
“More than just letters and symbols on a page, the music and message we take up, becomes a part of us, to be communicated to others.” –An inside singer
REACTIONS TO SONGS:
To me this piece [One More Look] reminds me to consciously examine my belief system and assess my assumptions about others. Assumptions are very useful in our lives. They are, hopefully, based in actual life experiences and accurately reflect realities. They allow us to move more effectively in the world, in that they free us from the energy and time it takes to evaluate each and every event in our lives. If we had to do that, we would very likely make few decisions and not get much accomplished, but would spend most of our time in a fog of uncertainty. We must assume that the morning will come tomorrow, that our family will be there, our job will need to be done, there will be food at the store etc.
We must, however, be able to discern what is our actual experience, and what has been handed to us by others, and society at large. We must, on occasion, sense that something is amiss, somehow with what we thought or believed about some person or thing or process. When this occurs, we must examine closely what it is we believe, and what it is we are actually perceiving. Often this will involve an active discussion or questioning with another person to get their perspective. When this is done, it gives us a second chance to form a new and authentic relationship, as Kenneth says, “ a better way to build a future from whats here today.” To men, then, Kenneth is telling us to remain open to others and their ideas, and examine ourselves in our relations with them, our forbears, and those to come.
The Swahili in Kenya, especially value friendship, that country’s coat of arms, designed in 1963 features the Swahili word for “pulling together.” Our next song [Wakati] involves us in a cross cultural experience. You can almost feel the African drum rhythm. Whether you know it as Shalom, Iraynay, Paz or Amani, a time of peace is worth pulling together for.
When I sing “Wakati”, I cant help but think “ This is exactly what I want to say to all my inside friends. You are my friends, and when the time comes for your new start, believe in yourself because I have faith in you. Take pride in doing right, find in yourself the strength to persevere. And, until we meet again, whether next week or in the next life, may peace be with you, my friend.”
I feel the voices in both songs [Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child/ Deep River] are crying out for home; for freedom they once knew. Together, their plea for release seems to create a rolling forward into freedom that comes from the heart.
The song that makes me most relaxed and comfortable is “Show Us the Way of Compassion.” It invokes in me the mood and feelings that spending a quiet day at Iske’s would. It’s slow and mellow melody reminds me of better days spent at the lakes with family and friends. Days filled with joy and peace, where I learned what I know of compassion and the ways of life.
The song I most relate to is “Watching over Me”. That in itself should be no surprise. I wrote the lyrics. “Watching Over Me” is a song that in April will be over 100 years in substance, and thirty one years in the making. Gram, my great grandmother for who I wrote, was a very important person in my life. I would say it’s the most personal song I’ve written. At least that the choir has done. I get emotional every time we sing it. It’s a mixture of feelings; happy, sad, regret and longing. I’m very thankful for that. I would wish that everyone could be as submerged and moved by a song as much as I am by “Watching Over Me.”
Music has the ability to provoke thoughts and release tensions that free our minds. Some lyrics resonate with us for times when we need them again for inspiration or just to feel good.
US AS SONGS:
Without a doubt I would choose to be changed into the song “Wakati wa Amani.” As this song, it would make me happy to have people learning another language – Swahili—and combining that language with English, creating awareness of another people in another land, but both peoples united in singing about a time of peace. And I want to be part of a song that urges people to “be faithful and true.” Because these actions will create peace along with the other values in “Wakati:” strength, joy, pride, belief, starting over if need be. Finally, I want to be a song (life) that expresses the blessing of “peace be with you , my friend, until we meet again.” This song reflects my hope and wish for each member of the Oakdale Community Singers as we gather and depart on Tuesday evenings.
If I were to change into one of the songs we’re singing this season, I’d turn myself into: “Beauty before Me.” I love the lyrics of “Beauty before Me.” I strive each day to live mindfully and embrace the beauty in my life. In reality, I seem to be underneath large piles of work, yet I still strive for the ideal of seeing and experiencing beauty in each moment. Sometimes the beauty is as simple as noticing my alignment and breath and releasing unnecessary tensions within my body. The glass can be half full if I choose to see it that way.
To me, the song “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” is my favorite song we are doing, for two reasons one, “watching the tide roll away,” I compare that lyric to our slow waiting for that day when the tide rolls in, and I can walk through that gate, to freedom, and to my wife.
