Inmate Orchestra Gets Ready for Concert

The all-female Hiland Mountain Orchestra is rehearsing for its annual concert in December.  The string ensemble has gained national recognition for being the first women’s prison inmate orchestra in the nation.

This year, the orchestra’s members have a lot to celebrate. They’ve matured as musicians and they are expanding the orchestra.

Eight members of the prison inmate Hiland Mountain Orchestra are rehearsing a piece called “Double Trouble.”

About eight years ago, Gabrielle Whitfield  took the offer to conduct the group from Arts on the Edge, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the Hiland Mountain string ensemble.

Patti Crofut, a musician and teacher, is a founder of Arts on the Edge and the force behind the orchestra.

These days, the orchestra has about 30 members, but it started with only a handful of women.  Whitfield says the prison music program has expanded in ways not expected at first.

Although only two of the orchestra’s original members are still involved, a former member, now out of prison, is coming back to join the other musicians for the show on December 8.

Nathan Havey, who works with Arts On The Edge, is doing some orchestrating of his own.  He’s doing promotion for the concert

Although Arts on the Edge gains most of its funding through concert ticket sales for the once a year Winter Concert, orchestra musicians benefit from the program all year long.

Dana Hilbish is one of the orchestra’s original members, and plays cello. The four-hour Saturday rehearsals are a respite from day to day prison routine. Hilbish says it’s the best part of the week.

The Hiland Mountain Orchestra  plays two performances  of the Winter Concert at the prison in Eagle River on December 8.  This year, they will be joined by acclaimed cellist, Zuell Bailey.

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