Citizen musicianship was in action last spring at a six-day workshop offered by the CSO’s Institute for Learning, Access and Training in collaboration with Music in Prisons at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. MiP, a leader in the field of musical programming for at-risk and incarcerated youth and adults, is run by Artistic Director Sara Lee and her longtime partner in musical education and performance, MiP Project Leader Nick Hayes.

With little to no experience making music, but ample support from a project team comprised of Lora Schaefer (oboe) and Dan Armstrong (bass) of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as Sara and Nick of MiP, eight young men who are detained on allegations of serious crimes explored the myriad sounds of amplified musical instruments, including electric guitar, electric bass, synthesizers and drums. As musical themes emerged, they were woven together to create verses and choruses, which quickly became songs. By day four, the young men had written four songs, as well as developed the skills to perform them. By day six, the pieces were orchestrated to include four additional CSO musicians (Ella Ionescu, violin; Karen Basrak, cello; Cynthia Yeh, percussion, and David Inmon, trumpet), and the group offered two performances in the CCJTDC chapel alongside the CSO and MiP musicians. The pieces charted different phases of the youths’ lives, such as “early days” and “turning point,” which were punctuated with short interludes played by the CSO musicians.

During the second performance, parents, siblings and friends of the youth beamed with pride, and CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, the visionary behind the CSO’s programming for incarcerated youth, congratulated the youth and the musicians for their extraordinary work together. “I am impressed with your dedication and commitment to music, through which we find harmony and understanding,” he said. “Music brings us together.”