My Haiti Experience: June, 2011.
I tried to prepare by reading the biography of Jenifer’s mother and stepfather, “Song of Haiti”, which provided background on Jenifer’s life as well. I had supported the Sister Cities Essex Haiti project and was aware that several Essex people had begun projects in Deschapelles, including establishing a library, but was a bit dubious about the music project: that is, until I met the musicians.
Arriving at the airport in Port au Prince on Sunday afternoon was quite a shock (the tropical heat hit us like a ton of bricks). We were taken to the Hospital’s transportation center, where we waited for a ride to Deschapelles, about a 2 1/2 hour trip. We hooked up with Terry Smith and her son Nicholas and Kathleen Maher and her son Alec Goodrich, along with Jenifer’s daughter Kate Kellogg and grandson Reid, who had preceded us by a day. We were all burdened with duffles and packages containing instruments, stands and equipment for the project. Our mode of transportation was a school bus, which is used to transport the many people who commute from Port au Prince to Deschapelles on weekends, including doctors and nurses who are visiting staff.
After a brutal bus ride along the “highway” stopping often to discharge or pick up passengers, we arrived in Deschapelles. Terry and Kathleen and their sons along with Roger Lecompte (saxophone player also in New Horizons Band) were staying at various buildings on the HAS campus; Jenifer’s daughter Kate and grandson Reid and I stayed in Jenifer’s small house. Lunch and dinner would be at the house for all nine of us, as well as assorted guests.
We had arranged to meet the musicians on Monday for an 8:00 rehearsal. We dragged music stands, music and instruments to Beomi, our open air rehearsal hall up the hill from the house, set up the music stands and music and waited for our musicians to arrive. We began the rehearsal with introductions (in Kreyol) by Jenifer. Our five musicians (Jenifer, Roger, Alec, Nicholas and Reid) sat side by side with the Haitians and helped them find their places in the music as we went through some scales and warmup routines. My French was occasionally insufficient so Jenifer jumped in to expedite things. It quickly became apparent that the Haitians were eager to follow instructions and certainly played what was on the page: a pleasant surprise!
As the week progressed we added pieces to the repertoire. Using a standard band method, Essential Elements Book 2, we began with unison pieces, then a duet, then full band arrangements. We had asked Tom Briggs to arrange some music, which was very successful. We would arrive at the rehearsals to find that the men had set up stands and chairs so that we could get started quickly. We rehearsed from 8-9:30 after which Roger, Jenifer and I often helped musicans who had specific questions or interests. We met again from 5-6. Several musicians work, so could come to one or the other rehearsal; we never knew who would show up. The boys were very helpful in filling in where needed. Nicholas frequently put down his trombone to help in the percussion section; Reid, who played trumpet also helped out in percussion. Their willingness and flexibility was invaluable.
By the end of the week we had a few pieces that we felt we could perform as part of the Fete celebrating the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Hospital. The teenage boys had helped silkscreen shirts for the band, which we wore for the performance. On Saturday afternoon the Fanfare Band plus about a dozen “majorettes” (teenage girls who did wonderful dance steps to the music, led by a male drum major) marched down the road from the Hospital and into Beomi–their way of announcing the concert to the community.
They played the “Star Spangled Banner” among other pieces. When it was our turn to perform the men took their places, Jenifer made some introductions and we began to play. Our repertoire included an arrangement of “Home on the Range” by Tom Briggs to commemorate the ranching background of Jenifer’s stepfather and mother. We also played Tom’s arrangement of “Closer Walk With Thee” and “Amazing Grace”. About 100 people were in the audience, including Hospital staff and local residents.
After we played, the Fanfare Band performed for another half hour (all in the key of Bb and without music) some very creative music which included countermelodies, obbligatos and other wonderful effects, proving what excellent musicians they are.
Among the people who made this venture so successful is Stu Ingersoll, a New Horizons Band member who deals in used instruments. Stu made several instruments available to us at very reasonable prices, which were played by the Americans during the week and donated to Fanfare on our departure.
We are also very grateful to Sigma Alpha Iota, international music fraternity, who made it possible to purchase music and equipment that we donated to the band.
I have to say that the week in Deschapelles was one of the most rewarding of my teaching career. The experience of working with talented, eager and grateful musicians in what some often consider as a third world county was unique, and I think that we all came to respect and appreciate each other’s gifts through the music that we shared.
Patricia was the “Maestro” of the Music Project. She is a founder of the Community Music School in Essex, creator and conductor of the New Horizons Band, trumpeter, and spent her career teaching music to youth and adults.