NOTES FROM AUDIENCE MEMBERS: December 7, 2010
Mary, thank you for the wonderful performance last night. It was a rare opportunity to experience community where the lines between inside and outside are lovingly blurred. Thanks for all you do.
Jefri , Program Assistant and Media Director for the School of Social Work She is also a founding member of Project CHANGE
From a friend who attended the More Love concert in April 2010:
The article you sent (Kenneth’s Press Citizen article from Dec 5, 2010) was so moving. The prisoner expressed the sense of what we felt when we went to your concert last spring. We saw the inner happiness shine through on the prisoner’s faces who were so deeply connected with what they were singing. By expressing their creativity through songwriting and singing, they are contacting the infinite reservoir of creative intelligence deep within their own Self and that is bound to bring deep inner fulfillment and happiness and ultimately peace.
By Jennifer Gerbyshak
Peace propagating through
waves of melody,
repairs my soul.
Piece by piece reverses
with soothing sealant.
Enters through my breath,
music made into being;
I am sane again.
Mary Cohen’s brother, “a changed man”
From an Inside Singer:
Two days before our first concert, I learned that two different families in my Sunday School class have sons in prison. One of the men is imprisoned in another state, and his father, who had visited him there the previous week, talked about the lack of programs to enrich the lives of the men there. He is grieved about the brokenness in his son’s life, and longs for restoration and healing.
During our concert, I looked out at the audience and saw the faces of family members and friends of some of the inside singers. I realized what an encouragement and a joy it must be for them to see their loved ones participate in such a meaningful and enriching program.
Music uplifts all of our hearts, and all of us are better for having worked to create something beautiful this semester.
It would be so cool if we . . . had more opportunities to converse in small groups as we did just before the concert. That was the high point of our time together.
DECEMBER 15, 2010 CONCERT REFLECTIONS
What a wonderful source of healing and beauty you have created in that prison and in our community, Mary!
Your concert last night was a joy. I rarely attend an event anymore where I’m moved, made to think, and experience new things – all in one evening! Your presence as leader of the choir was beautiful. You brought joy and love to every second of the performance. And your music for the original songs – with their heartfelt lyrics – made me cry. Thank you for a wonderful event.
Alan MacVey (Director of the Division of Performing Arts, UI)
I drove to the prison tonight with a sense of collegial obligation to check out and support your work. Like everyone else this time of year, I was tired and hadn’t had dinner. The size of the prison facility startled me. I always imagined Oakdale as a smallish affair. Having just read somewhere that the U.S. prison population is the largest in the world, it saddened me to gaze upon the stark structure, razor wire, and signs about K9 units. I was immediately met with about a dozen rules as I entered the building and thought to myself that this must be only a hint of daily life. Many rules. Very regimented. No room for errors. I felt my fatigue intensify as I contemplated the inmates’ institutional existence.
Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for the Christmas music program.
Upon meeting other colleagues in the entrance, seeing yet others make their way into the gymnasium, watching President Mason and other administrators taking their seats, I began to perk up. They had all come to see your work. It was rather amazing for all the reasons that we as faculty know.
Well, you can imagine how I, we all, felt when the choir began to sing. I felt the tension flow out of my shoulders and became absorbed with all the different faces visibly relaxing. Not being a Christian, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but you can’t escape those traditional songs that permeate the air throughout the season. And even though they don’t represent my traditions they’ve kind of grown on me through the years. Your challenging arrangements surprised me. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but it wasn’t the kind of music the choir offered. . .layered, complex, multi-vocal.
And that’s when I began to feel something way too emotional for me in such circumstances. The choir sounded like a community, like humanity, like love and caring. It sounded like a healthy and humane society, where everyone has a chance to make the most of their lives. I guess that’s hope. It sounded like the culmination of dedicated work aiming for the best outcomes. I guess that’s self-respect. The soulful lyrics written by the two inmates (I have managed to lose my program already) touched my heart in unexpected ways. Creative spirits, theirs and yours, raised the bar as far as Christmas music programs go. I must admit it was all I could do not to weep.
The juxtaposition between the sweetness of the choir voices, the depth of feeling in their lyrics, the inescapable nostalgia that arises around traditional hymns, and the circumstances under which we all came together tonight evoked more emotion than I had anticipated. There was a lot of love, hope, and dignity in that room tonight, Mary. My wish is that it is enough to carry us all forward as our paths unfold. We can all use a little encouragement in meeting life’s challenges. We need each other to lift ourselves up. As you know, by the end of the semester it is easy to feel pretty beaten down. The choir lightened my spirits in a big way this evening. I was grateful for knowing you and having the opportunity to attend the program.
With best wishes,
Mary, I just wanted to drop you a quick note to pass along to one of your choir members if you have the chance. The father who wrote the song about wanting to let his children know how much he loved them touched me very deeply. With my dad in the shape that he is (if you remember, trapped and lost amidst an advanced dementia…), well it really touch me in that I am certain that this is a song he would sing to my brother and I… one full of regret, a plea for forgiveness, a statement of pride and a statement of love. Overall, I think he has really plucked something from the zeitgeist shared by the universe of dads. If you a chance to tell him that, please do so. And thank you for being a conduit for his words. It was a great performance.
Dear Choir Friends,
May you walk in beauty in a sacred way, may you walk in beauty each and every day . . .
And I missed Wednesday’s concert (RATTY head cold). And I am saying farewell for the spring (to write a demanding-my-all dissertation project!).
But one day I hope to return. And in the meantime, I am blessed to have had the chance to share the wonderful music with each of you. Thank you for an experience that has enriched my life. Truly, we have walked in beauty together.
Yes, I take your song in my heart!
Love and light,
I want to let you know how impressed I was with the choir performance you directed at Oakdale Prison on Wednesday. Your enthusiasm for the project is obvious. Thanks for including me on the invitation list. I look forward to next year’s event.
- Barry Butler, Ph.D.
Interim Executive Vice President and Provost
I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed the Oakdale Community Choir concert the other night. Thanks so much for inviting us. We didn’t know what to expect but I have to admit we had a wonderful time. I knew it would be special because of you but it totally exceeded our expectations. (from the Executive Director at Hancher)
For us, it was a joy and a privilege to attend the Oakdale Community Choir’s Christmas Concert 2010. We had expected fine music and were not disappointed, but we were also touched and impressed by the heartfelt readings of so many individuals, both incarcerated and free. All the choir members are to be commended for their dedication, enthusiasm and hard work. It was a lovely, uplifting evening. We are especially grateful to our friend Barbara Eckstein who made our attendance possible. Thank you everyone–director, pianists and singers—for this very special early Christmas gift.