“Just my Imagination” is a song that is smooth all over to me. It immediately invites dancing. Part of it is the memories of the zoot suits doing their moves.
For me, its got to be “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”. I’ve sat on the beaches in Tampa looking out over the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, running from ghosts I’d left in Iowa and Nebraska, searching for the peace and tranquility that comes with the view. It was one of the most reflective times in my life. I had the chance to battle some of my demons and come out on top. To a lot of people, it may have just looked like I was wasting time. I might have been doing just that, but it was in a good way.
By reflecting on ourselves as songs, we can remove ourselves and place us anywhere we wish to be. For some, its with our families, for some its dancing, or even on a beach, but regardless to where it is, we are creating hope and preparing ourselves for a positive future.
Thinking a little more outside the box, someone might find hope in our choir’s ability to perfect a difficult piece, or in the improvement we’ve demonstrated in an old song from previous seasons. I take immense satisfaction in our improvement, but that is not hope. I find peace in some songs like Breathe Holy Breath, and joy in others like Wakati, because of their themes and musical qualities.
Over a period of time it has been interesting to observe my own feelings about singing in the choir. All the things we do are both fun and work. Its like going to any other choir I have been in. Now there are people I know better than others and some I don’t know now with many new members. It seems normal. At first I tried to know everyone but now I concentrate more on singing. What we create together here does not feel average in the end because it has the power to change its members and audiences as well as the whole prison system. I feel it has already.
“Just my imagination.” I think it’s a good thing to let ones imagination run away with them, often. That’s what creativity is about and that’s how to unearth hope!
The song “Show us the Way” speaks to me as well as “Breathe Holy Breath”. They both give me the hope of not only becoming a light in the darkness, but to also share that light with those around me, I often struggle with compassion, though at times it flows freely through me. I believe these two songs will stay with me as prayers, more than just songs.
Yes, I feel these songs are like prayers drifting through the air and coming to mind when needed the most.
That being said, I do find hope in some of our songs, just not in the places you might expect. It’s not he words or the melody or harmony per se, it’s the interplay of voices that speaks to me of hope. When inside and outside voices weave in and around each other, I feel that I’m participating in the creative rebuilding that starts the hope process.
When people come together, powerful things happen. By coming together every week to create music, the wonderful interaction can produce an energy that will touch all members as well as those who listen.
REFLECTIONS FROM AUDIENCE MEMBERS OF OUR CONCERT THEMED “COME WALK WITH US” ON MAY 10, 2012
I can honestly say that the concert was one of the most beautiful and emotional events that I’ve had the privilege of seeing live in person. I was tearing up in the audience from the heartfelt commentary in between songs and, of course, by the original songs written by inmates. I’m so impressed by the sincerity, creativity, and depth of these original works. I hope that all the songwriters continue to write and that you continue to have the Songwriter’s Workshop so that others may have that opportunity as well. I think the soul and talent of the whole group brought the songs to life. Having “insiders” and “outsiders” on stage together, sharing duets, and interweaving their voices into one strong voice was a powerful statement and one that I think needs to be shared with an even wider public. It will have a lasting impact on me and how I view the current prison system. Thank you Mary and to everyone who made this show possible.
Please pass along to the choir how thankful I am to have shared in the experience of their concert last night. I was moved to tears by the beauty and power of their voices, the strength and compassion of their words, and the joy that was evident in the room. I came into the experience not knowing what to expect, and I was truly in awe within the first few minutes. On reflection, I realize I didn’t expect to find such honest beauty in a place like that… and it was a gift to be shown how unaware I was. Being there was one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had. The way they filled the room with harmony connected with me on a deep level, and it helped me to see a more full picture of each of the wonderful people performing. I am honored to have been invited and included. Thank you.
Lindsay Jarratt, Diversity Resources Coordinator
Chief Diversity Office, The University of Iowa
May 10, 2012
It felt as though Lowell Brandt was in the room with us last night at the Iowa Medical Classification Center. He was our friend, and we felt his presence and know that he would have been as moved as we were by the beautiful choral singing, inspired lyrics and music by choir members from the outside and within. We have been privileged to attend Oakdale choral concerts for the past two years as interested observers and listeners. We continue to be attracted by this important work that taps the significant talents of many of the people living inside the IMCC – the prison – the writing community within Iowa City/Coralville, and the many people from our University of Iowa who participate in this important work. Your heartwarming mission brings dignity, hope and inspiration to the IMCC community, and it is crucial to the future successes of those who will one day move out again into the challenges of finding their way in their families and towns. Thank you Mary Cohen, and all of the volunteers and musicians who bring light into what was an enclosed world. That light shines very brightly and with such intensity and warmth that the IMCC becomes a different place – a beacon of the shared goodness, caring and hope that touches everyone. You make us proud.
