The Sound Health Network is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Renée Fleming.
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SHN Monthly Newsletter
January 2022
Music & Incarceration

In Conversation
Finding Her Voice: Consuela Gaines
Leads the Louisiana Correctional Institution Choir

For many, incarceration means isolation, dehumanization, and stress—a place to lose one’s voice, or be silenced. But for organizer and prison reform activist Consuela Gaines, it was a place where she found her voice and a way to use the power of song for the greater good.

SHN Communications Director Indre Viskontas interviewed Consuela for an episode of her podcast, Cadence. In it, Consuela described her life growing up and it being surrounded by music.

But the acoustic experience within the prison walls was very different. “The first 18 months, I was pretty much alone in a cell... we weren't allowed radios for that amount of time,” Consuela explained. “I had to become that radio, I had to become the music that I missed. And most times you know, that's what I did when I wanted to hear music, I had to sing.”

There was a surprising twist to her time alone with just one instrument. “Being able to really hear my voice with the acoustics that were in that cell, I had a better opportunity to really hear my voice without so many outside distractions,” Consuela said. “I was really able to focus on fine tuning and doing the riffs and just playing with my voice, really doing exercises, you know, to see, and to witness the different octaves that I was able to obtain that I didn't realize that I could until I was in that setting.”

Consuela soon discovered the effect that music had on the people around her too. “Music in prison tends to calm the savage beast,” she explained. “Whenever there was an uprising, people were just really angry, or, just you know, there was a depressing spirit just floating over the prison, music could cut through it. It would literally cut through it and send any negativity, any evilness, it would send it running.”

Consuela Gaines
Consuela found herself using music and song purposefully and eventually took on the role of choir director for the Louisiana Correctional Institution choir. It was an opportunity to help other incarcerated people find their voices, but also a way to create community and foster cooperation within an environment that so often isolates and divides individuals.
Alison Etter, MM, MT-BC, is a music therapist who works at Kerville State Hospital in Texas where individuals who are found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” or NGRI, are committed. While Alison is quick to point out that her hospital is not a prison (she calls her students “residents” rather than “inmates” and “musicians” in music classes), like Consuela, she has witnessed first-hand the power of music when working with state-committed individuals.
“Sometimes what I address is: residents are here and they don't have a choice on whether or not they want to be here,” Alison explains. “So music is a choice, they get to choose to participate in music.” In Alison’s programming, those choices are wide-ranging: Residents can opt for more rigorous musical training or simpler musical participation. Some are already musicians and have started a band with regular performances. “Our research shows that preferred music is the most effective, so finding out what music is preferred for each resident is important. And then that lets them have control over their therapy programming,”

“If you think about it, music is so tied to our, our identity, our individuality,” Alison continues. “It makes me think of especially like teenagers, that music is so part of their identity, but I think that also extends into adulthood. There're so many songs that we have, that we identify with, or songs that are tied to memories that are important to us. And so that can be very powerful in therapy.”

“For me, [music] was an escape from where I was, it was me reconnecting with things that I learned growing up with my family,” Consuela told Indre. “It was my way of remaining free even though my body was confined.”

Music is a powerful tool in prisons, but it isn’t a panacea to the larger problems that plague the carceral system. For Consuela, her work as choir director and community leader was just the start. She is now a returned citizen and works as an organizer for Voices of the Experienced (V.O.T.E.), a New Orleans-based non-profit that works to restore full human and civic rights to formerly incarcerated people. Consuela’s voice continues to resonate.

To hear more from Consuela and Alison, as well as musicologist and creator of the documentary "Follow me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians", Dr. Benjamin Harbert, join us for our next webinar on January 26th, 12pmPT/3pm ET by clicking on this link.
Research Spotlight: Music during Incarceration and in Forensic Settings

Four individuals with schizophrenia were surveyed while participating in weekly music therapy sessions over a period of six months. The study aimed to build therapeutic alliance through collaboration and trust, tenets of therapy that are often difficult. 

Consuela Gaines is a returning citizen in this article with Benjamin Harbert, as the academic scholar looking at women in prison. Using Consuela’s point of view, she gives readers an inside look on what lockdown is like and what the act of making music in prison is like from her lens. 

Because there are poor attention skills in patients with psychotic symptoms, music attention control training is used in a randomized clinical trial (RCT). An experimental group had 6 weeks of music training while control group had normal treatment. The experimental group outperformed the control group on selective, sustained, and alternating attention.

Art and music therapists created a community for artists within a forensic psychiatric facility. Creative expression supported by community building allowed artists to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Such contributions helped to reduce stigmas attributed to marginalized groups, especially the dually stigmatized such as those with mental illness and a criminal history.

A population of board-certified music therapists were queried if they censored certain lyrics, themes, songs, or genres before, during, or after expression. Results showed that censorship usually occurred around issues of treatment, client comfortableness, and emotional distress, 

Music and Account-Making for Behavioral-Related Adaptation (MAMBRA) is a behavioral psychoeducation music intervention group. They looked at the effect of this intervention on incarcerated women survivors of intimate partner violence. They noted that over the course of four sessions, psychosocial outcomes measures (like anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and loneliness) improved. MAMBRA may be a possible intervention to test in longitudinal study.
Related Conferences and Events

February 9, 2022

April 7 - 9, 2022

Deadline for symposia: December 15, 2021
Deadline for posters: January 11, 2022
April 23 - 26, 2022
Job Opportunities in Music and Health

Assistant Professor, Tenure-Track, Interaction Design, Music and Sound, New York University

Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Reading

MRC Doctoral Training Partnership PhD studentship: investigating hearing health in musicians, University of Manchester

Postdoctoral Positions, LIVELab, McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind

Graduate Trainee Opening, MAPLE (Music, Acoustics, Perception and LEarning) lab at McMaster University

Postdoctoral Positions, Dynamic Brain Lab, Northwestern University

Doctoral students, The Perception Lab, Dept. of Psychology, Northeastern University

PhD students, Language, Attention, Music, and Audition (LAMA) lab, University of Toronto - Mississauga. Candidates interested in studying the development of auditory processing should email Dr. Christina Vanden Bosch der Nederlanden at

PhD Studentship, MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University

Research Assistant, Cognitive and Sensory Imaging (CASI) Laboratory at the Institute for Human Neuroscience at Boys Town National Research Hospital

Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine
Funding Opportunities

Did you miss our webinar on applying for NIH and NEA grants? You can find the slides and webinar presentation with Q&A here.

NEA Research Labs funds transdisciplinary research teams grounded in the social and behavioral sciences, yielding empirical insights about the arts for the benefit of arts and non-arts sectors alike.

Over the next five years, Creative Forces®: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Military Healing Arts Network intends to provide $2.5 million in new research funding to support feasibility/pilot studies and subsequent randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) or other large-scale studies to address priority research questions identified by Creative Forces in art therapy and music therapy.

NEA Research Grants in the Arts funds research studies that investigate the value and/or impact of the arts, either as individual components of the U.S. arts ecology or as they interact with each other and/or with other domains of American life.

This funding opportunity is intended to: (1) increase our understanding of how music affects the brain when it is used therapeutically and/or (2) use that knowledge to better develop evidence-based music interventions to enhance health or treat specific diseases and disorders.

This funding opportunity is intended to: (1) increase our understanding of how music affects the brain when it is used therapeutically and/or (2) use that knowledge to better develop evidence-based music interventions to enhance health or treat specific diseases and disorders.

The purpose of this FOA is to promote innovative research on music and health with an emphasis on developing music interventions aimed at understanding their mechanisms of action and clinical applications for the treatment of many diseases, disorders, and conditions.