LEBANON, Ohio - The World Choir Games successfully started on Monday, when judges visited the Warren County Correctional Institution.
The group named Umoja, a choir made up of inmates convicted of crimes against society, sang eight songs for choir games judges.
The prison choir was entered into a discretionary Gospel and Spiritual category. They couldn't leave the barbed wire facility, so the judges came to the prison to hear them perform.
Judges had no idea what to expect from the choir. This was a first for the governing choir body, Interkultur, to allow a prison choir into the competition.
Johan Rooze, a Netherlands judge, was very impressed with the choirs performance.
"I was very pleased, they have great rhythm, they have great movement, they perform well," he said. "I have heard many choirs and they are no less than other choirs."
The group performed for a small crowd of Wilmington college staff, prison guards, media and the judges.
Catherine Roma, choir director, has been involved with the penitentiary system since 1993 when she formed her first prison choir. She has been molding these men year after year, encountering a variety of issues along the way until today.
She found out that the funding will be stopped for her program at the prison come Sept. 1, 2012, because of budget cuts.
She said she believes these types of programs are essential for the development of the prisoners who ultimately will be released into society.
"Rehabilitation is the key, not throw away the key," said Roma.
Meanwhile, if this the last performance for the choir, they went out with a bang as the World Choir judges and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Judges will return to the prison on July 12, to award the men certificates for their performance and to give them pointers on how to better their music.
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