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Oakdale Prison Community Choir to be a part of New York opera production

On Tuesday, roughly 70 prison inmates and local volunteers that make up the prison choir rehearsed for an opera performance they will soon lend their voice to.

For inmates, being a part of the Oakdale Prison Community Choir makes them feel like they are more than just their past.

"This is not just a choir. This is my family," said David Frazier.

Frazier has been a member of the prison choir since 2011.

"There's always room for growth. No matter what you've done, you can be forgiven," said Frazier.

Through song, these practices become a healing process for choral members who are incarcerated, and it is a chance to be a part of a community among volunteers from outside the prison walls.

"You get a taste of what a caring community is here. It's supportive," said inmate and choir member Tim Parker.

"Coral singing involves text. It's embodied, we're all singing together," said Mary Cohen.

Cohen is the founder and director of the prison choir, which has been around since 2009.

On Tuesday, roughly 70 prison inmates and local volunteers that make up the prison choir rehearsed for an opera performance they will soon lend their voice to.

This choir is one of six prison choirs in the Midwest to be featured in a New York production of Beethoven's Fidelio. It is a story about a wrongfully incarcerated black man and his wife's mission to save him.

"In the actual production, there is a moment in which the prisoners sing, in Beethoven," said Daniel Schlosberg, Fidelio Co-Music Director and from Heartbeat Opera. "For us, that moment will be projecting images and video of these choirs and hearing the voices...the recorded voices of them in the actual production."

Both co-directors Daniel Schlosberg and Ethan Herd said creating a contemporary version of the classic story with the voices of actual inmates was important to tell this story in the modern era.

"[To] really let people know that these are people," said Schlosberg. "These are not what you kind of imagine [as] a romanticized version of a prisoner or incarcerated person is."

Inmates said they are excited to be a part of this production, as the story's message of hope and courage resonate with their own journeys through prison.

"It kind of ties in with the story [of our] choir and all the volunteers that come in and bring that hope of a chance for a new life," said Parker.

The prison choir will officially be recording their part of the opera performance on April 17th. The choir will also have their own concert on April 28th at the Oakdale Prison Gym.

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