Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio is a musical suite for big band orchestra and vocal ensemble. For the past two years, Shelby and his research partner Jackie Ramos have delved into the prison-industrial complex, visiting jails, prisons, juvenile justice centers, attending conferences, meeting with stakeholders and community representatives, holding community discussions, receiving Restorative Justice training, collaborating with other creative artists, and thinking daily about how music and indeed art in general can be powerful ways to raise the consciousness around mass incarceration and to promote a more humane criminal justice system.
Each step of this process involved different points of community engagement. During the summer Shelby led the second iteration of the discussion series Beyond the Blues: Ending the Prison Industrial Complex at San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House. The series was a continuation of interactive discussions concerning all aspects of the US justice system and included live readings, music, special guests, and sharing and conversation with the attendees. Shelby also composed and performed the music for Anna Deavere Smith’s solo show Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, The California Chapter, a work focused on the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline in Northern California and across the country. And Shelby participated in the San Francisco Buddhist Center’s Artists Reflect on Social Justice: Creative Responses to Suffering, posing the question, “How do we meet the world’s suffering with creativity?”
Created for the Marcus Shelby Orchestra (and augmented by narrator and vocal ensemble: Tiffany Austin, Joe Bagale, Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, and Kennedy Shelby), Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio is Shelby’s latest musical meditation on contemporary American culture. Shelby uses the blues to pursue ways of understanding both our history and the world around us, and in this musical suite, the blues serves as the foundation of this exploration. Tickets and more information are available here.