In London, a world-famous opera singer met with organizers to discuss how arts education benefits displaced and imprisoned persons, putting music at the forefront of work for social change. The panel, part of the Pure Land Series of talks held at China Exchange, consisted of Joyce DiDonato, an opera singer, Matt Peacock, an artistic director, and Anis Barnat, founder of El Sistema Greece. The monthly series aims to promote awareness and well-being through creativity.
“Music is one of the most effective things in art and culture,” DiDonato says. “If we can get those hearts slightly less rigid, then there’s space for empathy. I don’t know a more effective place to put myself right now, other than this work.” DiDonato participates in Carnegie Hall’s outreach program, where she teaches classical music at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York. “I’ve never had so many spontaneous standing ovations in my life,” she says. DiDonato works closely with inmates, helping them compose their own operas through workshops, leading up to a performance of the pieces at the end.
“Music is instilling dignity in these people who didn’t think it belonged to people anymore,” DiDonato says. “If a human being rediscovers their dignity, then they can start to contribute, they can take responsibility for their life situation, and they can start to contribute to the world. Are we solving world peace? I don’t know, but that man [in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility] has found world peace.”
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