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Denmark-Olar students to make music with renowned chamber ensemble

Thanks to funding from the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC), Decoda – a NYC-based chamber music ensemble – will create and perform original songs with teens from Denmark-Olar High School (DOHS) this week. “This is an incredible opportunity for one of South Carolina’s rural high schools to work directly with nationally and internationally acclaimed artists in a process that awakens students to their own creative abilities,” said Ken May, executive director of the SCAC. The week-long event is an arts education project that is part of the agency’s Art of Community: Rural SC initiative. [caption id="attachment_34614" align="alignright" width="250"] Claire Bryant, by Caroline Bittencourt[/caption] One of the visiting artists, Claire Bryant, grew up in rural South Carolina and now lives in New York City. She has been working closely with SCAC for several years to organize this event. She calls experiences like this “transformative.” Bryant is a cellist and is director of Decoda’s social justice initiative, "Music for Transformation." During the week at Denmark-Olar, she and three other visiting Decoda artists will facilitate a collaborative songwriting workshop for 20 student participants. Together, they will write new songs based on the theme, "Where I’m From." Other students will be involved in organizing and documenting the experience. The workshop week will culminate with a celebratory performance at the school Friday, March 30th at 2:15 p.m. It is open to the public. Decoda’s transformative songwriting programs have garnered national attention for the both the artistic and social impact of its recent projects in partnership with NYPD officers and teens from Police Athletic League in NYC. In addition, it has been highlighted nationally for its program with incarcerated residents at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. Also in South Carolina, Decoda has a long association with the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County in Camden where it has performed and also been “in residence” at schools there. “The integration of arts within our schools plays a vital role in the development and success of our youth. The arts, especially music, nurtures and empowers the humanity inside all of us,” Bryant said. “We are especially grateful to the Denmark community for its hospitality and kindness. A special thanks to Denmark-Olar High Arts Coordinator Dr. Anna Martin, who has arranged all the details for our school visit, as well Principal Mickey Pringle and Dr. Thelma Sojourner, superintendent of Bamberg District 2 schools. The list is long,” she said. SCAC also recognizes Mary Rivers and Denmark Technical College Choral Director Dr. Yvette McDaniel and assistant director (and Denmark-Olar alumna) Ashley Jordan for their assistance in making this partnership possible. (Ed. note: McDaniel and Jordan are involved with the Art of Community: Rural SC initiative.)

About Decoda

Decoda is a New York City-based modular chamber ensemble dedicated to creating meaningful musical experiences through dynamic performances, education, and a quest for social impact. Decoda provides engaging performances, interactive concerts, and enlightened discussions serving the widest possible types of audiences. Now in its fifth season, Decoda's projects and performances have taken place in South Africa, United Kingdom, Germany, Abu Dhabi, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, and across the U.S. "Music for Transformation," Decoda’s social justice initiative, brings creative songwriting projects to help empower vulnerable and disenfranchised voices. Decoda’s exemplary work in maximum-security prisons and in the juvenile justice system has been recognized by CNN, Huffington Post, the Associated Press, Washington Post, and Billboard Magazine. Decoda has on three separate occasions been invited to the White House to perform and advocate for arts programming as a means for criminal justice reform. For more information, please visit decodamusic.org.

