By Jenifer Grant, June 2011.
Dukenson St.Tilus plays both tuba and Helicon. Helicon??? I asked him to describe it. With his hands, he made a couple of circles about the size of his torso, and ended with a flourish with his two hands above his head describing a bell. “A tuba?” I asked – “No – no a Helicon” was the answer with the repeated manual description. When I returned to Essex, I asked Stuart Ingersoll, who supplied us with many instruments, if he was familiar with a Helicon. He has two, They are very hard to find. They are quite ancient instruments which were used by Cavalry Bands. They are more like a Sousaphone, but configured so that musicians can play while riding horseback. I told Stuart that we have a musician in Haiti who plays such an instrument. His reply was that they are very hard to find, but he would keep his eyes open. Within a week, he returned from one of his musical-instrument-seeking jaunts and sure enough, he had a Helicon in hand. He also has a ¾ sized tuba for us. Both were too large to take down on this trip. It would be necessary to pack them up in boxes. Flights to Haiti prohibit over sized baggage.
So we are seeking a way to get them both packed up and shipped to Florida where they will go by container. I asked Dukenson how he learned to play and where the Helicon was that he used to play. He said that the Helicon was “crazé” or crushed. Well, I said, “you know you can put brass instruments that are damaged back together again.” “No, no,” several said, “It was crazé” “Crazé?? “ I asked – “How?” “Crazé,” they responded, “Crazé dans le tramblement.” The instrument had been at the Ste. Trinité music school which collapsed in the earthquake – crushing not only many instruments but also many students. The effects of the January ’10 earthquake resurface time and again.
Abner Achoule is a wonderful, soft spoken man who is the director for the band. He was the one who told me what instruments were needed and what the band would like for music – “Chansonettes,” he said. “Chansonettes?” “Oui, Chansonettes” Well, I don’t know if we really brought down chansonettes, but we did bring down a nice variety of tunes. At the end of the week and the performance, Abner came up to me quietly and mentioned that it would be great if he could have a tenor sax. “But you have a tenor sax,” I said – “No,” he answered, “I borrow that instrument.” I became increasingly aware that many of these instruments are shared within the community. They had needed to borrow drums, and I have no idea which players actually “own” their instruments. Several years ago, Kathleen Maher and I were in Haiti at a Fanfare performance. A trumpeter arrived at the house to speak with us. He showed us his trumpet, all battered even with holes in its tubing. Could we get him a trumpet? We managed to do that – All instruments for the Deschapelles Fanfare are “owned” by ODES. They are “given” to the musicians to use, after signing a contract, acknowledging that they are only on loan, for their use only, not to be loaned beyond the Deschapelles Fanfare group, and should be returned to ODES if they no longer participate in the band. We brought down a nice trumpet, solving that problem, we thought.
In April, a trumpeter came up to me and showed me the very same trumpet. It was functional, even if the buttons on the valves were absent and even if it had holes patched with tape. I suddenly realized that the trumpet was so valuable, even in its meager condition that it had been passed to another trumpeter, enabling him to participate in the band. Abner had told me, “we have five trumpeters but only three trumpets” Abner had not requested an instrument for himself until the very end of our week. Up until that point, I thought it was his. One of the marvels of traveling to Haiti and participating in projects of ODES and Sister Cities Essex Haiti is that one meets amazing people and you continues to learn about things you never even imagined, all the time.
Stéphane Thierry Jn. Louis, 21 years old, is a percussionist. He joined us as snare drummer. We quickly observed that he needed to hold the music in one hand, close enough to see it. We managed to get him an appointment at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer with the Ophthalmologist. We learned along the way that he lived in Port au Prince until the earthquake when he moved to Petite Riviere, just across the Artibonite River from Hôpital Albert Schweitzer. We did find out that he still has family in Port au Prince, but the full story of why he relocated to Petite Riviere, following the earthquake, like so many in Port au Prince, is yet to be learned. Despite his difficulty in seeing the music, once he read the beats, he then proceeded with his good memory to put down the music and play with both hands.
Jenifer is a founder, director and Vice President-Deschapelles Projects Coordinator of Sister Cities Essex Haiti. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Grant Foundation, which operates Hospital Albert Schweitzer, and the daughter of Gwen Mellon and stepdaughter of Larry Mellon, the founders of Hospital Albert Schweitzer.