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As a musician, educator, and arts leader, I’ve had the privilege to work with artists of all ages, in many musical genres—from elementary school music students to some of the most renowned artists from around the world. Six years ago, I met a man named Dexter. He didn’t have a formal background in music but, over the past several years, he’s become a trumpet player, a composer, and a testament to the power of music.
Dexter and I met when he was participating in a songwriting workshop that was part of WMI’s Musical Connections program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security facility in Ossining, New York. Centered on the Weill Music Institute’s core values of artistry, community, and equity, the program invites men who are incarcerated to join an artistic community in which they create, perform, and produce their own original music.
Like many of the original songs he has written, Dexter’s song “I Must Confess” considers his past and his hopes for his own and his family’s future. Now that he’s returned home, Dexter enjoys sharing his love of music with his two sons and family. He is now a member of the Musical Connections Advisory Committee, which helps men transition home and continue to make music. With his best friend, he’s built a recording studio in his home that he makes available for free to people who were formerly incarcerated.
Sarah Johnson is the recipient of Americans for the Arts’ 2017 Arts Education Award.