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Oregon Symphony enters women's prison for annual holiday musical performance

PHOTO COURTESY OREGON SYMPHONY - Inmates wishing to partipate in the holiday show, either as members of the audience or the choir, were required to apply and earn the privlege with good behavior.  For the fourth straight year members of the Oregon Symphony joined the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility Choir for a concert of holiday music, performed for an inmate audience who were required to earn the right to attend through good behavior.

The Dec. 12 event was one of a series of community engagement programs sponsored by the Symphony to share the power of music through events held outside the concert hall, including schools, hospitals, libraries and prisons.

"The Oregon Symphony's mission is to serve communities throughout Oregon, including this one. Music can inspire and bring people together regardless of where they are. That's what we're doing here today. And what better time than during the holidays," said Oregon Symphony President Scott Showalter, who was also in attendance at Coffee Creek.

Inmate and choir member Heidi Elise Erickson expressed appreciation for the unique program and the choir, which is under the direction of Sarah Goff of the Intergenerational Choirs of Oregon.

"Prison is not a great place to spend your time, but actually my dreams are coming true here in prison," Erickson said. "I ran a 5K last week, I sang with the Oregon Symphony in my choir, and I will start volunteer fire training next month. My life is turning out to be pretty great."

When symphony members performing -- an all-female string quartet with an additional bassoon and percussion section, under direction of associate conductor Norman Huynh – learned that the performance coincided with audience member Shana Lyn Blender's birthday, they played "Happy Birthday" in her honor and she was so overwhelmed she cried. PHOTO COURTESY OREGON SYMPHONY - Oregon Symphony members with Coffee Creek Correction Facility Choir, performing at a Dec. 12 show in the prison.

"Music brings us together. When we're here, we're not rich or poor, black or white, inmates or outmates," said cellist Marilyn de Oliveira. "Like the Little Drummer Boy, we all have a unique gift that only we can give."

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