By Paul Melroy, Conspirare Managing Director
I am still trying to wrap my head around the myriad thoughts and feelings that have bubbled up during the course of our run of Conspirare Christmas over the past week-and-a-half. The artists that we engage are without parallel. The program that Craig created this year somehow was even better than years past, a seemingly impossible feat. Our collaborator, Ruthie Foster, knocked everyone’s collective socks off. The performances were all gems.
One thing, though, will surely stick in my mind with some permanency and will be how I remember our work this year. We wrapped up the run this past Tuesday by performing at the Travis County Correctional Facility (the county jail) to a group of women inmates. These people were in a rough place, literally and figuratively. They were there at a particularly tough time of year, separated from friends and family and essentially removed from all of the trappings of the holidays that make this time of year special for the rest of us. It was a bit bleak.
These women were the most engaged audience that I have ever seen at a Conspirare performance. These were not people that we would ever expect to see at one of our shows. They knew nothing about us and cared not a whit about why we might be important. Yet they were hanging on every note. The songs that elicited emotional reactions at the other performances were absolutely magnified at this one. Buckets of tears flowed during “To Mother You.” Some of the ladies could be seen hugging and comforting their sobbing friends. Rolls of toilet paper were passed around so that they could dab their eyes. There was jumping up and down in the seats during “Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something.” They clapped. They sang along. They were absolutely in the moment along with the choir.
The choir admirably and surprisingly kept their act together enough to plow through the visible emotions pouring out of this audience. They were clearly moved, shaken and a little bit gobsmacked by this experience. When the show was over, tears flowed as the emotions that had been pent up for the past hour broke free.
After the show, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton said a few words to everyone and he seemed to be as taken for a loop as the inmates. He talked about how this experience would give the inmates a little bit more strength to change their lives and how much he loved and cared for every one of them. Sheriff Hamilton is clearly a different breed of corrections officer and his values seemed to mirror those that Conspirare holds dear. We truly believe in the transformational power of music and we could not have asked for a better crucible in which to see this play out.
I have had many moments at Conspirare that made me proud but nothing has made me prouder or more inspired than what I witnessed at the jail. I can’t wait until we get to do it again.