Professional training in music can’t be acquired by flipping through the pages of a manual or browsing through online tutorials, according to Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein. It requires personal, one-on-one instruction, he said. That’s why 14 members of the Utah Symphony are taking their expertise to Haiti in March.
Symphony members are using their own vacation time and money to host the first Haitian National Orchestra Institute from March 27-April 1 — a weeklong workshop where they will share their passion and skills with 100 young, talented Haitian musicians.
The group is supporting a nonprofit organization called Building Leaders Using Music Education Haiti, a group “dedicated to strengthening the country’s socio-economic fabric through classical music,” according to a news release. A close friend of Eckstein’s founded the organization, and it was this friend who first opened Eckstein’s eyes to the possibility of traveling to Haiti and uplifting people through music education.
Last summer, Eckstein and two other symphony members visited the country on a service trip and were “very taken by the curiosity, the eagerness, the talent (and) the desire to learn,” he said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It was pretty obvious that we were offering something that’s not easy to find there.”
That visit inspired Eckstein, and he developed the idea of doing this trip again but on a larger scale. He approached his colleagues and was touched by their willingness and enthusiastic response. In addition to the 14 symphony members, Utah Symphony's Music Director Thierry Fischer and Salt Lake-based luthier J.P. Lucas will also be joining them, comprising one of the largest group of professional musicians to visit and offer instruction to Haitian musicians, according to a news release.
When she heard about this service trip, flutist Mercedes Smith wanted to participate because of the positive influence music has had in her life.
“Music has inspired my whole life,” she said. “It teaches (you) how to work toward a specific goal, how to work hard and with others. It inspires you to find new ways of problem-solving and new ways of learning in general.”
Musicians in Haiti do not have much access to classical music training and resources, and they are far removed from the traditional way of playing, according to Eckstein.
During the workshop, symphony members will be able to work closely with these musicians and share their musical knowledge and skills. Eckstein is excited to offer these talented musicians new insights into music that have the potential to improve not only their careers but also their lives.
“This is a look into the next level of ensemble playing,” he said. “You’re never the same after you get a glimpse of it. It’s like any skill. When you’ve had a chance to do it at a higher level, you always want to continue to strive. It's a feeling you never lose."
After a week of classes and rehearsals, a student concert will conclude the workshop, giving the Haitian musicians what Eckstein said is "the rare opportunity to perform with a conductor of international renown."
Fischer is humbled to “participate in sharing the transformative gift of classical music,” according to a news release. For Eckstein, music is the key that opens expression and gives him a voice. He hopes that the symphony members' upcoming trip will facilitate greater expression for the young music students in Haiti.
“I hope (the musicians) can sense the goodwill and the kind-heartedness that exists here in Utah and within music,” he said.
Contributions can be made online at usuo.org/give (include BLUME Haiti in the note section).