BLUME Haiti: Building Leaders Using Music Education in Haiti

by Rachael Cohen, BLUME Haiti board member, Global Leader 2020 Cohort 

BLUME Haiti uses the extraordinary impact of music as a tool to empower musicians throughout Haiti. Responding to urgent needs after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, co-founder Janet Anthony, who has taught in the country since 1996, saw the opportunity for an organization that could facilitate getting instruments and supplies to Haiti to help with rebuilding efforts. Thus, with the help of her colleagues and students, BLUME Haiti was born.

Fast-forwarding to 2019, BLUME Haiti has expanded far beyond teaching in summer music camps and shipping instruments to the country. In collaboration with Haitian and international partners, we support over 40 music programs located in eight of Haiti’s ten departments, serving approximately 5,000 children. These partnerships exist on a number of levels: we strengthen the professional development of Haitian teachers through pedagogical training, networking, and salary support; we offer scholarships for teachers and students to attend summer camps; and we expand access to short-term development opportunities locally and abroad, for select advanced musicians. We bring new resources to Haiti, and, above all, we help to give as many schools as possible the opportunity to grow into stable and impactful music programs within their communities.

Julio Lubin teaching a student at the Dessaix-Baptiste music school in Jacmel, Haiti.
Photo credit: John M Cahill.

Many volunteer music teachers here were brought to Haiti because someone in our network shared an opportunity. What we find is a country rich in culture, where music at all levels is celebrated, and where music programs are giving children the opportunity to envision a much broader range of possibilities for their futures.

The passion for music in Haitian culture is infectious. You cannot walk down a street in Haiti without hearing music blasting from a radio or pass by a church without hearing choral music pouring through the windows. During the many summer camps, students start practicing at 6 AM, before the day even begins, and stay long after the final orchestra rehearsal for extra lessons or practice. Music is a vehicle for youth across Haiti to express themselves and explore their interests and identities. Given the present political circumstances, it can also be a tool that brings order to the current chaos of their everyday lives. BLUME Haiti works to support successful programs that can give students and their communities the tools to do this.

The first time I became aware of BLUME Haiti was as a volunteer teacher in 2015 at the Sainte Trinité summer music camp. As many as 200-300 students travel from across the country to take part in this three-week program, one of the largest music camps in Haiti; there is choir, full orchestra, wind band, and string orchestra, along with private and group lessons, chamber music, and music theory classes. The days are packed! Along with 15-20 other international teachers that summer, I spent my day running between the activities, squeezing in lessons at every opportunity and trying to keep up with the energy of every camper. Music is not just an extracurricular activity for many of these students; it is a central part of their identities. Even their names on Facebook often include the instrument they play. I saw the impact these programs had on each student’s life, my heart was full, and I knew I wanted to join the efforts of BLUME Haiti.

Rachael Cohen works with a flute student at the AMI Annex camp in Demizaine.
Photo credit: Rachael Cohen

One of our recent initiatives involves a partnership with the Utah Symphony Orchestra in the creation of the Haitian Orchestra Institute (HOI). In 2017, the first HOI was held in Jacmel: a week-long intensive orchestra program with members of the Utah Symphony, with their music director Thierry Fischer leading sectionals, lessons, full orchestra rehearsals, and a final concert. A hundred of Haiti’s most accomplished orchestral musicians are chosen by audition for this program. As one of the first selective orchestra projects in Haiti, the HOI is a huge motivator for young musicians. From the most advanced students to those at the beginner-intermediate level, everyone wants to take part in the HOI. Students practice all year just to have the chance to audition. This is the closest many get to experiencing such a high level of performance, and it is an opportunity theoretically attainable by any Haitian musician.

Life in Haiti is difficult under the best of circumstances, and even more so now given the current political struggles. Our friends, colleagues and students tell us that being able to go to their music school to practice and share music helps them deal with the challenges they are facing. Now more than ever, we at BLUME Haiti encourage music schools that have a strong impact on the lives of young Haitians. We seek to walk with our Haitian partners as they build a stronger and ever more active musical community throughout the country.

Traducir »