As Head of Volunteer Engagement for Sing Inside, Kate Apley works to build relationships with volunteers in new parts of the country, while ensuring that current volunteers continue to feel included and valued. Alongside Sing Inside, Kate combines training to be a music therapist with work as a music teacher and musical workshop leader. In this article, Kate talks about how they have adapted their approach during the pandemic to keep people singing!
One of our primary aims at Sing Inside is to create meaningful, humanising connection between people. We believe that group singing has a unique power to facilitate this: it can break down social barriers, and encourage creativity, confidence and self-worth. But with the pandemic meaning our last in-person prison visit took place 17 months ago, facilitating humanising musical connection has been much more of a challenge. Sing Inside has therefore been developing sets of remote learning resources for prison communities, trying to find ways to offer musical connection without being able to sing together.
Our packs offer a number of different things. Firstly, musical education: the packs cover learning to sing several songs, some background to those songs, working through physical and vocal warm-ups, and an introduction to reading and writing music. The paper pack has the option of an accompanying CD, making the information sections more accessible and making the musical sections more engaging. In our most recent pack, we added a learning section about classical composers of colour whose work has often not been granted the recognition it deserves.
Additionally, we have brought a wellbeing focus to the packs. We know that sitting alone in a cell singing is not for everyone, so our warm-ups have focused on breathing, mindfulness and feeling connected to our bodies and voices. Taking a good breath in and making any kind of sound can be such a powerful release of energy and tension, and we can only imagine how much that is needed in prisons at the moment.
But what about connection? This has been the hardest to cultivate, and we have improved across each of the 5 packs we have sent out, trying to show people in prison that they are still part of the Sing Inside community. In our latest pack, 7 different members of the Sing Inside team recorded parts of the accompanying CD, each adding their own personal touch to their section, giving a sense of the range of people involved with the Sing Inside community.
We have also been producing a virtual volunteer choir for increasing numbers of the songs on the CD: volunteers record themselves singing along to our backing track, and we edit all of the volunteer voices together into one group of singers. The hope is that when people in prison listen to these tracks and sing along, it will create a similar atmosphere to our in-person workshops and our community of singers will remotely connect.
Before our latest set of resources, I ran a virtual Zoom workshop for volunteers where we learnt one of the songs featured in the pack together – Summertime, by George Gershwin – before asking them to record themselves for the virtual volunteer choir. I then recorded myself teaching this song for the accompanying CD in the same way as I taught at the workshop – both strange experiences not being able to hear any feedback, but hoping to give volunteers and people in prison the same experience of a workshop.
Remote learning resources will never create as much connection between people as in-person group singing, but we are doing our best to remind volunteers and people in prison alike that Sing Inside is still here, still cares and will be back as soon as possible for some live singing!
The recording below is from a workshop completed in partnership with staff and residents at HMP Stafford, I hope you enjoy it.
Please find this link to our website if you would like to learn more about our organisation (www.singinside.org). If you would like to engage with us please contact Maisie Hulbert at [email protected] in the first instance.
Please Note: The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance have an evidence library with numerous evaluations of arts-based work in criminal justice setting.
Photograph courtesy of MBP Creative Media Solutions.