In the Fall of 2003, two long-time friends were visiting. Beginning cellist Pati Crofut was yearning for an adult beginning orchestra to play with. Janice Weiss, Education Director of Hiland Mountain Correctional Center was looking for educational programs for the incarcerated women. The rest is history.
A 501c3, Arts on the Edge was formed. Mike Doogan, Anchorage Daily News columnist wrote a column about the venture. The resulting publicity generated instrument donations. One violin, acquired from a local pawnshop for $50.00 appraised at $2000 and was miraculously transformed into four lesser violins. Individuals were asked for donations. Jackie Davis a local high school music teacher was hired to teach and conduct the women.
The original orchestra consisted of eight women with no musical background. Orchestra class met every Saturday and the musicians were encouraged to practice during the week. Starting with 6th grade musical literature, the inmates were taught to read music, understand rhythm and ‘play well with others’. Guardian angels agreed to endow the chairs. An orchestra was born.
With an innovative and forward-thinking prison superintendent – Dean Marshall, helpful prison correctional officers and administration, the first public concert was held inside the prison on Saturday, June 12, 2004. There are three orchestras now with 22 women. The advanced orchestra has progressed from sixth grade musical literature to high school level. Except, for minor grants the orchestra is self-supporting through concert ticket sales and crafts made by the inmates.
The prison holiday concert is held the first Saturday in December each year. The prison orchestras perform some musical pieces alone and others assisted by musicians from the Anchorage Symphony and the Anchorage musical community. Each year there is also a well-known guest artist. This year we are so very fortunate to have guest artist cellist, Armen Ksajikian.