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Prisoner Gets Emotional Listening To String Quartet Play Music He Composed

Image shows the end of semester performance at Sonoma County Jail.

Contrary to popular belief, prison isn’t about making license plates and boredom. Many prison systems have college-level classes, libraries, and trade training programs. Inmates can get real on-the-job training, study for a degree, get their General Equivalency Diploma (GED), and more. A prisoner can enroll in a music program in the Sonoma County Jail.

Students in the music program spend nine weeks studying Ludwig van Beethoven’s works. The course is facilitated by the Edith String Quartet, four Julliard-trained classical musicians. Students pick up the material at different paces. Some are quick to learn, while others take a bit longer. At the end of the program, students compose music, which the facilitators then perform. The prisoners can hear the music they created, and it’s a beautiful sight.


The hums and harmonies from the string quartet flowed up and down, and the picks and plucks sharply exited the speakers into a classroom at the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility. Eight incarcerated men and a small crowd listened March 25 as a quartet — Juilliard School students on two violins, a cello and a viola — performed eight pieces, each composed by one of the inmates. Fluttery movements and fluid melodies dissipated wanting, dissonant chords and bled into sharp and distinct dynamics. The composers had written some comments, including “cartoony” and “life is risky but never boring,” in their sheet music that dictated the vibe and emotions to be expressed in the music. The performance in New York City was broadcast live to the Santa Rosa jail via Zoom. Read more at the link in our bio. #MusicfortheFuture #sonomacountyjail #projectmusichealsus #edithstringquartet #classicalmusic

♬ original sound – The Press Democrat

Eleven students were in the most recent class. Around 25 people attended the “recital” program at the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility. The inmates included notes in their music, such as “cartoony” and “life is risky but never boring,” to help the musicians understand their intended expressions.

The prison is located in Santa Rosa, California. A live broadcast via Zoom went out to all 60 inmates in the jail. Unsurprisingly, some inmates got a little teary while listening to their music for the first time. TBH, I got a little teary-eyed writing this one.

Images show a prisoner getting a little teary-eyed while listening to his music composition performed onstage.
Image from YouTube.

One inmate had no music experience and had never been to a live concert. However, he excelled in the program and had a pitch-perfect ear for music, impressing the program facilitators and his classmates!

The Prisoner Music Program Began In 2014

Project: Music Heals Us has provided free workshops and concerts for inmates since 2014. The program is available for patients in hospice care, retirement homes, and homeless shelters. PHMU has taught music to more than 2,000 people. The prison program, Music for the Future, has held more than 100 in-person classes. You can learn more about the program on its website, where testimonials about how it has changed many lives are available.

You can find the source of this story’s featured image here.

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