This new performance uses music to help the formerly incarcerated tell their stories — and keep others from returning to prison

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4min 25sec
Courtesy Playground Ensemble/Eric Stephenson
Musicians with Playground Ensemble perform.

A special concert in Aurora by musicians Playground Ensemble and Remerg — a group aimed at reducing recidivism — is premiering new original works of music and storytelling. 

This is the second partnership between the musicians of Playground Ensemble and Remerg, whose mission is to end the revolving door of incarcerated people returning to prison.

Roohallah Mobarez, the director of operations at Remerg, said the multimedia event is a lived experience concert.

[It’s] “a combination of composers, poets, writers, musicians, and even storytellers, all who have lived experience within the criminal justice system,” Mobarez said. “And luckily the Playground Ensemble has this great group of extremely talented musicians that are able to help us tell this story”

Conrad Kehn is the director of the Playground Ensemble, known for playing 20th- and 21st-century chamber music. The group also commissions new work, which inspired them for this second event with Remerg.

Kehn said the group has pivoted its programming from simply playing music they like to collaborating with other organizations and “really focusing a lot of our programming on social causes that means something to us. Using art to support social causes that we believe are important.”

What is different this time for Playground Ensemble’s approach is pairing storytellers with one of its own composers — resulting in three new works with music that supports the stories.

“We had no idea what the first event with Playground Ensemble would be like, and it was an incredibly magical night,” said Carol Peeples, the founder and executive director of Remerg. “I think that's what stories do. This is an evolution of that night.

“I love it because it's along the lines of how we think of re-entry as citizen, as everyone as a citizen, and how we're trying to break down the stigma of incarceration — that felony record — everything around that.”

The concert shares the stories of currently and formerly incarcerated people and pairs it with original music to provide a glimpse into their experience.  

Kehn said helping Mobarez share his story was fulfilling in a special way and spoke to him about his own life. 

“His story really resonates with me. There's a point where he reconciles himself with a younger version of himself, and I've had a very similar experience in that way. I also felt there was an incredible vulnerability through his story, and a humility there, that made it really easy to create to.” 

The goal for all the performers is to gather, share their stories and creative work, and — more than anything — honor one another’s humanity. Mobarez said it’s the recognition that everyone walks a different path in life, but that everyone also has worth.

“We all come from different lives, upbringings, different socioeconomic classes,” Mobarez said. “But given that we're in America and we have the highest rate of incarceration, if it's not you, it might be your immediate family member or it might be a cousin or your neighbor or somebody that you know, that's been affected by the criminal justice system.”

In addition to new works created by pairs of a composer and a returning citizen, The Lived Experience Concert includes a silent auction of visual art by currently and formerly incarcerated people. Proceeds benefit Remerg and its re-entry programs and resources.

Playground Ensemble and Remerg’s The Lived Experience plays Tuesday night, Dec. 13, at the People’s Building in Aurora.