Finding Rhythms recently partnered with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance on an innovative music-making and rehabilitation project at Thameside prison. The results were astonishing.
CoLab is an annual festival of work devised by post-graduate music students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. This year, as part of the festival, Finding Rhythms was asked to facilitate a week-long project which saw 10 music students working alongside 10 prisoners at HMP Thameside.
This was a really innovative project and a first for all of those involved. Over the course of 4 1/2 days the participants collaborated on writing, composing and recording a collection of songs. Inspiration came from many sources and the songs were built up in layers, with participants developing each other's ideas. The week culminated in a performance for an audience of prisoners, prison officers, family of the Trinity Laban students and members of the Finding Rhythms team. This final performance was a really exuberant, feel-good event that had everyone (officers included) singing along and chair-dancing.
As is so often the case on Finding Rhythms courses, this was a chance for prisoners to test and demonstrate their abilities. Whilst the prisoners don't have to be able to play an instrument, we often do uncover some astonishing talent in prisons, and that was certainly true at HMP Thameside, where we met some brilliant singers and musicians. After the course, one of the prisoners was shown photos of him drumming on a song and talking animatedly with one of the Trinity Laban students. He said “Oh, I am going to send these home, this will be the first time my family has been proud of me”.
The course was no less powerful for the Trinity Laban students, most of whom were classically trained and for whom the process of improvising music in a group setting was completely new. They had to put aside some of their musical preconceptions and work in a way that didn't rely on having notes on a page; the violinists even had to learn to move while playing!
"One of the problems with classical music at the moment is that it's seen as being quite elitist and I spend my days mainly surrounded by white, middle class people that are well-educated. But finding the human element, finding things in common this week has been quite surprising but very amazing." - Nicole, classical pianist
"It's forced me to be much more creative and more....just have the attitude of just do, just get involved, don't even think about it, just do it." - Alexis, viola
"This week we've seen people with a love of music suddenly find the talent they've got in music and even begin to talk about what else they can do. So that very much is towards a future." - Andrew White, Chaplain at HMP Thameside
"The whole project was a real highlight of the year for me, and I am very much looking forwards to hearing the CD and perhaps disseminating our experiences to others." Tim Palmer, Trinity Laban project leader.
As a charity that aims to change perceptions of what offenders can achieve, and to encourage a new generation of artists into outreach with vulnerable and hard-to-reach people, this project is one that we will certainly look to replicate.