Address: Vancouver, BC Canada

Music in Prison UK

Photos: Lizzie Coombes


Mark-Anthony Turnage's
Beyond This

Even without the Cultural Olympiad, New Music 20x12 would be a valuable initiative. The most striking aspect of this project is its range. Twenty new pieces of music, each lasting twelve minutes, have been commissioned. Several require unusual venues.

The first public performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Beyond This took place at HM Prison Lowdham Grange, near Nottingham, on 19 January. The piece was billed as a collaboration between Turnage and the prisoners, but full credit should be given to the small Project team, headed by Sara Lee, Artistic Director of the Irene Taylor Trust "Music in Prisons".

"Music in Prisons" has been running projects since 1995, but Turnage's involvement made this première a newsworthy event. The audience was necessarily restricted in number. A DVD has been made, using photographs by Lizzie Coombes, and this will be a substitute for the live show later in the year.

Beyond This is perhaps a cantata: a sequence of vocal and choral numbers complemented by resonantly chorale-like or eloquently melodic instrumental interludes. The lyrics were written by the participants. There is a movingly engaging rap; and lines evoking “the smell of the sea” and “the crashing of the waves”.

Turnage is modest about his own part in the process but it seems clear that his flair and imagination were crucial. The piece has memorable ideas and a strong form. It should be reported, too, that the composer, leading his band from the keyboard, with all the cool restraint of a Count Basie, was in his element.

Howard Skempton
22 January 2012

On the Prison Premiere 'Beyond This' by Mark-Anthony Turnage with Music in Prisons UK (The Irene Taylor Trust).

How can a prison performance - a première of a new work of music composed with and for well over a dozen inmates in dynamic dialogue with a handful of musicians with the active involvement of an inspired composer change our concept of human potential? Is it possible for musical composition within a creative process to change the lives of the criminally predisposed? Can the experience of the offender speak to the heart of the human condition and unlock the mystery of humanity?

Music as a social art and communal act means the architecture of sound can transform discord to harmony inspiring social coherence. Creating a new work of poetry and music and preparing a live performance for a captive audience requires cooperation on the part of all involved. The creative process requires inner patience at the best of times, whereas group work can only inspire team spirit if sensitivity and understanding lead to acceptance of others.

A prison production embodies visceral communication that surpasses aesthetic evaluation. The body of each inmate speaks of the suffering of his past, whereas his voice expresses hope for the future. The primal nature of music transforms the very essence and core of human existence. Exploring creative work with inmates in prison possesses a metaphysical dimension and educational objective beyond quantifiable terms:

Beyond these walls I free my mind
So I make them fall like Jericho
I can't contain my thoughts, I fly high
(Quotation from 'Beyond This')

Words sculpted out of the experience, memory and imagination of each individual inmate form a text forged out of a collaborative process. Each inmate's voice becomes an integral part of a greater whole - a collective text in which sense of belonging develops. Social inclusion emerges as the words of each prisoner become indispensable to the meaning of the new work. Single utterances start as fragments that work themselves into collective meaning. The same words repeated in a variety of contexts change meaning, whereby a greater sense of purpose emerges as the human voice becomes an expression of conscience. What first appeared as an explanation repeated with a different tone and musical quality manifests as an expression of remorse.

Celebrating the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in prison with inmates brings one face to face with how such creative involvement influences the quality of their lives now. When the men were asked how the music project had influenced the quality of their life in prison they agreed that the social contact of making music together resulted in unique friendships inspired by creative interaction and sense of belonging. That the reason for human interaction with other inmates was for a higher purpose and good cause, which qualified the work as invaluable in their minds. Furthermore being musically active resulted in being able to impart meaning and direction to their children's lives. Involvement in the prison music programme meant inmates were able to impart sense of purpose, dignity and value to others.

Ending on a note of personal concern and expression of love of one inmate for his child, one sensed how limitations had been overcome. Liberating the next generation from a legacy of suffering we unconsciously impose were conscious concerns these inmates had begun to grapple with. Through the musical expression and collective poetic voice of 'Beyond This' a rights of passage was forged to a universal understanding of the value of a more humane world.


Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and Sara Lee Director of the Irene Taylor Trust (Music in Prisons) will be taking their work with inmates into federal prisons in Canada (Correctional Services of Canada) the week of 26-30 November 2012 and will be contributing to a conference on 'Music and Transformation: The Performing Arts and Restorative Justice' at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada on 1 December 2012.


Elizabeth Carmack
21 January 2012


Articles published in TEMPO Music Magazine, Cambridge University Press, April 2012