Decoda ensemble, inmates collaborate on music writing workshop

From SCnow.com Article and photos by Deborah Swearingen

[caption id="attachment_25249" align="alignright" width="250"]Lee Correctional music program An inmate plays and sings at the beginning of Tuesday's workshop[/caption] BISHOPVILLE, S.C. – In some ways, the Lee Correctional Institution, the largest all-male maximum-security prison in South Carolina, is exactly as you might expect: barbed wire, tan jumpsuits and intense pat-downs at entry. But take a moment to peer beyond the barriers, and you might be surprised to find a group of inmates tapping into their creative potential in a beautifully collaborative way.
Nearly 40 members of the prison’s Better Living Incentive Community participated this week in an intensive, weeklong musical workshop with Decoda, a Carnegie Hall-affiliated chamber music ensemble.
The week culminates with a Saturday concert in the prison chapel, where the inmate musicians and Decoda perform for the larger incarcerated community, staff, officers and local and state officials.
This year’s program was inspired by Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons." Daily workshopping sessions began with a freestyle period when inmates could perform songs of any genre. Then they broke out into small groups, led by Decoda members, to work on individual songs centering on the seasons of life.
“Music is one of the only tools that exists that can supersede language barriers, personal barriers, cultural barriers, economic barriers,” said Claire Bryant, a Decoda cellist and the director of the ensemble’s criminal justice initiative.
Often, the groups create upwards of 20 or 30 songs and have to make cuts before the final performance, she said.
It’s a lesson in compromise and decision making.
It’s also an opportunity that few incarcerated people get –- and it doesn’t go unnoticed by the inmates.
“These guys are literally world-class musicians,” said Rob, an inmate at Lee. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Rob leads a year-round music program at Lee, where he teaches other inmates to play instruments. He is a lifelong musician, an electric guitar, bass and mandolin player. Currently, he’s learning to play the cello, an idea inspired by Bryant.
The workshop, now in its third year at Lee, promotes constructive behavior for the inmates. It allows them to work together and express themselves creatively.
And when the week is over, the cooperative spirit transfers back to the Better Living Incentive Community dorm, where Rob said inmates primarily leave their doors unlocked and solve problems by discussion.
Decoda, which is based in New York City, also hosts workshops at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. The ensemble got involved with Lee through Bryant, who is originally from Camden.
The program’s intention is to create new art in a synergistic atmosphere. It’s not meant to be rehabilitative, Bryant said. That’s just music’s inherent nature.
Rob echoed her point, saying music gives the incarcerated men a sense of hope and self-worth.
“It reaches people on a level that a lot of things can’t,” he said. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
The criminal justice system is broken, Bryant said, and people are finally beginning to talk about it.
Programs like this one are often seen as extracurricular. But, Bryant said, it should be a vital part of the system, as the programs promote collaboration, expression and empowerment.
Approximately 95 percent of state prisoners will be released back into their communities at some point, according to data from the Justice Center.
“We need to think about what kind of experience they’re having,” Bryant said. Above image: Violist Meena Bhasin works with an inmate during a small group session
Have an instrument you don't use anymore? Email Claire@decodamusic.org to donate it to the prison.

Artist spotlight: Claire Bryant – cellist, teacher, advocate

clairebryantSouth Carolina is well-represented by successful artists who were born or raised here but who now live beyond the state's borders. Cellist Claire Bryant, based in New York City, is one artist who maintains close ties with her birthplace as a musician and educator. Bryant performs Nov. 20 in a homecoming recital at the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County (details available on the FAC website.) Here's an excerpt from Bryant's bio. Find out more about her on her website.

New York City-based cellist Claire Bryant enjoys an active and diverse career as a leading performer of chamber music, contemporary music, and the solo cello repertoire in premiere venues such as Carnegie Hall, Southbank Centre, Suntory Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Barbican Centre. Bryant is a founding member of the acclaimed chamber music collective, Decoda - an Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall, and is the principal cellist of Trinity Wall Street’s chamber orchestra, Novus N.Y. Bryant is a frequent guest artist with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Lukes, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Band and Ensemble ACJW, of which she is an alumna. Bryant has appeared as a soloist with orchestras from South Carolina to California and from Honduras to Finland performing concertos of Haydn, Elgar, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens and Vivaldi, among others, and appears frequently at festivals in the U.S. and abroad. Bryant is equally engaged as an educator and advocate for inclusive arts in society. Her international body of work in these areas was recognized in 2010 with The Robert Sherman Award for outstanding innovation in community outreach and music education by the McGraw Hill Companies.  In 2009, she founded a community residency project through chamber music in her native South Carolina called “"Claire Bryant and Friends.”" This endeavor brings world-class artists to communities for weeklong residencies which go beyond the concert hall - bringing engaging pedagogy and performances into the public schools, advocacy forums supporting arts education, and community concerts and creative projects in diverse and innovative venues including hospitals, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities.

She is a graduate of The Juilliard School and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She was in the pilot class of The Academy -- A Program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School and Weill Music Institute and served as an assistant faculty for Professor Bonnie Hampton at The Juilliard School from 2007 –to 2012.

Photo of Claire Bryant by Caroline Bittencourt Fotografia