I've just returned from a month-long trip to Haiti, where I taught at 2 different music camps. The first camp was in Cap-Haitian in the northern part of the country, sponsoered by an organization called CEMUCHA, an association of Christian musicians. This was only the second year of this re-estblished camp (it had been very successful up unil the early 1990's as I understand it), and it provided intensive trainig on all orchestral instruments, as well as a choir, and guitar ensemble. There were 3 large ensembles: an orchestra, concert band, and beginning strings, plus the choir.
Cap-Haitian is a charming little city in the north, and was the old capital of the northern part of Haiti after it won independance in 1804. Home to King Henri Christophe, he built a lavish palace, and the impressive Citadelle, the largest fort in the western hemisphere.
The fort, built between 1807-1814, was built to repel an invasion from Napoleon's fleet. This invasion never came, and after the great earthquake of 1875 the palace was destroyed, and the entire facility was abandoned.
Today it exists as a tourist destination. It takes just 1 hour to get up to the Citadelle (a 3,000 foot climb on horseback), and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to experience some of the most fascinating history anywhere.
From Cap-Haitian I traveled overland, and through rivers (and I do mean through!) to the central plateau region and the rural village of Cange.
Along the way we stopped in the town of Hinche for lunch, and to see the stunning Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the center of town:
Exterior of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Hinche
Best known for the sprawling hospital complex built by Manmi Lasante and Dr. Paul Farmer's organization Partners in Health, Cange is truly rural. The music camp, run by the Holy Trinity School of Music in Port-au-Prince, has been operating every year since 1971. Even during those years of great political instability (the late 1980's following the ouster of President Jean-Claude Duvalier; the coups of 1991, and again in 2004 that put President Jean Bertrand Aritide into exile); the food riots of 2008; the summer following the great earthquake of 2010, the Holy Trinity School of Music has had a music camp.
The students, who come from all over the country, range in age from 6 years old (boys who sing in the Petites Chanteurs, an elite a capella boy choir) to early 30's, with the average age being early 20's. The program is staffed by volunteer music professors from the US, Canada, France, the UK, Spain, Columbia, Brazil, and Argentina. In addition to these individuals, program support was offered by the Organization of American States (OAS) in the form of a teacher training program that has been ongoing snce 2009, and Luthiers Without Borders, an international group of specialists who make and repair string instruments, and travel to areas in need to train others how to repair and maintain string instruments. In all, almost 30 talented and dedicated teachers worked tirelessly during the 3 weeks to give the students the best experience possible.
I was thrilled with the level of music-making, and so proud of how hard the students worked. The band performed in each of the 3 weeks of concerts, with our final performance being the 3rd and 4th movement of Rovert W. Smith's Symphony no. 1 for Band, based on the Divine Comedy.
I've been teaching in Haiti since 2008, and each time I go the welcome I receive, and the enthusiasm from everyone for what we are doing is incredible. Yes, Haiti is a country of extreme poverty. We couldn't drink the water, no hot showers, large malaria-laden mosquito's, never knowing if the generator would give out and we'd be in the dark. It can be opressively hot and humid. In the cities, which lack sanitation in many areas, the stench can be overpowering. Deforestation throughout the country has led to severe erosion of topsoil, and creates layers of dust. But I find the people to be incredibly passionate about life. They live in a world that is not entirely of their making (read Amy Wilentz' book "The Rainy Season", or Paul Farmer's new book "Haiti, After the Quake"), but they remain hopeful. They have not adopted the more jaded view of music, as many American's have, that it is a product to be consumed, and it's worth is measured in terms of it's ability to generate dollars. "Music", as one of my Haitian friends said "is about elevating the human spirit beyond our daily existence, and giving us the opportunity to get closer to god."
I couldn't have said it better myself, and I hope that I'm able to share that same sentiment with my students here at Sacred Heart.