Iowa Community Choir Brings Music “Inside”

Elizabeth Dale

Since 2009 community members in Coralville, Iowa, a small suburb near the University of Iowa have partnered with the Oakdale Prison, a medium-security facility to bring music to the incarcerated and the community.

Gathering weekly, the group consists of roughly 30 inmates or "inside singers" and 30 outside volunteers or "outside singers" and performs for an audience that includes other inmates and local community guests. The group was formed with the goal of providing “choral singing experiences for men (inside signers) in the general population of the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale Prison) who are not restricted to their units and for women and men (outside singers) in the community who have an interest in learning more about issues in the prison system locally and across the state and nation.”

The program was founded by Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Iowa, Mary L. Cohen, who is now looking to expand the reach of the Oakdale Community Choir by writing a book with co-author, Stuart Paul Duncan, entitled Silenced Voices: Making-Music in Prisons. In addition to this, a new documentary film titled The Inside Singers is in production. The film “explores the stories and lives of some of the inmates in the group.” This includes compelling stories such as an inmate who taught himself how to play guitar while incarcerated; the prison’s plumber; a man trying to break free from what he calls his ‘monster inside;’ and a former Inside Singer returning to prison for the first time to see a concert.

Cohen is scheduled to speak about the program at the 2019 International Music Council (IMC), the “global platform for sharing knowledge about music and society in the 21st century,” which takes place from September 28 to October 1. For more information about IMC please visit

To learn more about the Oakdale Community Choir please visit