Tuning Up at HMP Whitemoor

Working in the Music Base at Kings Place we are lucky to have many interesting, well connected and creative neighbours not least Gerard Lemos and Paul Crane, social researchers, who have, in the last three years become creative partners and good friends, introducing us to the criminal justice system (CJS) and prisons. Their passion for orchestral music combined with their pioneering research into the prison system and prison life along with access to the most senior level of decision makers in the CJS has enabled us to work together with HMP Whitemoor and Britten Sinfonia to create Tuning Up.  

Coping with a long prison sentence is inconceivably difficult explains Gerard Lemos, author of The Good Prison. How do you keep your hopes up? How do you get to do new and different things? How can you do something you are proud of? These are some of the questions for residents in long stay prisons. There’s not much point in thinking about a job or finding somewhere to live when you get out. You’ve got time on your hands; maybe it’s good to do something creative, unfamiliar and challenging working with residents and staff as well as really talented ‘outside’ people.” 

The project involved Britten Sinfonia musicians visiting the prison over several months making music with residents and, importantly, staff of Whitemoor.  The idea was to take a piece of classical music played by the orchestra, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, as inspiration for new music and then make a collective orchestra to perform a concert for other residents, staff and visitors.  

Senior Creative Producer, Jan Ford, recalls the concert. “Almost 30% of the residents had been allowed to attend the concert and were seated across the aisle from the so called ‘VIPs’. Within two minutes the men, who appeared skeptical and unenthusiastic, were getting into the music the new orchestra had created. By the end they were on their feet giving them a standing ovation.” 

The impact on everyone who has been part of the project – Britten Sinfonia, Orchestras Live, Lemos & Crane, HMP Whitemoor prison staff and management and prison residents has been profound. A choir has been formed in the prison, led by two members of staff and supported by Britten Sinfonia, a Podcast about the project produced, an article in Inside Time, the prison newspaper has been published and plans are underway for the next project at Whitemoor, a one-day family music festival in the prison in October 


“That was an absolutely fantastic afternoon. The atmosphere in the hall was pure, living and breathing Rehabilitative Culture. It’s one of those awesome days I will always remember.”  

Will Styles, Governor at HMP Whitemoor

Full details of the project can be found here: 

Tuning Up evaluation report

Click here to download the PDF

Tuning Up was supported by Arts Council National Lottery Project Funding, Orchestras Live and the Austin Hope Pilkington Trust.