ANN ARBOR—For the first time students and collaborators of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) String Quartet will perform together at state prisons in Michigan. This spring break week, they will play at three facilities with a common goal: promote a sense of community through a shared listening experience.

The musicians also want to encourage empathy and understanding between outside community members and incarcerated people. They say it is important to explore what music can accomplish beyond entertainment in non-traditional settings and how people can engage these practices in challenging contexts.

“There is the large narrative that music belongs to everybody, but I don’t think it is true,” said violist Ali Friedman, a Master student at the School of Social Work and PCAP intern. “We want to open a dialogue about those cultural gaps and how classical music can be relatable.”

Together with violinists Nathaniel Cornell and Chihiro Kakishima, and cellist Cecelia Sha, Friedman will play classical music and conduct question and answer sessions and interactive activities with incarcerated people. The musicians want to give them the opportunity to hear and learn about music they may be unfamiliar with.

“Music is a starting point for beginning to explore differences, a reason for people to come together,” Friedman said. “It is an opportunity to create, to reflect, to experience moments of joy.”

Besides the spring break concerts, Friedman is working on a PCAP Concert Series, where students—mostly from the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (SMTD)— bring world class performances to prisons, youth facilities, and communities where people have come home from prison. The musicians already performed twice at FCI Milan, a federal prison, as part of the series.

Research says arts can be a tool in moving toward a more inclusive, restorative approach to justice. It can bring healing and allows creative expression. “My hope is that the SMTD community really gets more involved, learn the value of these performances and what can be gained on both sides,” said Friedman.  

VIolinist Kakishima said she was looking for an opportunity to perform and connect with people inside prisons. “I really hope we can learn a little bit from them and bring some joy,” she said.

“It is important to me to present my music in all types of spaces, to be meaningful, connect to people in a real way, said Friedman. “I want to spend the rest of my life being a musician who can connect  to people.”

More music partnerships

A new choir on our campus called Out of the Blue has adopted PCAP for this school year. They are planning concerts at youth detention and treatment centers, state and federal  prisons, and at PCAP’s community workshop in Ann Arbor.

The university Chamber Choir and members of the professional non-university choir Exigence, both directed by Eugene Rogers, will be performing Lifesmithing at the opening reception of the 24th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners, March 20, at the Duderstadt Center.

The university Men’s Glee Club will perform at the reading of the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing on Sunday, March 24.