Salvaged Boat Music | God's World News

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Salvaged Boat Music

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    Members of the “Sea Orchestra” play with cellos made from the wood of immigrants’ boats in Milan, Italy, on February 10, 2024. Prison inmates craft the musical instruments. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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    Members of the “Sea Orchestra” play with violins made from the wood of immigrants’ boats. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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    Inmate Andrea Volonghi checks wood from a boat stored in the Opera Prison near Milan, Italy. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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    Personal belongings were left in the boats. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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    Prison inmate Nikolae works on the top plate of a violin in the prison’s lab. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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    An inmate works on a violin. (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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    A violin made from the wood of migrants’ boats (AP/Antonio Calanni)
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A shoulder bag, a baby bottle, tins of anchovies, and oh, so many plastic sandals. Italian prison workers pile such detritus aside before pulling nails out of cast-off wooden boats. The vessels once carried migrants. At the hands of inmates, salvaged wood will become musical instruments.

Boats litter the yard of Milan’s Opera Prison. They once belonged to smugglers. Thousands of migrants boarded the boats, hoping for new lives. According to the United Nations, thousands of migrants have died or disappeared on dangerous Mediterranean Sea crossings.

The vessels arrive at Opera still carrying remnants of the refugees’ lives.

“We don’t know what happened to them,” says inmate Andrea Volonghi of the migrants. He studies a tiny pink sneaker. “But we hope they survived.”

Opera holds over 1,400 inmates. A decade ago, a nonprofit arts foundation began stringed instrument workshops at Italian prisons. Its Project Metamorphosis focuses on transforming discarded things—both parts and people.

Inmates like Volonghi become luthiers, stringed instrument makers, using wood from migrant-carrying boats. Each violin, viola, or cello takes about 400 hours to produce.

Boat paint purposely left on these “instruments of the sea” influences the instruments’ sound. It’s also a vivid reminder of the wood’s watery journey.

“These instruments, which have crossed the sea, have a sweetness that you could not imagine,’’ says cellist Mario Brunello. “They have hope, a future.”

The transformation presents a beautiful picture of how God reclaims humans, broken and battered by sin. As Creator and Redeemer, God can save people from sin’s destruction, make them instruments of His love, and give them a hope-filled future.

In February, Brunello played a salvaged instrument with the newly formed Orchestra of the Sea at Milan’s famed Teatro alla Scala opera house.

Two inmates who have become luthiers attended the debut concert, which featured 14 prison-made instruments. The men sat in the royal box alongside Milan’s mayor.

“I feel like Cinderella,” says Claudio Lamponi. “This morning I woke up in an ugly, dark place. Now I am here.”

With Lamponi was Nikolae. He doesn’t give his full name or reveal why he’s in prison. Nikolae joined the instrument workshop in 2020. Now he’s Opera’s master craftsman. Working on instruments gives Nikolae a sense of calm. He reflects on “mistakes I made” and skills that allow him to consider a future. Nikolae says, “I hope one day, I can be recuperated, like this violin.”

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Why? Expressions of the redemptive narrative—creation, fall, redemption, restoration—are all around us. We see redemption at work even in the world of prisons, migrants, and music.