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The Somewhere Project: A Place for Us

As part of The Somewhere Project, Carnegie Hall’s citywide exploration of West Side Story, inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility are composing and performing original music inspired by the themes of the timeless musical. Take a look inside Carnegie Hall’s work at Sing Sing, now in its eighth year, through the video below and the words of Paul Grankowski, associate for Community Programs.


 


In Carnegie Hall’s work at Sing Sing Correctional Facility through the Musical Connections program, participants work to build a positive sense of self and strengthen bonds to family and community. The current project at Sing Sing is a yearlong composition residency led by James Shipp in which professional musicians and a group of 27 men at Sing Sing write and perform original music. Over the course of this season, the group performs their work in three concerts for more than 600 of their peers.

Last fall, as a part of The Somewhere Project—Carnegie Hall’s citywide exploration of West Side Story—Sing Sing’s musicians were asked to reflect upon themes found in West Side Story to incorporate into their own music. One overarching theme present in the resulting songs is the idea of finding a place in the world, this city, or behind those walls. Some of these songs have been later presented in free Neighborhood Concerts taking place throughout New York City.

One Sing Sing musician, Kenyatta, performed with Grammy Award–winning mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in Sing Sing’s auditorium on a song he wrote called “A Place for Us.” Kenyatta explains that before being incarcerated, “we think of home as a single place … but in here, when we talk about going home, we mean anywhere but here. All of a sudden, home is the entire world.”

Joyce at Sing Sing 630w
Joyce DiDonato sings the song “Somewhere” from West Side Story with members of Decoda and performers from Sing Sing.


Standing backstage at this Somewhere Project–themed concert was a different experience from other Musical Connections events that I have helped produce in the past. On my right, there was a gorgeous view of the Hudson River just beyond a fortress of steel bars and concrete. On my left was a stage full of musicians who had managed to find a place for themselves in the bleakest of spaces—on stage performing for a full auditorium of their peers who thanked them with thunderous applause.

Gearing up for that concert involved four five-hour sessions over the course of several months, during which I witnessed a flurry of sights and sounds similar to many other Musical Connections songwriting projects taking place at various locations around the city. Jam sessions, idea sharing, and score studies were interrupted by few, yet startling reminders of the environment in which we were working. The mid-session break for the “count” and announcements that echo throughout the facility presented significant challenges to the music-making process, but the effort and determination of this group of musicians have made every one of my journeys north to Ossining so very worth it.