Rt. Hon. Rob Oliphant speaks about us in the House of Commons

Drummond Medium Security Institution

Security would not allow photos of the tapestry of forest just next to the parking lot outside the prison, but we already did.  Think about those on the other side of the barbed wire and don’t feel restricted.

Julien, a 30-something with dark plastic glasses, a hat and a piercing on his lower lip was ahead of our concert.  He could have not missed his chance to use a real grand piano (as he never even saw one until this sunny afternoon). Now Julien was busy playing Bach and Mozart compositions on it. He did not bother asking for permission. He just walked into the gym and went straight to the instrument – Esmonde-White Grand Piano. All of us, including Lukas were quite astonished. It was not about how he played, rather that he played at all and that he enjoyed it. He never took lessons or owned an instrument or read notes. He played “from his ear”.  Actually, he did not give a damn about who was around him. He will be paroled in January and has promised to reach out then.

He then sat in the front row next to an inmate, who would not be paroled after 42 years of incarceration and, as his neighbor and another several dozen in the audience, would not move throughout the entire performance.

Julien’s “recital” was a shock, a gift, a delight, and a discovery. No one laughed. Professional filmmakers would have envied the unfolding scenario.  It was now Lukas’ turn to take full possession of the instrument.

English is not very popular in this part of Canada and neither of us spoke French, except our grand piano, which was manufactured and delivered in Quebec and which was outstanding.  Maybe that’s why Drummond in October did not seem to be as friendly and hospitable as Archambault in April. We felt that we imposed ourselves on our hosts. Mel Brooks would have shot the legendary episode of Dr. Frankenstein’s arrival to his horrific grandfather’s castle in Transylvania (from “Young Frankenstein”) in Drummond. Doctor and his entourage did not expect to be “welcomed” by Frau Blucher…. We were fortunate to have Oliver Esmond White with us, who kindly agreed to translate and thus much improved my clumsy traditional introduction.

It wasn’t funny. Confused and stressed out we were awaiting inmates in the gym, which was set up for about 100 of them (according to our hostess, 90 signed up) and about 60 showed up. There some other people in the gym – half a dozen of ladies (we did not dare to ask who they were and none of them stayed behind to talk to us, when it was over). We were told to get started without being introduced and had to obey the order.  The performance began.

Lukas played Chopin, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Desyatnikov. Inmates were listening extremely well (as usual); some of them – without fidgeting or movement, almost breathlessly.  Unfortunately, humble inmates positioned themselves in a circle (front and back rows were filled, but the middle of the hall was empty). It was an incredibly awkward place to perform, but Lukas did his best and the audience reacted accordingly. A few questions were asked during the event, but not as many as usual. About a dozen of inmates came to us with feedback forms and with their thanks – they seemed emotional and sincere. This was our prize and our win.  Our time was up. We felt we had to go and to go quickly.

Our second Quebec performance is now history. Lessons learned will make our next return to Drummond much more rewarding and fulfilling – sign up for our email newsletter!

Collins Bay Minimum Security Institution

The Grand Yamaha is delivered and tuned by Mr. Gerald from Piano Esmonde White  – our new partners from Montreal. We will spend 5 incredible hours the next day in Montreal with their unique leader – a piano inventor-scientist-researcher-visionary, Mr. Oliver Esmonde White and his team. Our partnership will not be about piano rentals. It will be about the future of the instrument.

In the meantime, Cathy Galineau, Warden, welcomes our quartet and speaks about her remarkable career at CSC, about Collins Bay and about her love of classical music. As every good musician before the concert, Barry Shiffman is freezing and Cathy graciously brings several portable heaters and rescues the Event.

Inmate Committee members are setting up refreshments. The performance is taking place in the prison area, which serves as the inmates and visitors meeting space.  It is relatively cozy and perfectly suits the chamber performance.

About 60 inmates and half a dozen volunteers as well as the prison chaplain fill the hall. The performance starts with traditional inspirational, but a bit too long of a speech from Dmitri. Then Barry Shiffman takes over and music of Brahms, Bruch, Part, Prokofiev, and others fill the hall. Inmates gradually relax and questions to performers follow. Inmates speak about their feelings, childhood memories, classical music, composers. Musicians are surprised and inspired. They each tell their story about becoming musicians. Each story is different. Yolanda wanted to calm her brother down and could not think of a better way, than to use a violin.  The performers did not expect such profound and honest reactions from the audience. Musicians will later tell me, that they have never experienced such profound joy and satisfaction, never in 22 years of professional career, according to Joseph Johnson.

No photo taking, no video shooting. No audit trail of hope, joy and optimism on the faces of the inmates. Such are CSC rules. We understand and respect them. But rules and … “laws must change,” as per legendary blues guitarist John Mayall (title song from 1969 LP “The Turning Point). One day, perhaps…

Stan finishes his painting – a flying keyboard in a tapestry of colours – sounds, emotions perhaps? Painting will stay behind – it is the property of the Inmate Committee now..

Live interaction between all parties takes place – cookies and soft drinks are being served by the Inmate Committee Chairman himself. Inmates speak with musicians. Musicians do not want to leave. Who can distinguish a visitor from a resident?  The walls of the prison and the walls dividing two parties seem to disappear.

We are leaving, but a small group of inmates are staying behind.  They are looking at the stars.