The East Hill Singers, a chorus comprised of inmates from Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas and community volunteers from the greater Kansas City area, was organized by Elvera Voth in 1995. Now a part of the non-profit Arts in Prison (AIP) initiative which offers programming in music, writing, gardening, and visual and performing arts, the chorus has grown from 20 at its inception to almost 70 inmate participants of various musical abilities. The group rehearses two times a week and performs two concerts a year. They are known for their performances of a variety of musical styles, from sacred to gospel, spirituals, and even the occasional rap. In November 2011, the choir presented two performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” a project in size and scope unlike any previously attempted by the organization. The inmates—dressed in blue shirts to distinguish them from the volunteers—sang select movements and a narrator spoke to the 700 member crowds about the piece’s history. The tremendous success of these performances, the enthusiasm and devotion of the inmates, and the choir’s dedicated following of concertgoers advocates the development of prison choirs to help bring to light undeveloped talents in the prison populace and emphasize the need for programming to utilize these gifts as an empowering tool for rehabilitation. At a time when incarceration rates in the United States are the highest in the world and various approaches to inmate reform and rehabilitation are under constant debate, the development of such program fosters the belief that meaningful experiences in the arts can help inmates change their thinking and behavior patterns.
|Keywords:||Prison, Incarceration, Rehabilitation, Music, Advocacy, Music, Choir, Arts|
Doctoral Student, Accompanist for the East Hill Singers, Musicology, Organ Performance, University of Kansas; Arts in Prison and the East Hill Singers, Lawrence, Kansas, USA