This is a guest post by violinist and GPD candidate Kaleigh Acord.
This Sunday at 11:00 am, I boarded a bus destined for the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup, Maryland, along with two Peabody faculty members and 17 of my peers. This enthusiastic group of people is the Peabody String Sinfonia, a brand new, conductor-less chamber orchestra devoted primarily to performing at highly sensitive venues including homeless shelters and addiction recovery centers. The project was launched by faculty member Maria Lambros, who plays viola alongside the students in the orchestra.
Getting in the door of the Maryland Correctional Institute was a journey of its own. It began in September, when each person filled out paperwork for a background check. On the day of the visit, we each presented our instruments for inspection, walked through a metal detector, and received a pat-down. We delivered all of our IDs in one plastic bag for processing. Phones, keys, and snacks were left at home or on the bus.
When every ensemble member had cleared security, we were escorted to another building. As we passed by a recreational area, I caught the disheartened eyes of several incarcerated women. When we reached our performance space– which resembled my high school gym– it was time to warm up and center ourselves. Women in gray sweat pants trickled in. When we had accrued about 60 listeners, we began the performance.
Before each piece, one of the players took the microphone to speak informally to the audience. Faculty soloist Michael Kannen spoke about his spiritual connection to Ernest Bloch’s From Jewish Life and the feelings of desperate questioning it evokes. The hit of the afternoon was Redtail, a one-movement work written by Peabody student violinist-composer Ledah Finck. She shared with the listeners that, for her, the piece is almost a musical portrait of a place from her childhood that was a beautiful, peaceful oasis in her life. She added that because everyone hears music differently, they should feel free to interpret the work however they like. At the eager request of the audience, we played Redtail again at the end of the performance. Afterwards, we split up to talk to the women personally. Many were exceedingly friendly, wanting to shake our hands and thank us for coming. The sincerity in their eyes was striking and humbling. I left Jessup certain there is no difference between me and the women there, and with a heart full of gratitude.