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Classical Music wins Street Cred

19 July 2015

For the past four years, Sydney Symphony Orchestra conductor Roger Benedict has been taking young SSO Fellows to play to hard-core audiences. And it seems that they have won plenty of new diehard fans.

“It has given me inspiration to learn a musical instrument. It has also given me an interest in going to see the orchestra when I get out of prison.”

“It is the best day I have had in jail.”

“On the outside I personally wouldn’t have given that type of music a thought. Originally my opinion was that music was for rich yuppies. Boy was I wrong. I actually enjoyed it. The introduction in the morning was a good understanding of what instruments played their part in the orchestra. Meaning who controlled the speed and tone of the rest of the team. After having lunch with the crew, that’s when the moment came alive again with the orchestra playing a concert for us. I would have liked if they could of played more for us inmates but I was grateful for what we got. I would like to see more of that style of music when I get out!!!”

Clearly, this is no ordinary series of concerts. They are held in the confines of the South Coast Correctional Centre at Nowra, NSW, as part of an innovative arts-in-health collaboration. The rave reviews from the audience and Benedict’s repeat performances – made possible with the aid of the late Arthur Boyd’s Bundanon Trust – are evidence of the program’s success.

Tanya Bennett, senior correctional education officer at Nowra, says teachers hold lead up sessions with the inmates around classical music interpretation before each concert. “The workshop commences in the morning with an introduction to the Fellows and a brief explanation of the instruments. The workshop demonstrates teamwork and cohesion and how important these are to creating a perfect outcome. It evolves into discussions around many familiar concepts we teach, and the implementation in an environment very unfamiliar to most inmates.”

There are 10 core concepts that Tanya teaches based around the SSO Fellows’ performances. They are working to a deadline; developing a culture of excellence; improving communication skills; sharing responsibility; leadership, authority and hierarchy; combining individuals into a team; understanding the musical score; challenging pre-conceptions; resolving conflict and maintaining respect for colleagues.

“After the workshop, the Fellows enjoy interacting with the inmates over lunch who by then are enthusiastic,” Tanya explains. “The afternoon brings the culmination of the process with a brief concert. This demonstrates how communication and collaboration produces beauty, combining teamwork in solidarity and in co-operation. It is rewarding to watch the transformation of the inmates from reluctance to experience the unknown ‘elevator music’ to animated converts. The underpinning learning outcomes are an experience not forgotten.”

What is in it for the SSO? Benedict aims to expose his apprentices to as many different audiences as possible, something he used to do in the UK. It also gives them a direct understanding of the lives that the inmates lead and helps them better to engage with people. The Nowra initiative is only one arts-in-health program undertaken by the SSO. Others include playing in schools, nursing homes and healthcare facilities.

Photo of musicians playing in a prision