Music at Sing Sing Correctional Facility

Carnegie Hall

An artistic community of men and visiting artists compose and perform original music in a residency offered by Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program.

What Is Left Must Be Love

Chorus:
"When I hold all my hopes and discard all my fears
Put aside broken promises, smiles and the tears
The regrets, disappointments, the miles, and the years
What is left must be real
What is left must be love"

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Kenyatta—a composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist—wrote and performed this piece, supported by the Sing Sing Resident Ensemble. He prefaced his performance with his talk “Connecting Through Art,” given as part of a TEDx event at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, produced by Hudson Link.

The Music Residency
More than 185 original pieces have been composed by the men since the residency began in 2009. The residency is part of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program in partnership with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Musical Connections offers artistic experiences that allow for expression, well-being, positive relationship-building, and future opportunities. Workshops take place every other week throughout the year, culminating in four concerts performed for the men’s peers. Musical Connections is part of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI), the music education and social impact arm of the Hall. (Pictured: Dexter, a composer and trumpeter, collaborates with others.)

Rob—a composer, vocalist, and guitarist—discusses his composition “Tristeza” and his experience in the residency.

Starting with Questions

Possibilities form when you ask questions. Men are asked about their interests and talents. These conversations inform the residency’s focus on composition and instrumental skills. Larger questions also frame possibilities at Sing Sing and in the community:

● What role can music play in men’s lives while at Sing Sing?

● How can music contribute to a greater community of other men who are incarcerated, their families, and staff?

● What will happen after? How can music contribute to the men’s successful return to their homes and communities?

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Pictured: Shedrick conducts musicians in a performance of his composition, “Kranz,” at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

What’s at Stake

“The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25% of the world’s total prison population.”

The Washington Post, July 2015

More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States.

—Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Pictured: A performance in Sing Sing’s auditorium

What's at Stake

● 1,700 men are housed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility

● More than 50% are serving sentences longer than 10 years

● 95% of these men will return to their communities

The Future

“How do we form the future? Through reducing the number of people going to prison and ensuring—especially through education, art, and music—that those who do go to prison are coming out much better prepared to lead good lives.”

—Brian Fischer, retired commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

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Pictured: Noble performing at a concert in 2017

The Music
Men have composed a wide range of music to be performed by themselves and in collaboration with visiting musicians. 

Dexter, composer and trumpeter, wrote “I Must Confess” for his wife. The song received a performance at the White House at an event titled Innovation and the Arts: Prison Reform and Reentry in the 21st Century, on December 17, 2015.

In this recording, the song is performed by vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles at Sing Sing Correctional Facility with Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band.

I Must Confess by Dexter

“Catharsis” by Pedro, performed live at Sing Sing

Catharsis by Pedro

Duke Did It

Rob—a composer, vocalist, and guitarist—performs his piece “Duke Did It” live at Sing Sing.

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In 2015, 40 men participated in a year-long exploration of A Concert of Sacred Music by Duke Ellington. The final performance resulted in 90 minutes of original music by men and performances of Ellington’s work.

“The world is kinda in a funny place right now where people on the bottom are struggling with people on the top. This song has everything to do with that. Duke managed to get through things as bad as we’re dealing with now and maybe worse. Every little thing that we can do to make it better for the guy next to us—whether it’s a bowl of food or just listening when he talks—this song is kinda about that.”

—Rob, speaking about his inspiration for "Duke Did It"

After the performance, Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, commented that “this could have easily been performed at Carnegie Hall.”

A Place for Us

Kenyatta introduces his piece “A Place for Us,” performed with Joyce DiDonato at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

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Men collaborate with visiting artists, such as mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. This piece was written as part of The Somewhere Project, Carnegie Hall’s citywide learning project that explored the landmark American musical West Side Story.

Cotton Need a Pickin’

Joseph’s composition “Cotton Need a Pickin’” was first performed at Sing Sing in December 2015. It was then performed by vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles at a Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert at Harlem Stage in New York City in February 2016. Joseph’s family was in attendance for this performance.

Reflecting on Experiences
Over time, men have written about their experiences in the residency. In this passage, composer Yusuf talks about practicing, inspiration, and music as therapy. 

Reflecting on Experiences

Kenyatta writes about music and its ability to create a common denominator among peers.

What Happens After
An advisory committee of men who have come home to New York City meet regularly to help support each other, inform the program, and continue to make music. (Pictured: Backstage at Carnegie Hall, members of the extended Sing Sing program community pose with visiting artist and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato after attending her performance.)

“Music connects people; it brought me to a wonderful group that taught me not only the value of music, but also showed me that I still had value myself, regardless of my past. I was taught that it was my responsibility to learn all that I could about music and that I had a duty to share that knowledge with others, especially with my baby boy.”
—Dexter

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Pictured: Dexter with his sons

Dexter was an active member of the residency for five years before he returned home in 2015. One year after, Dexter reflected on his experiences at Sing Sing and beyond. Today, Dexter is pursuing his Master of Science in Social Work at Columbia University.

To learn more, visit carnegiehall.org.

Credits: Story

Musical Connections

Lead support is provided by Nicola and Beatrice Bulgari and the Ford Foundation.

Major funding for Musical Connections is provided by MetLife Foundation and United Airlines®.

Additional support has been provided by Ameriprise Financial and JMCMRJ Sorrell Foundation.

Public support for Musical Connections is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the City of New York through the Department of Cultural Affairs; the Administration for Children's Services; the Departments of Homeless Services, Probation, and Youth and Community Development; City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and City Council Members Elizabeth Crowley, Annabel Palma, and Ydanis Rodriguez.

Thank you to the past and present members of the Sing Sing Resident Ensemble, their families, and the visiting artists.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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