Academic journal article Notes

Conducting Hope

Academic journal article Notes

Conducting Hope

Article excerpt

Conducting Hope. DVD. Directed by Margie Friedman. [Kansas City, MO]: Westport Productions, 2013. $24.99, individuals. Institutions, TBD.

Conducting Hope is a documentary film that tells the story of the East Hill Singers, a performing chorus based out of the Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas. This is the only chorus of its kind which manages to conduct up to four performances outside the prison walls each year. The performances are held most often in churches in various locations across Kansas, including Topeka, Wichita, and Lawrence. The program provides several benefits for the inmates and community alike spanning from the simple pleasures of a home cooked meal or a chance to visit with family outside the prison walls to the important societal impact of a greatly reduced rate of recidivism.

The film's narrative depicts the experiences of four inmates sentenced for different crimes including murder, drug manufacturing, theft, and sexual offense and provides remarkably intimate and candid first person descriptions of their experiences as members of the choir. These experiences reach span all aspects of performance, beginning with the rehearsal setting where these men learn skills in practice, self-esteem, and collaboration continuing through the excitement and nerves experienced when leaving the prison for a concert and finally the emotion-filled receiving line in which the inmates, their families and the community come together.

The group was founded by Kansas native Elvera Voth, who was also chorus master for the Kansas City Lyric Opera. In those first years, Voth would bring singers from the Opera Chorus as well as singers from local church choirs to sing with the East Hill Singers. In 2009 Voth noted that the thing she "learned from Kansas City audiences is that they come to hear the inmates speak as much as to hear them sing." In 2008, Voth retired the directorship and was replaced by Kirk Carson, who is also a classically trained conductor and singer. The director expects very little in terms of musical skills from the inmates when they join the choir but in the months of rehearsal before each concert they are given a strong introduction to vocal technique and a wide variety of choral literature. …

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