Causes Week 2014: Music mixing course opens new doors for prison inmates

(Clockwise from left): Musical Theatre Live! chairman Stella Kon (seated), acting executive director Desmond Moey, and volunteers Brian Pereira and Diana Saad. The arts charity conducted a basic audio-music mixing course for inmates earlier this year
(Clockwise from left): Musical Theatre Live! chairman Stella Kon (seated), acting executive director Desmond Moey, and volunteers Brian Pereira and Diana Saad. The arts charity conducted a basic audio-music mixing course for inmates earlier this year.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Prison inmates have long been singing and writing their own songs. Some have moving lyrics about hope, love and acceptance.

But few inmates cut their own albums or work in the music industry upon their release.

Hoping to help them acquire job skills in the sound-recording industry, an arts charity conducted a basic audio-music mixing course for them earlier this year and is planning to have more runs of the course.

Over six two-hour sessions from June to August, Musical Theatre Live! (MTL) taught 19 inmates how to combine multiple sounds, manipulate the frequency and volume, and add special sound effects - to produce a mix that sounds more appealing.

Some mixed their own songs; others mixed their own voice recordings of their letters to their families with other sounds.

It cost about $10,000 in total to run the course, which was fully sponsored by the charity.

MTL acting executive director Desmond Moey said those who graduate from the course could start to assist sound engineers in recording studios.

He added: "They know how to write songs, now they know how to mix songs, and if they know recording techniques, they have it all. They would be able to cut their own album at home, upload it on YouTube, and may be able to make a living if they are noticed."

Set up in 2006, MTL encourages and trains writers and composers to create works of musical theatre. It has showcased over 30 original musicals, including Emily - The Musical, based on an iconic Singapore play, Emily Of Emerald Hill, by writer Stella Kon.

But working with prisoners is a first for the theatre group.

Mr Moey said the idea came about after a discussion with his friend, who works in the Singapore Prison Service.

Mr Moey and a few songwriters, as part of non-profit organisation Composers and Authors Society of Singapore, trained inmates to write songs last year.

"We saw that they wrote very nice songs, but it just ended that way, and we thought - what next? We wanted to carry on and close the loop, so we taught them mixing which is useful when sharing their work professionally in future," he said.

The audio-music mixing course is the first in a new suite of programmes to help prisoners and their families, called Soar The Skies.

"We are involved in songs and story writing, and we feel that these are immensely powerful tools for therapy, helping people gain their self-esteem and tell their stories," said Ms Kon, who is also MTL's chairman.

Last week, it started conducting a singing course for about 20 children whose parents are in jail. The songs taught are all locally produced, including two written by the inmates.

It intends to roll out other courses on dancing and acting for inmates' family members.

For inmates, it will have more runs of the audio-music mixing course and could conduct courses on recording techniques.

Superintendent of Prisons Doris Ng, the assistant commander of Programme Cluster A, said of the audio-music mixing course: "(It) provides inmates who desire to change the opportunity to acquire new skills that enhance their employability."

One inmate, who is interested in a career in the performing arts, said the course was useful in helping him upgrade his skills.

"It also shows me what it takes to work in a real studio. I'm happy that this will open new doors for me after my release," said the 40-year-old.

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

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