Trudi and Jack Rosazza
I came with no expectations. I left feeling uplifted and excited by an evening of great music performed with joy, enthusiasm, and heart. It wasn’t only the music that rocked. The way you structured the program—having various participants tell the audience and each other what the pieces meant to them, and in the case of original compositions, why they wrote what they did—imbued the concert with a tremendous warmth and energy, provided another layer of richness to the experience for those of us fortunate enough to have attended last night.
I also appreciated your reminding us, at the end of the program, about the unhealthy number of people incarcerated in this country and how programs such as this choir can help everyone involved.
Dear Oakdale Community Choir,
I miss my choir friends and yet am now grateful I had the opportunity to be an audience member for once. Wow. You guys were fabulous. I was particularly struck by how much performance savvy everyone displayed but especially those singing solos or duets. I also learned how important it is to memorize the music. Those who had memorized it were always looking up and out at me. Boy does it make a difference.
I hope to see you all in the fall when I rejoin the choir.
I am SO very glad that I was able to attend last evening’s concert. The whole experience was so worthwhile.
I sat next to the Mom of one of the inmates – the one who wrote about his baby daughter (I can’t remember his name right now). It was good to share last evening with her – to talk with her about the effects the incarceration has had on the family. She shared her tissues with me as we cried through his song.
I was so moved by the songs that the inmates wrote. It was a gift to be let in on their feelings and thoughts. It was difficult to remember that they were incarcerated – for whatever reason. They seemed “normal.” I had to remind myself that, yes, the precautions that had to be taken really were necessary – it seemed like any other concert in a school gymnasium.
And to hear the singing! They are a good choir – whether insiders or outsiders! The men’s low voices were great – I love the rumbling of the bass voice!
I also thought about “insiders” and “outsiders.” Which was really interesting, since the prisoners would normally be considered “outsiders.”
When I got home I sent a message to my daughter and my brother who both happen to live in Vermont. My brother is a vocal music teacher and professional vocalist and my daughter is a minister. I tried to explain the experience to them – thinking what a wonderful program that would be – I can see them both doing something like that.
I so appreciate the time that you put into this program. And I am grateful that I was able to attend last night’s concert.
Carol Grow Johnk
Senior Acquisitions Public Service Associate
Acquisitions and Rapid Cataloging
100 Main Library
University of Iowa
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
I wanted to write and let you and the inside and outside members of the chorus know that my wife and I really enjoyed our time at the recent concert at Oakdale. There is a lot of talent in that group. We particularly liked Arnold Grice’s song.
We have lived in Iowa City for nearly 20 years and had never really given the prison a second look as we drove by on many occasions. Now, having seen the prisoners and heard them sing and express their thoughts, we have, I believe, a different perspective on the place and the people inside. The concert was definitely eye-opening. I don’t know what they did to get there, and I’m not sure it matters. I hope the experience with the choir helps them do their time and become productive citizens when they are released.
I think your efforts are to be lauded. As we move to a privatized prison system in this country, with its focus on profits and cost containment, rather than ostensibly rehabilitation, I wonder if there will be any place for programs like yours. I certainly hope so.
By the way, Lois Cole and Andy Douglas had invited us several times to the group’s concerts and we were unable to attend. We certainly are pleased we were able to make it this time. We hope all of you keep up the good work.
Jim Jacobson and Irene Friend
Iowa City, IA
Thanks to everyone for providing a wonderful evening of music! I was impressed by the original songs, and the arrangement of standards, especially Just My Imagination, which is not an easy song to do.
So Much More was the highlight of the evening, judging by the audience’s reaction, as well as my own.
I look forward to future concerts.
THOUGHTS ON THE OAKDALE CONCERT
“In these days of political, personal and economic disintegration, music is not a luxury, it’s a necessity; not simply because it is therapeutic, nor because it is the universal language, but because it is the persistent focus of our intelligence, aspiration and goodwill.”
