Staff Blog

Click here to view all Staff Blogs related to the Community Foundation's VT COVID-19 Response Fund.

This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Music to our Ears: A Small Grant with a Big Impact

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 4/23/2013

The Community Foundation’s Small and Inspiring grants program aims to support projects in every town in Vermont where a small grant can make a big difference. By sharing the great work that’s funded through this program, we hope to inspire even more philanthropy for place-based work. Below is a guest blog post from Jen Peterson, our VP for Program and Grants.

One of the first Small and Inspiring grant proposals we received last spring was from a brand new organization focused on mental health and music, called ME2/orchestra, that wanted to take young classical musicians on a concert tour of Vermont prisons. Most of the grants we award from the Small and Inspiring grants program are place-based, aimed at building social capital in a community by connecting people to inspiring local work. In that sense, this project was a bit of an outlier. But we all sensed there was something compelling about ME2/ that we wanted to help germinate.

ME2/orchestra is a classical music ensemble created for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them. It’s an organization where people with and without mental illnesses work together in an environment where acceptance is an expectation, patience is encouraged, and supporting each other is a priority. The proposal from the organization was to  take four college freshman and sophomores as a cello quartet to perform in prison. They would videotape and blog about their experience, from rehearsals to the actual concerts. Their aim was to “provide Vermonters with a new window into our state's prisons, as well as a deeper understanding of the power of music to inspire and provide hope.”

Their inspiration was the work of Richard "Dobbs" Hartshorne, a double bass player who performs in prisons in New Hampshire and California. Several years ago, he performed at the New Hampshire State Prison for Women. One of the inmates who heard that performance has since been released from prison and now serves on the Board of Directors for Dobbs' organization, "Bach With Verse." She describes the impact of Dobbs' prison concert in this way:

"Dobbs came and played his beautiful music and told funny stories. He brought us on a journey of laughter, of joy, and of amazement as his fingers made magic on the strings. For a brief time, the sadness receded and we connected with someone from "outside," someone who seemed to see us simply as people. For me, his visit was a reminder that there would be life after prison. He brought hope, and his music gave me new inspiration."

Clearly, these concerts were going to stretch both the prisoners and the musicians. So we stretched too, and funded the request. The positive feedback and recognition for ME2/’s work were incredible. So much so that they are doing it again this spring—and inmates from the Southern State Correctional Facility are designating a portion of their recreation funds to support the performance. If you get a moment, check out ME2/’s blog.

Here is just a small excerpt from an interview with the performers:

Tell me about some of your interactions with the inmates that made an impression on you. How did they respond to you?

Patrick: We were all nervous for our first performance. And being locked behind solid metal bars just to get to our venue certainly didn’t help with that. But after our first experience we never felt nervous again. The inmates really valued our performances and many of them took the time afterward to thank us. At every facility, they asked us when we would come back.

Liam: My preconceived notions about prisoners were dissolved. Hands were raised when they had questions, and everyone listened respectfully while someone spoke. Looking back on the tour, I probably enjoyed our discussions with audience members even more than the actual performances.

Will: I didn’t realize how much of an impact an hour of classical music would really have, but hearing an inmate say “this is the best experience I’ve had in all five years of being here” was simply jaw dropping.

They went on to enthusiastically explain that it was a matter of when—not if—they would go back and perform in prisons. From the people in the room performing and listening to the concerts, to the people who heard the news on VPR or read ME2/’s blogs, this grant has touched and connected more people than we ever could have imagined.  Small Grant—Very Big Difference!

Create a trackback from your own site.


Leave A Comment

Please enter the CAPTCHA phrase above.