DiDonato inspires inmates through song Photo: Florian Katolay

DiDonato inspires inmates through song

Greg Finney

My Beloved Schmop-Tops! Happy New Year!

With 2016 firmly behind us, and 2017 teetering in a limbo of possibilities, I wanted my first Schmopera post to be something uplifting and positive to start the year.

And I found it in Joyce DiDonato.

A darling of the international opera scene, DiDonato took to Sing Sing Correctional Facility, one of the most famous prisons in the world, and offered its inmates a glimmer of hope and beauty.

“It reminds them that that part of them is perhaps not lost in a place that is dehumanizing a lot of the time” the two-time Grammy Award-winner said in an interview with The Today Show on NBC. “The first day I was there… my instinct was ‘Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact’ and forty-five minutes later I was staring into the eyes of these inmates and we were singing to each other.”

Part of DiDonato’s work is not only making music with the inmates, but inspiring them to express themselves through composing music as well. In a partnership with Carnegie Hall, DiDonato and a group of professional musicians have been giving both instrument and music theory lessons as part of the program launched at one of the world’s “most notorious maximum security prisons”.

In speaking with one of the participants, “Joe” who is serving time for committing murder, he admits he was not supportive or interested at first. “But then I heard her sing, and I was all in.” That statement right there - isn’t that why we all do this in the first place? The program culminates with a perfomance of the work composed by the inmates featuring the Carnegie Musicians and Ms. DiDonato herself. For the past two years, the inmate Joe’s music has been chosen for performance. “Every day I try to be a better person for them,” he says talking about his victim and their family, “even if they never know it.”

After seeing what’s happened around the world in 2016 and what continues to happen at the beginning of 2017, I hope I’m not the only one who feels like the sun may be coming out from behind a cloud in spite of everything to teach us that, as the late great Jack Layton says “Love is greater than hate…”

Check out the whole segment here.

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