“Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio” is a musical suite for big band orchestra and vocal ensemble. The music is inspired by my past 2 years of researching the “Prison Industrial Complex,” which has included working with my research partner, Jackie Ramos, in visiting jails, prisons, juvenile justice centers, attending conferences, meetings with stakeholders and community representatives, holding community discussions, receiving Restorative Justice training, collaborating with other creative artists, and thinking daily about how music and indeed art in general can be powerful ways to raise the consciousness around mass incarceration and to promote a more humane criminal justice system.
As with our previous long form compositions about history or social justice (“Port Chicago”, “Harriet Tubman”, and “Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”), our newest piece called “Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio” uses the blues as the foundation of musical inspiration and exploration. Sometimes this is realized in form and sometimes in concept. Nevertheless, I am in constant pursuit of how to use the blues as a way of understanding our history and the world around me.
“Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio” is composed for my orchestra which includes the following instrumentation and vocals:
- alto 1/flute 1
- alto 2/clarinet 2
- tenor 1/clarinet 1
- tenor 2/clarinet 2
- baritone sax/clarinet 3
- 3 trombones
- 3 trumpets
- 5 vocalists: Tiffany Austin, Kennedy Shelby, Joe Bagale, and Mujahid Rashid
I am excited for the performance on September 27, 2015 at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival! I’m honored to be working with the YBG Festival as always and thankful to other organizations such as the MAP FUND, The Red Poppy, and MoAD for their support and development of our work.
Onward and Upward! (Billy Stayhorn)
~ Marcus Shelby