By Devin Bates Worcester – Spectrum News
WORCESTER, Mass. – A group of inmates at the Worcester County House of Corrections have been turning to music to reflect on their past and work towards a productive future with the help of a renowned violinist.
Vijay Gupta has been working with Music Worcester and OpperTUNEity Music Connections to hold a series of songwriting workshops inside the jail, culminating in a live performance on Friday.
It’s a scene rarely seen inside of a prison, but for Gupta, it’s all in a day’s work.
“I’ve gotten to work with individuals who have been and are currently incarcerated at the Worcester County jail, and they’ve been working incredibly hard creating original, new songs to be performed for their families today,” Gupta said.
Gupta is the founder of Street Symphony, a group of musicians who share their talents with people experiencing homelessness, addiction and incarceration. Sheriff Lew Evangelidis has offered songwriting workshops in the past, but Gupta’s long history of forging special bonds with his students made this one particularly special.
“When I first went down there and saw him talking with the inmates about Bach and his difficult life, and the fact that Bach was actually incarcerated for awhile, I could see the inmates suddenly understanding Bach in a way they’d never even dreamed,” Evangelidis said.
And when Gupta played his violin for the first time, it was a particularly powerful moment.
“To hear him play that music inside the four walls of this facility is something I’ll never forget because it was so beautiful, and I could feel the transformation happening as people were listening to it,” Evangelidis said.
Gupta said he didn’t tell the inmates that Bach’s music was something they should love or care about, he simply asked what they thought Bach may have been going through at the time.
“One by one, they kind of reverse engineered Bach’s life,” Gupta said. “’Oh, I think he was in love, I think he was getting over some real serious heartbreak too, I think his heart was just shattered,’ and then I tell the story of his music.”
But Gupta said Friday’s performance wasn’t about him – he was there to play backup. The performance was about those incarcerated individuals sitting in the House of Corrections chapel and spending a rare moment with their families.
It’s a feeling John Wayne Cormier Jr., now a songwriting instructor with OpperTUNEity, remembers well.
“Believe it or not, I was actually incarcerated about four years ago and I was a participant in the program,” Cormier Jr. said. “It really sharpened my skills as songwriting goes, and it also gave me something while I was here to focus on, which kept me out of trouble. I stayed focused, and now to be full circle and to come here and work with them is an honor, a privilege, it’s all of those things.”
In partnership with Music Worcester and the OpperTUNEity program, inmates also recorded songs that were played in front of hundreds of people at Mechanic’s Hall earlier this week. Gupta said Friday’s families-only performance, however, was a full circle moment for everyone involved.
“It’s just mind-blowing to me that music is literally the lifeline for these individuals who have not only worked so hard on their individual songs and their instruments, but also working together,” Gupta said.
Link to Spectrum News Story: https://spectrumnews1.com/ma/worcester/news/2023/05/12/violinist-helps-worcester-inmates-rehabilitate-with-music-#:~:text=Vijay%20Gupta%20has%20been%20working,all%20in%20a%20day’s%20work.