Lee Ann Westover on
This past season marked the third year of Carnegie Hall's Musical Connections program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Throughout the season, participants met with professional musicians in weekly workshops that led to concerts featuring new works by participants performed for the facility. One of our roster artists, Lee Ann Westover of The Lascivious Biddies, shares the story behind a CBS web extra of her performance of an original song written by a participant.
By Lee Ann Westover
I had worked in other prisons before
heading up to Ossining, so this wasn't my first time working with
people who are incarcerated. Still, I was a little afraid of what I
might find up at Sing Sing. The maximum security prison is the
stuff of legend. My fears began to dissipate, though, as soon as I
started shaking hands with the guys. It was clear that these 16 men
were intensely dedicated to their own rehabilitation. I found each
one of them to be polite, respectful, and unbelievably excited to
have the opportunity to hear their music performed with a group of
When I went to sit with Dennis to work out his song, his humble demeanor immediately put me at ease. It didn't take long for us to start up with friendly banter. One on one, we were two musicians, trying to bring a song into the world. During the first run-throughs, I was impressed by his clarity of vision. Some of my vocal improvisations were okayed, but he had the confidence to let me know that others strayed from what he wanted to hear. As a fellow composer I had to respect that. At the time I had no idea what he had done to land him up the river (this is where the euphemism originated), but the man I got to know is talented, smart, kind, creative, and funny.
Musical Connections is a program of Carnegie Hall that offers diverse live music experiences for people in healthcare settings, correctional facilities, senior-service organizations, and homeless shelters across New York City. Visit carnegiehall.org/MusicalConnections for more information.
Photo by Mary K. Elkins.