12/17/2004, 00.00
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Christmas concert by Thai prisoners' band

by Weena Kowitwanij
Concert will be registered with Guinness Book of World Records. Music becomes 'healing therapy for inmates.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – This year's traditional 'Christmas Charity Concert' saw an exceptional musical band play, one made up of prison inmates. The group had an exceptional guest: Her Royal Highness Princess Galayaniwattana, elder sister of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, King Rama IX.

Held at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, the concert was organised by the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Christian Prison Ministry in Thailand to raise funds for charity.

Mr Sunthorn Sunthorntarawong, director of the Christian Prison Ministry in Thailand, has been teaching an ethics course to the prisoners for four years. To his surprise, "songs have made some changes in some prisoners' behaviour" and music is serving "as healing therapy for them."

Mr Veraphong Thawesak, a 43-year-old Catholic, is the conductor of the Glass Harp band. Last year, he and his group were invited by the Catholic Commission for Women to perform in Nakhorn Pathom prison where they entertained some 500 inmates. "They seemed to enjoy the music I played," he said. This is why he got the "idea of teaching prisoners how to play the glass harp in collaboration with a local Christian band."

Mr. Nathee Jitsawang, director-general of the Department of Correction, said that "there are 300 prisoners in the whole band. Of these, 52, mostly sex-offenders, were taught to play the glass harp; the other 250 are singers from other five prisons."

For Mr Jitsawang, playing the glass harp is like "a practice in meditation that helps people control aggression and better relate to their fellow inmates." It is a process that helps prisoners "live with one another" and favours their "re-integration in society".

Fr Vorayuth Kitbamrung, director of Catholic Social Communications of Thailand, is enthusiastic about the concert. "The significance of this performance is not that it is the biggest prisoners' band [but] that we give these people a great opportunity to return to society with pride and dignity which are a fundamental bases for human life."

The prisoners' band is the biggest in the world and yesterday's concert will be registered with the Guinness Book of World Records.

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