Inmates work with nonprofit to make instruments for kids

The xylophones come as part of a pandemic-driven curriculum shift.

Inmates at Lemon Creek Correctional Center are working with the nonprofit Juneau Alaska Music Matters to make xylophones. (Courtesy photo / JAMM)

Inmates at Lemon Creek Correctional Center are working with the nonprofit Juneau Alaska Music Matters to make xylophones. (Courtesy photo / JAMM)

This story has been updated to clarify the instruments will only be at Riverbend Elementary School. The article has been updated to reflect this information.

Inmates at Lemon Creek Correctional Center have helped making masks through the pandemic. Now, they’ll turn their hand to something else: Xylophones.

“It was really just a lot of problem-solving. It was taking our violin program and finding a different instrument that worked,” said Meghan Johnson, executive director of Juneau Alaska Music Matters, in a phone interview. “I figured there was some way we could make something. People all over the world make instruments out of things.”

A fortuitous confluence of circumstances brought JAMM and LCCC together, helping to usher this first-of-its-kind program into the air. The program is currently being offered only at Riverbend Elementary School, said Rebecca Rickle, Riverbend’s music teacher, in an email. Ricker retooled a curriculum designed for violins so that it could be used to teach students how to play the xylophone, Johnson said.

[State House incumbents lead in unofficial results]

“We’ve never had a request like this,” said LCCC superintendent Robert Cordle in a phone interview. “They contacted us late September and asked if they’d be interested in partnering with us to build 50 xylophones.”

The inmate workers, working in the prison’s maintenance shop, first assembled a prototype with materials from JAMM, Cordle said. After that, they shifted to full production, with eight workers producing 50, and then 75 frames.

“All the frames are built right now,” Cordle said. “We’re just using the regular shop tools. We’ve got a pretty good shop setup here.”

The instruments themselves are miniaturized so that children can take them home in their backpacks, something they had not previously been able to do with JAMM’s dedicated instruments, violins, said Johnson.

“It was really just a lot of problem solving. It was taking our violin program and finding a different instrument that worked,” Johnson said. “They said their biggest challenge is tuning. They have all the equipment but they can’t tell if it’s tuned.”

The violins, which could cost as much as $150 per unit, are considerably more expensive than the xylophones, which are about $20 per unit, making it viable for students to take them home, Johnson said.

“Part of this is learning how to take care of instruments,” Johnson said. “Our music program in school is designed to develop physical coordination and music skills like pulse and rhythm. The whole idea is that we use music because music is so important to a child. But we’re also developing academic and social/emotional skills.”

Students, currently learning notes and practicing on paper instruments, will trade in their mock-ups for the real instruments in January, Johnson said, following the program’s typical trajectory. Lemon Creek is also amenable to more cooperative work like this, Cordle said.

“We would love to, actually,” Cordle said. “We would absolutely be willing to partner with the schools or whatever, especially to benefit the children.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Traditional Memorial Day ceremonies offer new ways to ‘never forget’ those who served

New installations at memorial sites, fresh words of reminder shared by hundreds gathering in Juneau.

Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
‘Forever a Falcon’: Thunder Mountain High School celebrates final graduating class

147 seniors get soaring sendoff during 16th annual commencement full of heightened emotions.

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé enter the gymnasium for their commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
JDHS graduates celebrate journey from virtual ‘pajama class’ freshmen to virtuous camaraderie

Resolve in overcoming struggles a lifelong lesson for future, seniors told at commencement ceremony.

Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alternatives are vast for Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduating class

31 students take center stage during ceremony revisiting their paths at the school and what’s next.

The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)
Stranded Beerfest travelers scramble to rebook after LeConte ferry breakdown

Loss of 225-passenger ferry leaves many Juneau-bound revelers looking for other ways home.

A photo taken from the terminal roof shows the extent of the first phase of paving to accommodate large aircraft. (Mike Greene / City and Borough of Juneau)
Large-scale repaving project plants itself at Juneau International Airport

Work may take two to three years, schedule seeks to limit impact on operations.

Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
More service, visitor information helping Capital Transit to keep up with extra cruise passenger traffic

Remedies made after residents unable to board full buses last year seem to be working, officials say

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 23, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read