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This nonprofit is recording an album of songs written by Graterford inmates

Lyrics by Graterford inmates. January 5, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedPurposeShort
SCI Graterford hasn’t had a music program in a decade. That’s changing now, and soon, you’ll be able to hear it for yourself.

In an album. On a podcast. In a documentary. Through livestreams.

And all the songs will be written and performed by Graterford inmates themselves, thanks to fledgling music nonprofit Songs in the Key of Free.

Founded by musician (and former United By Blue operations manager) Miles Butler and educator August Tarrier, Songs in the Key of Free is partnering with the Curtis Institute and Mural Arts to bring music workshops to Graterford in hopes of restoring dignity to a population that has been dehumanized and disempowered.

Thanks to some startup funding from The Pollination Project, the nonprofit officially started programming this past October with songwriting workshops every Monday afternoon in the Montgomery County prison. Those workshops are guided by visiting artists such as rapper Dice Raw, poet laureate Yolanda Wisher, spoken word artist Ursula Rucker and more.

Right now, said Tarrier, 25 men are enrolled in the program and have arranged themselves into bands. The groups just held their first concert after two months of workshops. This spring, with help from Curtis, the men will hold their first major performance.

But the capstone of the nonprofit’s mission is to record an album. Tarrier said the songs all address mass incarceration.

“What we have at our core is the communion of voices and song. We’re lifting our voices together. We’ve already seen that in powerful ways with the men,” she said. “What’s at the base of everything we’ve done is the idea of reclaiming our goodness.”

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Songs in the Key of Free is still working out some of the kinks of starting a nonprofit (like getting a strategic plan and a board together), but Butler said he’s already seen the impact the program can have on the people involved.

“Several of the guys have told us they feel humanity again and haven’t felt that in over a decade,” he said. “The 25 people in this workshop have been directly impacted already, as well as the seven or eight people who have come in as guest artists and collaborators.”

Keep an eye out for livestreamed concerts and pop-up events from Songs in the Key of Free this year.

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