On our first full day in Haiti, we were driven in a big school bus to a chapel in Port-au-Prince. As we stood outside, children dressed in school uniforms walked into the chapel two-by-two, the youngest ones holding a single finger to their lips as if to silence themselves. I was enamored by their cuteness. Once all the kids filtered in, we took our seats at the front of the chapel and began to play Holst’s “First Suite in E Flat”. As the music reached its climax in the first movement, loud applause burst from the audience full of students and teachers, and I couldn’t hold back a huge smile. Their applause reminded me that, at its core, the music we play conveys emotion, which I sometimes overlook when practicing the technical aspects of music.
Yesterday, we drove farther out of the city to Université de la Fondation Dr. Aristide and several minutes later walked on stage for a performance at a memorial ceremony for the 2010 earthquake. I was taken aback and felt humbled by the austerity of the occasion. While playing “Hymn for the Innocent” as a student from the university read the names of innocent people who lost their lives in the earthquake, I realized the meaning of the song’s title in a deeper way. Knowing the importance of our performance made me want to express respect and support through our music.
After the memorial, we met with a leader of the university, who we learned soon into our conversation was the wife of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. She explained how the Aristide Foundation started the university with the aim of fulfilling a great need for medical professionals in Haiti. She told us that educating more doctors is only part of the solution to expanding healthcare in the country—infrastructure for the trained medical students to do residency and to practice after graduating is limited. Her talk emphasized that issues in Haiti, like in all countries, are part of complex systems, so they don’t often have simple solutions.
Later we walked around the beautiful, tree-filled campus as the sun shone through gray clouds. A few of us went to talk with two Haitian students who were sitting on a bench. Communication was challenging. We used the tiny bit of Haitian Creole that we knew, while they spoke to us in English. I smiled a lot, both because no one knew what to say and because I was happy to meet Haitian students our age. After we said goodbye and walked away, I felt silly for presupposing that they would know what we were doing there on campus and that they would want to talk to us. But a few minutes later, the two girls walked up to us to talk again, and it felt really nice to make that connection, despite the bumbling foolishness of our first approach.
-Nellie Butler, French Horn