While performing classical music for inmates at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, Brooklyn-based violist and composer Nathan Schram noticed how powerfully the music affected his audience. Convinced that the collaborative process of learning and playing instruments could help inmates cope with life in prison and back at home, Schram established Musicambia, an intensive music education program that fosters humane rehabilitation in prisons. Musicambia instructors provide weekly music theory and performance classes at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York; the program partners with ten other correctional facilities around the world and hopes to expand.

At Musicambia’s recent fundraising concert at the DiMenna Center in Manhattan, three graduates of the program performed “Amazing Grace” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in trumpet, violin, and voice arrangements they had written while inmates at Sing Sing. One audience member wrote, “Practicing music together gave them a sense of community, a realization of the joy and hope you can bring to others through music. Through the notes they played, something of the same heart-to-heart connection came to all of us.”

Despite the enthusiastic efforts of program staff, Musicambia currently lacks the resources to expand to other prisons: Sing Sing alone has a waiting list of more than one hundred inmates who hope to participate. Find out how you can help spread change through music at musicambia.org.

Sing Sing inmates practice a classical arrangement for strings. Photograph from musicambia.org