Soda City Live: Music for transformation in South Carolina prisons

Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 11:03 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 3:33 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There’s a program in our South Carolina prisons helping inmates hit a good note. A native of Camden had been offering weeklong songwriting workshops at Lee Correctional Institution over the past decade as part of a criminal justice initiative.

Claire Bryant is Assistant Professor of Cello and Coordinator for Community Engagement at the University of South Carolina School of Music. She joined Soda City Live to highlight the success of the program.

Claire is the co-founder of the Carnegie Hall-affiliated chamber music collective Decoda. She will be releasing her debut album on September 9 at a concert for inmates at Lee Correctional Institution located in the Lee County town of Bishopville.

”Sharing this significant moment with the incarcerated residents is not only to announce the return of Decoda’s renowned songwriting program, Music for Transformation, but it’s my chance to give an exclusive and memorable experience to people who are often forgotten by society,” Bryant said.

The program, which was put on hold during the pandemic, facilitates intensive songwriting and music-making workshops with Lee residents alongside Decoda musicians. It is designed to empower participants to discover their own creative voice and develop collaborative skills, which build and hone soft skills that are vital for reform during incarceration and for a successful re-entry into society. Since 2014, the program has yielded more than 125 original songs written by the men at Lee CI alongside Decoda artists. It is set to return in the spring of 2023.

The impact of these projects has proven to be transformative for the communities in which they take place and for the individuals who participate. The program has helped participants at Lee to expand their small music program into a self-run, comprehensive, year-round set of classes and workshops that serves more than 200 residents.

Claire also is sharing with WIS viewers her upcoming project, Lullaby Project in partnership with Carnegie Hall. As part of Bridging Our Distances, UofSC’s School of Music’s community engagement arm, the Lullaby Project would include three songwriting workshops over the course of the 2022-2023 school year.

As a national partner with Carnegie Hall, their small teams of UofSC students and faculty will write new lullabies alongside people experiencing pregnancy and new families in partnership with several community organizations such as the SC Department of Corrections (Camille Graham Correctional Center), Transitions Homeless Center, and Prisma Health (Perinatal Awareness for Successful Outcomes).

The first songwriting workshop is scheduled for October 29 at Camille Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia.

To hear and see the music video of Claire Bryant’s new release on her upcoming album, Whole Heart, go to The project will be released on September 9, 2022.

Claire explains that Delta Sunrise is a musical sonnet about wanderlust. It was written in 2017 by composer Jessica Meyer on a plane ride home from visiting New Orleans for the first time. Delta Sunrise highlights the cello’s softer side, featuring celestial and ethereal textures. Jessica reflects, “the city and the people I connected with there made such an impression on me that I felt the deep need to process the experience by immediately writing a piece”. This companion music video for Delta Sunrise was shot on the coast of South Carolina (Botany Bay Heritage Preserve and Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve) by filmmaker Carleen Maur in June of 2022.

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