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Law student lends her voice to opera about prisoners claiming innocence

Dana Musial
Law student Dana Musial is using her voice in a nontraditional way to bring attention to prisoners claiming innocence.

Only 314 law school applicants for the 2017-2018 academic year—not even a half a percent— were music majors, according to the Law School Admissions Council.

Dana Musial, a 3L at the University of Cincinnati College of Law in Ohio, was one of them.

Going from being a music major—with band, choir, and sometimes theater rehearsals every day—to being a full-time law student wasn’t an easy transition for Musial.

Today, however, she’s humming along toward her law degree.

Not silenced by off notes

During Musial’s junior year of undergrad, she was diagnosed with vocal nodules, which affected her dreams of becoming a music teacher. Then, during her first year of law school, Musial was diagnosed with attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It’s a chronic disorder whose primary symptoms are hyperactivity and difficulty focusing and paying attention.

About the same time, Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project and author of the book Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions, announced the possibility of adapting his book into a musical—more specifically, an opera. The book focuses on the story of six exonerees and their experiences with the prison system after being wrongfully convicted.

When Musial heard about the production, she jumped at the opportunity. “My whole first year of law school, I felt like I was missing something,” Musial recalled. “When I heard about the opera and the chance to get involved in music again, I thought: Why not?”

Musial went through the standard audition process for the musical. There was an initial audition, a callback, a second audition in front of members of the Cincinnati Opera and the composer of the Blind Injustice opera, and then the long wait to find out if she’d earned a spot.

Just before the start of her second year, Musial learned she was selected to perform in the opera’s chorus through Cincinnati’s Young Professionals Choral Collective. In speaking about the YPCC, Musial was quick to note, “I’ve even met several members who are lawyers!”

The steady beat of law school

But how would she balance all this with school? Musial found a way. She spent the fall semester of her second year juggling workshops and rehearsals for the opera, on top of a moot court commitment, plus the regular rigors of being a 2L. Her peers questioned her priorities—and her sanity—for taking on such a commitment on top of school, but once they saw how Musial responded to the challenge, they were impressed, she stated.

In fact, Musial even impressed herself when she saw that her grades for the Fall 2018 semester were the best she had earned in law school.

Not only did working in the opera allow Musial to satisfy her passion for music, but it also ignited a passion in her for the innocence movement and helped her network. It wasn’t until Musial joined the Ohio Innocence Project in 2018, as a fellow, that she learned about the movement and its vast national network.

“We can’t just stand by and shrug our shoulders at injustices,” Musial stated, according to her university’s website. “A human life is priceless. While some would say 28 exonerees since Ohio’s chapter formed in 2003 isn’t enough, I would say one is enough.”

Through her work with the YPCC, Blind Injustice opened with five sold-out shows in July 2019, to rave reviews. Musial has continued to sing with the YPCC, which holds several performances each year. And she has vowed to always blend and balance her life of law and music.

Voicing her passions

As for her future in the law, Musial is working toward becoming an intellectual property attorney, specifically focusing on copyright law—something she understands having been a performer and composer herself. She’s currently interning at her school’s patent and trademark clinic assisting local businesses.

Whatever the future entails for Musial, it will include music. “My life doesn’t start as soon as I complete my law degree; it’s happening right now,” she stated. “I won’t put music on hold for anything else ever again.”

Jessica Gilgor Jessica Gilgor is a 3L at Creighton University School of Law. A native of Las Vegas, she graduated from the University of Nevada Reno, where she studied Professional Chemistry and minored in Physics. Jessica was a part-time sports journalist for the United States Bowling Congress during their Open Championships tournament under the tutelage of Matt Cannizzaro and Aaron Smith.