DRAPER, Utah, Dec. 28, 2015 (Gephardt Daily) — It’s said music helps motivate, and for inmates at the Utah State Prison who perform with the Wasatch Academy Education music program, that theory certainly seems true.
During their 90-minute annual Christmas concert, the program’s shared Christmas traditions and original musical and instrumental selections, all performed in front of religious and educational volunteers, the media, and fellow inmates.
Concert director Ken Green said anyone can be a part of the program.
“They can come in and learn to play, become a tutor if they want, and really be a part of something,” Green said.
Green ─ a former director of an Air Force band, a high school band teacher and a Utah Symphony jazz pianist ─ joined the program as a volunteer in 2007.
“They had just started putting it together about a year prior,” Green said. “We didn’t have a lot of instruments, but we had two inmates who put in a lot of money to help keep it going.”
Green said inmates get to choose what they want to do within the program.
“They can teach a class, help with the organization of the teams, become a tutor, help write music, prepare their own classes or just play an instrument or sing,” Green said.
“I see such an amazing growth in these people. They come in here and have been convicted of a horrendous crimes. By the time they come into the chapel, they want to do something to give back. Music is a tremendously healing and growing experience.”
Sammy Seager, the inmate program director, said he joined the project because he loves music.
“I have been in music my whole life with the marching band and orchestra,” Seager said. “This program helps me with discipline and self-confidence. The applause you get after you play, it just really makes you feel like you have accomplished something.”
To hear the concert in its entirety click on the audio here:
Seager said he isn’t nearly as concerned with how good the men sound as he is with the lessons learned along the way.
“Last week I asked a guy to learn the flute, he said he would. The next week he came to me and said that was the first time he really ever had to work at something. To me, that’s the whole idea about this,” Seager said.
“The inmates, sometimes for the first time, are working at something and not quitting. (When) we reach a hard point, we fail, we even fail in front of our peers, and we keep going. For a lot of these guys that is a huge deal to overcome. (They learn) the discipline of following instructions, learning the music, following a director and working in a group rather than just being a solitary person. They are working towards something to make them a better person.”
Adam Shields, who has been a student in the program since it started in 2006, said it has grown tremendously throughout the years.
Shields said that 2007 “was our first program, and going back and hearing what we had then to what we have now is remarkable. It was the idea of a couple of inmates and a couple of volunteers, and they took the idea to the chaplain who loved the idea and presented it to the administration, where it got approved.”
Shields attempted to put together a rendition of Trans-Siberian Orchestra musical number last year, unforeseen issues prevented them from performing. This year, after enlisting several new inmates to help bring it back to life, the group nailed it, receiving a standing ovation, Shields said.
“I would hope if TSO actually listened to it, they would not just say it isn’t exactly the way it was done but they would be pleased with how it turned out.”