HMP Whitemoor Residency, 16-18th July
From 16-18 July, Sing Inside ran a residency for the first time, bringing 11 volunteers to HMP Whitemoor to work with a group of 8 residents over 3 days. The longer time frame compared to our usual single-day visits enabled us to learn more challenging songs, as well as giving us time to learn some music theory to help us understand how the songs we learnt were structured: Ros taught us all some Dalcroze Eurhythmics, an embodied way of understanding musical concepts, which really helped the group to understand a sense of beats and rhythms. We also had more time to establish stronger bonds between the group and build a community dynamic. It was wonderful to see how everyone in the group became very committed to the music we were learning, determined to practice it until it reached the highest standard possible – even those who had been most reserved or unconvinced at the start of our first session.
At the end of the residency, we shared an end of course celebration with a Learning Together photography course that had taken place over the year, with around 80 guests both internal and external to the prison. The larger audience compared to our usual concerts contributed to a much greater sense of achievement to all involved. In our first performance slot, we sang This Little Light of Mine, conducted by one of the residents, and Bridge Over Troubled Water, which brought many of the singers and the audience to tears – it was very special that the time spent making ourselves vulnerable through the music enabled everyone to express themselves through this emotional and uplifting song. In the second slot, we performed the more challenging set of pieces that we had been working on – three songs from Bob Chilcott’s Jazz Songs of Innocence (settings of William Blake’s poems). The group was initially less sure about these songs, but by the end of the week they loved them and threw themselves into the performance complete with carefully-practised choreography. This finished with the final song in the Chilcott set performed by the Sing Inside volunteers as a thank you to all those who had participated in the residency and supported us. We had a certificate presentation ceremony, during which our Chair of Trustees was able to congratulate each of the residents that had participated individually, which everyone seemed to appreciate. At the end of the event, we held a mini Sing Inside style workshop, teaching everyone in the room the Zulu folksong Siyahamba, a Sing Inside favourite, learning a two-part harmony within 15 minutes. It was a particular joy to see the residents who had participated in our residency taking on a more leading role to show the others in the room how we learnt songs together, proud of all that they had achieved.
The residency was a very uplifting experience for everyone involved, and I really hope that we will be able to continue this pattern in the future. A couple of quotes from the residents’ feedback say more than I ever could:
‘The whole day was an uplifting experience for me, like a breath of fresh air.’
‘The group dynamic helped me to feel that I was part of a team and was contributing to it. I don’t think that I could have enjoyed it anymore.’