Accolades from Beaver Creek Institution Chaplain

We have enjoyed a stellar event at prison! Yes, classical music has gone behind bars to reach into the inner depths of many men who are incarcerated. And this has happened because of a fairly new foundation called Looking at the Stars, an initiative based on the hope that a quality performance of such world class music can have a profound affect upon the hearts souls and minds of such men, many of whom have never had or taken the opportunity to be moved and inspired by such a musical experience.

Yes, on two separate occasions at both the minimum and medium sites of Beaver Creek Institution during the approach to Christmas when many of “those on the inside” are especially lonely or sad or downhearted, some beautiful and really breathtaking music in the form of a Toronto Symphony Orchestra string trio, captured the attention of two  ‘sold-out’ audiences and transported us to another place. I was there and can attest to the attentiveness of the auditors as they were caught up in a musical odyssey that set them free, so to speak, for the duration of the concert. It was personally enjoyable and uplifting, and as someone working towards what is called ‘the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders’, I can witness to the rapture that many of the men felt and expressed in their own testimony after the event. Yes, it was an odyssey as you can imagine with music from such luminaries as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Vivaldi – just exceptional.

All the best,

Douglas Parrett
Aumonier catholique / Catholic Chaplain
Établissement de Beaver Creek / Beaver Creek Institution
Service correctionnel du Canada /Correctional Service of Canada
Gravenhurst, Ontario

BCI Medium concert was one of our most gratifying!

This final musical gift of the year was not part of our original schedule, but the overwhelming response to the November 24 event at the BCI Minimum facility reinforced the need to present this gift to their neighbours at the Medium facility. The String Trio from the TSO not only agreed to come back to Gravenhurst two weeks after the Minimum facility concert, but considerably enhanced the program.

The expected turnout of at least 150 inmates was promising. We decided to do the event in the gym as a result (chapel would not have accommodated such a large crowd), but an unforeseen last minute accident with the water supply and fire alarm system forced us to perform in the chapel – a great place for a chamber performance, but limited in space. A snowstorm warning was yet another reason to reconsider the idea, but we were already on our way to the event.

We ended up with approximately 100 inmates packed like sardines in the main chapel and another 20 standing in the kitchen.  Another 50 would keep coming in and out the front doors until the guards had to close them.

Prison world is very complex – relationships, clans, interests and power groups, habits, communications culture, tense and complicated relationships with staff. No different from the world outside, but not easy to detect and understand during such a short visit. As I performed a function of doorman, I could feel it all around me – suspicion and animosity, curiosity and frustration, anger and sarcasm, mistrust and exasperation. Very different from being a part of the audience inside the performance area… and a great lesson to learn. These observations relate to those inmates whose hearts we have yet to reach. There are many.

The extraordinarily rich program (from Mozart to Vivaldi, from Borodin to Bruch, from Tchaikovsky to Beatles and Carlos Gardel) was eclectic, but consistently a first class repertoire. I was later told, that the entire Muskoka region seldom (if ever) gets a chance to experience it. As always, the music was complemented by comments, stories and anecdotes – all about classical music.

Q&A was content rich. Inmates were well prepared. The conversation between musicians and the crowd was long and quite excellent. Katrina Chitty explained why she switched from violin to viola during the performance, and Mark Skazinetsky disclosed the origins of his medieval Italian violin. The inmates were fascinated by these stories.

As the snowflakes were elegantly falling and covering the ground, the encores – sounds from Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky) and Four Seasons (Vivaldi) – were transporting the prison and inmates to a New Years celebration party in tsarist Russia, closer to the magic of the Christmas tree and to the sunny Italian vineyards on the Mediterranean. It was a magical experience.

Happy Holidays to all.