Gamelan Behind Bars: Assessing the impact of the Good Vibrations prisoner music program in personal and community development
Since antiquity, hypotheses have abounded with respect to the ability of music to aid in personal healing and social transformation. Yet historically speaking, few systematic approaches to the topic have been developed. By presenting an intimate analysis of the Good Vibrations prisoner music program In England, this paper will attempt to illuminate this significant dimension of music by examining how Javanese Gamelan music is being used to respond strategically to prisoner self-harm, employment skills deficit and antisocial behaviour. Through personal participation in a two-week Good Vibrations prison music workshop at Dovegate Prison and interviews with prisoner participants, staff and developers, the paper will venture towards a more in-depth understanding of the impact of the Good Vibrations program on community as well as participants’ own subjective views regarding the efficacy of the program. Also to be explored is the question of whether Javanese Gamelan is uniquely positioned to aid in prisoner development and education or if it is possible to utilize other musical traditions in a similar vein. Such findings can suggest similar strategies for responding to social pathologies within communities and may also pave the way for similar initiatives to be developed in Canadian communities.
Rodrigo Caballero is a Masters candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of British Columbia and is a recipient of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Masters Scholarship. Rodrigo’s research focus is on the application of music programs in social development initiatives.