Few chamber music ensembles find their inspiration from giving a concert before inmates at a maximum security prison, but Sarasa likes to tread the path less chosen. "I was naive," said cellist and Sarasa Ensemble founder, Timothy Merton. "A friend, who was volunteering at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, suggested I give a concert for 40 guys who were in a music program there... I brought my cello to a little room with a funky upright piano. It was quite the scene." He and his pianist played some Martinu and Franck, not knowing what to expect from guys who preferred hip hop or blues. Their response surprised him. Intense reaction! "The guys were just glued. Afterwards, they wanted to know everything about us and the music," Merton said. "Their openness to something of beauty that spoke to a more profound place within them meant a lot."
Merton returned a year later in 1998 with a Baroque group, including a harpsichord, and played in the prison's chapel to a larger crowd. It was the same experience. "The guys were so attentive. They wanted to know all about our personal lives," he said. "They also had never seen a harpsichord and wanted to look inside it. These guys have street sense, so they can recognize something that is authentic. Music really can transcend all social lines."
The two concerts were so personally rewarding that Merton decided he wanted to give more concerts to those who ordinarily had little access to classical music, such as those in other adult prisons, correctional facilities for teenagers, homes for the elderly, mental hospitals and institutions for the disabled. Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble was born.
Sarasa has given over 250 presentations and residencies at teenage correctional facilities in Massachusetts in the past 17 years. Their extensive and unfailing Outreach Program has been widely acknowledged, as well as awarded recognition of Outstanding Merit and Contribution by Early Music America.