USC Student Brings Music to Prisons

Evan Pensis aims to offer arts programs to the imprisoned

March 15, 2016 Emily Mae Czachor

Evan Pensis is no stranger to performing in front of an audience. But last October, the senior from the USC Thornton School of Music played the piano for a whole new crowd: inmates at Florence State Prison, an hour southeast of Phoenix, Arizona.

Music’s emotional impact should be shared with everyone, Pensis explains of his visit, “not just those who can afford a symphony hall ticket.”

Before playing an assortment of Chopin, Beethoven, Prokofiev and more, Pensis talked through the history of each work. A few of the 300 inmates were familiar with the repertoire. Pensis, who is double-majoring in keyboard studies and linguistics, was touched by the audience’s candid and sincere reactions.

“Some of the responses that I got were the most powerful things anyone has ever said to me,” he says. “There was one man who said that, in the 27 years that he’d been incarcerated, that was the first time he forgot where he was.”

More than simply a musical experience, the project is important to Pensis because of his interest in humanizing people in prison and offering them experiences they’re often denied, such as arts programs. He’s making it his mission to expand his recital tour to other inmate facilities in Arizona.