― Robert Shaw
After experiencing the “Come Walk With Us” Oakdale Community Choir Concert last night, the message that music is not a luxury but a necessity was brought home to all of us, musicians and non-musicians. The gymnasium was transformed into a concert hall! The choir of insiders and outsiders blended into one seamless group of polished performers, all journeying together. From the first number, Beauty Before Me, to the last sing-along, May You Walk, the audience was invited to be a part of that journey.
We experienced the fear, doubt, struggle and darkness. It was essential to knowledge the existence of these obstacles. We also felt the courage, hope, beauty and a love that is stronger than our fears staring down doubt and sadness. The message that beauty can come out of struggle was as strong as the scent of lilacs in full bloom!
The collaboration of pieces written by the insiders and outsiders was a beautiful example of how we need each other to walk by our side, figuratively and literally. The mutual respect was evident. As a professional musician and piano teacher, I attend and participate in many concerts in the course of a year. But this particular concert was very special. Dick and I were deeply moved by the depth of expression and the aura of goodness that was present in that space on Wednesday night. It was authentic and an example of the change we want to see in the world.
We send our heartfelt gratitude and best wishes to all of you. Together we can change the world!
in peace and love,
Susan and Dick See
Thanks for all your work in putting on such an amazing concert. I’m not usually one to get emotional in public, but the concert deeply moved me. I found the songs written by inmates to be especially powerful. Public discourse about prisoners generally neglects the thoughts and experiences of prisoners themselves, and their songs about love, family, loss, and newfound strength brought me some otherwise missing perspectives. In particular, Arnold Grice’s words really affected me. He is both “so much more than than the title of offender” and “so much more than a victim of the system.” He transcends those things, and he knows it, and that gives me hope.
Thanks again! If you’d like to use any of this for the newspaper article, feel free to use my name.
Community Corrections Improvement Association
The Oakdale Community Spring Concert, entitled “Come Walk with Us,” demonstrated the professionalism and hard work everyone put in, from the pianist (soon to leave for his stint in the Peace Corps) to the two young men who wrote and performed my favorite “So Much More” with its audience sing-along, to the duets of old favorites like “Dock of the Bay.” I appreciated that each offender could come to the mike to welcome their guests (usually family) or introduce one of the songs. I left not with my usual despair on thinking of our 3 million incarcerated men, women and teens, but with hope and best wishes for their rehabilitation and their individual futures.
Mount Mercy University
“I went to the concert because a good friend had invited me and I had not been to a concert for a while and was looking forward to hearing live music. What I received from the experience was far beyond my reasons for going to the event. The experience for me was a personal out pour of emotions of joy, and longing and hope. I pretty much had tears through nearly all of the concert! The theme and selections brought all of us in the room together in spirit and song. The talent was impressive and the professionalism of the performance was lovely. It was so clear to me that the performers had mutual respect for one another. I especially enjoyed the smiles of support for the soloists between selections. I would recommend others to get a spot to see next year’s concerts! You are in for a nice surprise!
Finally, I want to recognize Professor Cohen to taking the bold and innovative project from a vision to an ongoing reality. What Mary Cohen has created and nurtured is actually making a positive, visual difference in our troubled world. I cannot imagine the multiple areas of expertise that Professor Cohen has had to add to her credentials in order to see such a difficult and challenging project through. And, through her work she has brought multiple communities together. Congratulations, Professor Cohen and all who have been involved in this meaningful and proactive project.”
Members of Oakdale Community Choir,
I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend your performance on Wednesday evening. It was a beautiful experience. I have had the opportunity to direct choirs of many ages and abilities and one of the hardest things to teach, especially young musicians, is how to “feel” the music. The emotions at your concert were powerful and palpable. I loved the incorporation of personal readings and the introduction of guests. Thank you to those of you who shared through song writing and readings; it takes incredible bravery to write your innermost thoughts and to share them with a public audience. Thank you also for including the lyrics in the program. I appreciated the eclectic mix of styles of music and as I observed the audience around me it was obvious that different songs moved different people in different ways. The audience participation was icing on the cake and brought us all together as one unified body. My only regret is the limited space for a limited audience. I wish your powerful program could reach more people.