When Arts on the Edge approached me in 2004 to conduct the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Women’s String Orchestra, I accepted the position without question. Being asked to conduct a string orchestra comprised entirely of female prison inmates was the most unique musical offer I had ever received. I would have been a fool to pass it up. I remember my first rehearsal with them well: mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement. At the time, I was only in my mid-twenties and hadn’t been teaching long. I was worried about earning their acceptance. Many of the women were at least twice my age, and some had been in prison since I was in elementary school. They came with a set of unimaginable life experiences. I, on the other hand, didn’t have an ounce of street credit. I grew up in Anchorage and came from a completely ordinary, middle-class background. How could they relate to someone like me?
Luckily, when it came to music, our commonalities far outweighed our differences. Once notes and rhythms became the focus, our dissimilarities began to fade away. They went through the same trials and tribulations of any beginning orchestra: posture, squeaking, playing out of tune, and that illusive technique of vibrato. Stringed instruments are notoriously difficult and temperamental. Luckily, the ladies never take themselves too seriously, and always approach orchestra class with an admirable sense of humor. Laughter is what I enjoy most about our Saturday rehearsals. For two hours a week, the prison walls fade away: it just feels like music class. I remember one time several years ago, a Hiland bass player remarked to me, “this is the only fun thing I’ve ever done that wasn’t illegal. Playing the bass has changed my life for the better.”
As their musicianship has continued to improve over the past six years, so has their sense of self worth. When living in prison, it’s easy to lose one’s sense of identity. Prisoners live regimented lifestyles, and have very little control over most aspects of their lives. Playing a musical instrument gives them a new sense of identity and pride. They are no longer just numbers in a correctional institution—they are musicians.
Thank you for your overwhelming support of the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Women’s String Orchestra during the past six years. If it were not for the support of local Anchorage musicians and community members, this would not exist. In the words of cellist Yo Yo Ma, “I hope we shall never stop.”
Executive Director of Arts on the Edge
In 2003 I was looking for an orchestra as a beginning cellist. Six years later I am still playing with the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center women. We have a nonprofit – Arts on the Edge supporting the program along with a very generous local community of musicians and loyal concert attendees. We have committed orchestra teachers, and focused, dedicated inmate musicians. Our annual concerts are now attracting well-known musical artists to provide ‘star power’. Our program survives on $10,000 per year most of which is generated by the annual concert ticket sales. With twenty two members, that is $454 per member per year!! Thank you for your continued support!
In the Fall of 2003, two long-time friends were visiting. Beginning cellist Pati Crofut was yearning for an adult beginning orchestra to play with. Janice Weiss, Education Director of Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, was looking for educational programs for the incarcerated women. The rest is history.
A 501c3, Arts on the Edge was formed. Mike Doogan, Anchorage Daily News columnist wrote a column about the venture. The resulting publicity generated instrument donations. One violin, acquired from a local pawnshop for $50.00 appraised at $2000 and was miraculously transformed into four lesser violins. Individuals were asked for donations. Jackie Davis a local high school music teacher was hired to teach and conduct the women.
The original orchestra consisted of eight women with no musical background. Orchestra class met every Saturday and the musicians were encouraged to practice during the week. Starting with 6th grade musical literature, the inmates were taught to read music, understand rhythm and ‘play well with others’. Guardian angels agreed to endow the chairs. An orchestra was born.
With an innovative and forward-thinking prison superintendent – Dean Marshall, helpful prison correctional officers and administration, the first public concert was held inside the prison on Saturday, June 12, 2004. There are three orchestras now with 30 women. The advanced orchestra has progressed from sixth grade musical literature to high school level. Except for minor grants, the orchestra is self-supporting through concert ticket sales and crafts made by the inmates.
The prison holiday concert is held the first Saturday in December each year. The prison orchestras perform some musical pieces alone and others assisted by musicians from the Anchorage Symphony and the Anchorage musical community. Each year there is also a well-known guest artist. This year we are so very fortunate to have guest artist cellist, Zuill Bailey.
The Ninth Annual Hiland Mountain Women’s String Orchestra Holiday Concert Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:30 pm, and 3:30 pm Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River, Alaska $30.00 donation – tax deductible Directions Driving north toward Eagle River on the Glenn Highway, exit right at Hiland Road. Cross Hiland at the off-ramp sign and continue [...]
Thank you for your interest in sponsoring the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Women’s String Orchestra. Your contribution provides a unique and meaningful opportunity not only for the women who participate in the orchestra, but for the entire Hiland Mountain community as well.
Orchestra Sponsor $1,500
‐ 20 tickets
‐ Full page in the program
‐ Co‐branding on all promotional material*
Quartet Sponsor $750
‐ 20 tickets
‐ 1⁄2 page in the program
‐ Co‐branding on event posters*
1st Chair Sponsor $300
‐ 10 tickets
‐ Program Listing
‐ 3 tickets
‐ Program Listing
To become a sponsor please email Pati at email@example.com
*Sponsorship must be received by November 9, 2012