Three of the composers of a daring new symphony that will debut at the 50th Annual Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music this week won't be able to attend. They are behind bars.
Their work, Someone Else's Child, is a bold leap to the creative edge of classical music, which is this internationally known new music festival's specialty.
The symphony, which will be played Saturday, combines the music of composer John Wineglass with the poems of five youths who have been incarcerated in Santa Cruz County's Juvenile Hall.
The poems delve into the pains of being separated from their families due to deportation, living in poverty, being overwhelmed by drugs and the kinds of adversity that Wineglass says some kids face before they even leave the womb.
"Scarred. My heart bleeding loud like a guitar," begins one of the poems. "I lived hard. The streets tore me apart."
Wineglass, a three-time Emmy Award winner for music on television shows such as The Days of Our Lives and All Our Children, saw the poems and was deeply and instantly moved by them.
"The music just kind of jumped off the page for me," said Wineglass, who went through a two-and-a-half month depression while composing the piece.
"Just processing the subject matter. I mean I have a 10-year-old daughter and I would be just devastated if she had to go through something like this."
The first and second movements are "ominous" and "very dark" says Wineglass, and even include a huge sheet of glass which will be broken at the apex of the second movement.
Charles Holt, an actor who has appeared in The Lion King on Broadway and in television shows such as Law and Order, will read the five poems during the second movement, condensed into one long poem. The third movement is much more upbeat, victorious, a musical enactment of rising above all of that adversity to live a better life.
The first movement starts off with the sound of crystal wine goblets chiming.
"They’re so pure, and probably the most delicate of the modern day orchestra, so I chose that to symbolize the innocence of a child coming into this world from birth," said Wineglass.
The youths and the composer met up as a result of a national program called The Beat Within, a weekly gathering in which writers and artists meet with children in jail and encourage them to talk, listen, draw and write poetry. They publish their works in a bi-monthly magazine called The Beat Within: A Publication of Writing and Art from the Inside.
The Santa Cruz chapter is fronted by author Jill Wolfson and poet Dennis Morton. Wolfson's book Somebody Else's Children, about the plight of kids in the juvenile justice system, inspired the title of the symphony. The kids Wolfson and Morton work with are incarcerated for a vast number of reasons, from drug related crimes, to burglary, posession of a weapon, or running away from a group home.
"The kids are all equal in our eyes... The truth is, most of the kids we work with are victims too. They are victims of poverty. They've led lives that are barely imaginable to many Americans," said Morton.
Morton and Wolfson use patience, respect and genuine concern when interacting with the young writers-to-be, week after week.
“Sometimes it will take months and months working with kids just to get them to write a couple sentences, you know, you go through layers,” said Wolfson.
Other times, they are eager to write, and may write inappropriate material during the first few weeks, because they need to "get it out."
"And then within a couple weeks they sort of finish that stuff and they want to explore the other things that are in their hearts and minds," said Wolfson.
For many, it becomes something they wait for all week.
“What happens is when they finally get published in The Beat they are so proud," added Morton. "They see their name attached to something they wrote in a big magazine and they feel really good about it."
Morton, the founder of Poetry Santa Cruz and host of "The Poetry Show" on KUSP, has been working with the kids for 12 years. Wolfson is a childrens' and young adult author living in Santa Cruz. She began volunteering at The Beat Within 14 years ago, helping to initiate the program in Santa Clara County while researching the juvenile court system for her book, which she co-wrote with John Hubner.
Morton and Wolfson become so connected to the kids they work with that they decided to put together an informal support system for when they get out of Juvenile Hall, a way of keeping in touch, helping them find jobs, checking in, just listening and caring.
That's how the five poems found themselves passed from one caring adults hand to another, until they wound up on Wineglass's desk.
"I kept seeing the names of kids we had worked with in the Cops and Courts section [of the newspaper] and it was heartbreaking," said Morton. "I kept thinking, there’s got to be some way to intervene and stop some of this business where many of the kids just go deeper and deeper into the system."
Morton told all of this to his friend David Kaun, the oldest faculty member at UC Santa Cruz, a philanthropist, patron of the arts, and recipient of the Gail Rich award, a prize that salutes artists who help the community.
Morton had also shown Kaun five of the poems that were written in The Beat Within and submitted to the annual Santa Cruz County High School Poetry Competition.
"And right then and there he conceives of the idea of passing them to composer John Wineglass," said Morton.
Two of the five youths whose poems are being performed will be attending the Cabrillo Music Festival, while the others are still locked up. Wineglass has promised to bring a recording of the performance to the Hall to show the kids.
“I'm having a hard time imagining these words in front of a thousand people with a full orchestra,” said Wolfson.
The composition will be conducted by Marin Alsop, who has been directing the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music since 1992.
“For her to give the go ahead for this was huge,” said Wolfson.
Someone Else's Child will be performed at the The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music on Saturday, August 4, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $32 - $50.