In establishing an orchestra and conducting weekly concerts at the Missouri State Prison the present chaplain of that institution has inaugurated a practice which should result in much good. Among the prisoners there are some possessed of a high order of musical talent. Many are skilled performers upon various musical instruments and some are accomplished vocalists. The best of this talent is being utilized.
It is not only an act of charity toward these poor men to permit them to thus employ their skill in a pursuit most elevating and congenial to their natures, but it is a benefaction to those hundreds of unfortunates upon whose ears the tones of sweetness seldom fall, and who though many dreary months and years have heard little but the clanking of keys and the harsh grating of steel locks and doors.
It was the writer's privilege to attend one of these concerts when the orchestra played "Old Folks at Home". Surely, music was never sweeter, and musicians never played more touchingly.
As the symphonies of the old familiar strain echoed along the stone corridors, floating through the grated cell doors of the prison and into the narrow windows were darkened faces peered out into the starlight. it carried new pathos and tenderness into every heart: for of the listening ones there were many who will never again look upon the old folks at home. Only an old Southern melody played by a band of convicts—but it had its effect.
And with the singing alternating with instrumental solos and music by the band, the evening passed away. Such things do good. A good song is better than a bad sermon. The man who turns a deaf ear to a religious instruction may have in the recesses of his heart a tender chord which ever vibrates to the concord of harmonies sounds. However hardened in crime he may seem, however callous his moral nature may appear, a single strain of melody may arouse his dormant conscience and bring him to resolve upon a better life. Much appeals to the sentiment of man. With most men, sentiment is stronger than reason. A man's feelings must be moved before he will repent: he must so resolve before he can reform. Reformation begins with repentance. For the attainment of this end, music has a peculiar efficiency.
Lectures upon the moral law may edify discerning minds but preachers cannot always accommodate their sermons to the diverse capacity of their hearers. Music speaks all languages, whether vocal or instrumental, whether it be land or sea: whether in the trilling of the song bird of in the deep diapason of the changeless ocean, music, with its ethereal charms, hath power to quell the evil passions of the soul, to lift man up a little higher, and to bring him one step nearer to his home beyond the stars. Its introduction into the great prison is a grandly beautiful and benevolent design.
Humanity demands that we try every means of raising the fallen brothers of our race form the paths of wickedness into which they have descended. Misfortune entitles them to share of our attention. A chief object of imprisonment is the reformation of the prisoner. I believe that the idea of the present chaplain of the Missouri Penitentiary will conduce materially to this end. It is to be hope that the plan will prove a good one and that its wisdom, charity, and justice will be perceived by the prison managers of other states.