Julia Adolphe is a composer who has recently been selected as a winner of the League of American Orchestras and EarShot’s orchestral commissioning program. She has had her works performed by the New YorkPhilharmonic and numerous chamber ensembles throughout the country. An advocate for music, she has also developed music programs for both the St. Turibius Elementary School and the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York.
Julia began teaching at Auburn Correctional Facility when she was a senior in college along with her peers Claire Schmidt and Stuart Paul Duncan. The course is a part of the Cornell Prison Education Program. It was developed to better these prisoners’ chances of becoming successful members of society once they are out of prison and to also help them come to terms with their own imprisonment.
During the beginning of this course, Julia felt scared and also remembered how sickened she felt while reading of the prisoners’ stories in the newspaper. Understandably, the security checkpoint lasted for an hour. As the semester progressed, Julia felt more at ease.
“Yet the moment I arrived in the classroom, these men transformed into my students. Despite their crimes, I grew to care for them as fellow human beings whom I hoped would grow and change. They were no longer nameless men in green with an identifying number but real, emotional, articulate individuals who taught me as much about music as I taught them. I sat next to them, separated only by a desk, while they told me about the music they loved and revealed their artistic aspirations. When Claire and I moved about the room, the men would make way and always ensure we had enough space. They did everything they possibly could to make us feel at ease. They understood how they were viewed in the eyes of society and cherished the feeling of normalcy and respect created within the classroom.”
Julia was 21 years old when she taught this class and was baffled that these men were more eager to learn about music theory than her college freshmen. They needed an outlet to express themselves and had a curiosity about music. They asked her questions such as, “Why does music have meaning?” and “Why do different people like different music?”
These prisoners had committed unspeakable crimes yet they still became students once they were in Julia’s classroom. One man wanted to learn how to notate rhythm so he could document his raps. Another man wanted to learn how to write music to go along with his poetry.
Julia mentions that this specific life event has molded her into the musician and artist that she is today. The questions that they asked her made her wonder what was behind her drive of becoming a composer. She advises everyone who wants to become an artist to work outside of your comfort zone and push yourself as an artist to connect with the world outside of your own to gain new experiences.
Julia’s post is a new series on New Music Box. I’m looking forward to reading more of her posts to get a better understanding of what she experienced during her time as a music theory teaching at a maximum security prison.