Musicians of the Utah Symphony in Haiti

You may be aware that the Musicians of the Utah Symphony have recently started a new educational outreach effort in Haiti. The origin story of the Haitian National Orchestra Institute (HNOI) has to do with the longtime friendship between Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein, and BLUME Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education) president Janet Anthony. In short, 17 Musicians of the Utah Symphony and Maestro Thierry Fischer traveled to Cap Haitien in late March 2018 for the second annual HNOI.

One hundred of the most advanced musicians from throughout Haiti were selected by audition to form an orchestra, and experience an intense week filled with private and group lessons, sectionals and full orchestra rehearsals. The Institute culminated in an inspired performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 led by our very own Maestro Fischer. This year, in an effort to chronicle our project, we brought a film crew.

Working with our students, who mainly speak Haitian Creole and French, we used all of our nonverbal communication skills. Our HNOI students, often the music teachers in their own communities, were very hungry to learn. Meeting other music students from other regions of Haiti for the first time, they seemed to thrive on the excitement and creative energy all around them. The students also realized the significance of working with a conductor of international stature, and professional orchestral musicians working directly with small groups. But the learning occurred both ways. It opened our eyes on so many levels, and the Utah Symphony musicians who participated have kept in touch with their new friends in Haiti via social media, and look forward to the next time we can work together.

I’m constantly amazed at what an astounding organism an orchestra is. Sometimes the violin section (my point of view) seems like a school of fish that can change direction with a collective mind of its own. The nonverbal communication between conductor and orchestra, and among musicians, feels almost like magic. Stand partners (two violinists who share one music stand) because of our proximity, can pick up on each other’s energy and at the same time feel the intention coming from all points of the stage. The more advanced the orchestra, the clearer our communication. I’m sure that some of our audience members amuse themselves by watching all of the complex interactions occurring during a performance. It is a wonderful thing when a large group of people can come together with a common purpose, perhaps a metaphor for society.

In Haiti, a place so near and yet so far removed from the comforts we take for granted, we were moved by the joyful, eager, and talented students. This effort has become a passion for John and myself, and we feel very fortunate to be able to bring together these dedicated Haitian students with our outstanding friends and colleagues in the Utah Symphony. Recruiting our colleagues was extremely easy both years, even though they volunteer their time and pay most of their own travel expenses. Upon hearing of our plan to create an outreach effort in Haiti, Maestro Thierry Fischer immediately volunteered to come and conduct. Suddenly everything had fallen into place better than we could have ever imagined. Much planning and fundraising led to the first-ever HNOI, which took place in March 2017 in the seaside town of Jacmel. Its resounding success has been enough to fuel our continued passion for this initiative.

Maestro Fischer put it well when being interviewed about the significance of the Haiti project, pointing out that “involvement in the arts makes life better and worth living, and music has as much of a place in a struggling rural village as in a thriving cultural city… it gives us the chance to see the beauty of the collective and to move away from being just an individual even for a moment.” I wholeheartedly agree. Sharing music, whether it be at Abravanel Hall, or in some unexpected environment such as Dinosaur National Monument, or Haiti is vital and miraculous.

Violinist Yuki MacQueen joined the Utah Symphony in June 2000. When not playing in the symphony or volunteering in Haiti, she enjoys playing chamber music, baking sweets, and traveling the world.

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