Ambassadors Music Institute (so called as its participants are called to be "ambassadors" of Jesus) has always had a special place in my heart. Located in middle-class Croix-des-Bouquets, its student population nonetheless is overwhelmingly composed of students accepted despite the fact their families can't afford tuition. If only US music schools could match that commitment to access regardless of economic circumstances! In fact, about one third of the students don't have families, or at least don't live with them, as they come from a nearby orphanage. Two years ago, I spent two weeks staying at the orphanage, and I was very moved by the care their dedicated staff provided, headed by Pastor Lucien Almanord. I was also struck by the way the teens carried themselves with self-discipline, dignity, and self-respect. That's a hard combination to find among teens in any country under any circumstances. And the young ones are so darn cute - I carry them in my heart. The orphanage and the school are both connected to the Body of Christ church, which is like a Pentecostal church with a few theological differences. I love the style of worship there that focuses on the heart and not just the head. I wish I had had more time to spend teaching my friend Edline, a young woman from the orphanage who, after receiving a violin last summer, spent the year teaching herself all of Suzuki Violin Book 1! Bravissima, Edline! I'm sure I could not have accomplished that feat, let alone with such musicianship.
Speaking of incredibly talented young women, BLUME's president Janet Anthony (and my former cello teacher) managed to track down the young composer Sabrina C. D. Jean-Louis for me so she could sign a contract so I can record her work through Crossing Borders Music Collective. Sabrina is a largely self-taught composer and has a genius for it. The score of her work for full orchestra, "The Survivors," brought me to tears - maybe to no surprise, given that I later learned it was written to capture her feelings just after the 2010 earthquake. Sabrina learned Western-style music at the Dessaix Baptiste school in the beautiful coastal town of Jacmel.
I had the pleasure of returning to the Fondation Ste. Cecile summer camp this year. This program, which includes a full orchestra, has very limited resources and yet provides music education to perhaps 150 students and a daily meal during the summer camp weeks, really making the most of what it has. The director, Jeoboham Pierre, is a master drummer, and I managed to receive one lesson from him while I was there, and then spent much time banging my hands on the drum head and my head against a wall while trying to recreate the sounds he
made that made the drum talk, and made one drum sound like three instruments playing simultaneously.
Since I have a usable Haitian drum back here in the US, I hope that, with enough hours' practice, I might be able to learn to do what he showed in that one lesson! One thing that strikes me is the similarity of learning cello and Haitian or African drumming - Jeoboham stressed that it wasn't just about learning the notes or the rhythms and going through the motions, but immersing oneself in the rich sonorities that give it life - a task he says he's still working on! I feel the same way about cello. Truly, a musician's learning is never complete.
This summer I wish I could have returned to the Othello Bayard school in Les Cayes, a beautiful city near the coast in the west. The
director there, Macome, enjoyed taking me to the beach and ordering for me tom-tom soup at a restaurant, so that Tom could eat tom-tom. I
must say, it was delicious! Macome impressed me with his open communication style - communicating with parents, students, staff, and community partners so that the school's relations with all those stakeholders stayed healthy. For example, I sat in on a meeting where he and the orchestra director met with an official of the local cathedral to discuss music selections for a special holiday mass in which the school orchestra would perform. Not everyone would take the trouble to meet in person to discuss details of repertoire, but doing so meant everyone knew just what to expect on the big day. I remember a similar meeting Macome held with the school staff to discuss the camp food. Great leadership! And, a great and growing music program.
Written by Tom Clowes
Summer Music Camp Blog