Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra


Nick Hayes working with CSOIn April 2013, Sara Lee and Nick Hayes boarded transatlantic flights heading for Chicago. The Trust had been invited to collaborate with musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) to share our considerable expertise of working with prisoners. This turned out to be the start of a collaboration that has taken place in Spring every year since 2013. You can find out more about the CSO partnership with the Trust and their community projects here.

In the first project, Sara and Nick showed CSO oboist Lora Schaefer and double-bass player Daniel Armstrong the well-honed Music in Prisons approach, working with a group of young men at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Centre to create a set of original new songs and work towards a performance in just six days (a day more than usual!). A small ensemble from the CSO joined the band for the last two days, providing a specially orchestrated accompaniment composed by Nick to complement the four songs written by the group.

“Thank you so much for what you have done for these lads this week. I have been working with them for a year and have tried to instil in them that the colour of people’s skin is irrelevant and that they mustn’t presume that people who they perceive as ‘different’ think they are not worth the time. You have totally proved that to them this week and I am so grateful to you.” Member of staff, Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Centre


The band gave two special performances, with audiences including family members and CSO Music Director, conductor Riccardo Muti. Speaking after the emotional performance, Muti addressed the young men:

“The world needs harmony. Music helps us to understand each other’s point of view. This is a wonderful beginning for you and for us.” Riccardo Muti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra


You can listen to a short radio piece about the 2013 project here.

“Wherever you are in the world and whoever you are working with, the common denominator is music. In Cook County, it didn’t matter to the young men that they had never been exposed to classical music before, but the palpable excitement of being in the presence of some of the best orchestral players in the world, having the opportunity to speak to them, try out the instruments and learn as much as they could, was wonderful to witness.” Sara Lee


Sara and Nick were invited to return in March 2014 to work again with the CSO in Chicago and at Carnegie Hall in New York. You can read Sara’s blog updates from the 2014 project here.

After the second project, Sara’s annual postcards from Chicago became something of a tradition (2015, 2016, 2017.) Listen to the track ‘Change Me’ from the 2016 project, recorded with lads from the Illinois Youth Centre Chicago, on SoundCloud.

On the recent 2017 project, the Irene Taylor Trust collaborated with Civic Fellows from the Chicago Civic Orchestra alongside their longstanding partners the CSO on a project with young men at the IYCC. You can read Fellow Patrick Tsuji’s reflections on the experience here.

Sara Lee working with CSO

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