Haiti: Underprivileged children interpret the great classics

Photo: OASChildren and youth from underprivileged neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, interpreted some of the great compositions of Classical music and Haitian folk music arrangements alongside professional musicians Sunday in the third and final concert of a new regional initiative led by the Organization of American States and Haiti to prevent youth violence and reduce school drop out rates in the Caribbean.

The concert in Haiti provided the framework in which the Program for Youth at Risk was launched in that country, led in part by the OAS and the Special Multicultural Fund of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (known by its Spanish acronym, FEMCIDI) of the OAS. Haitian musicians were accompanied by members of the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Haiti, the "Petits Chanteurs of St. Trinité" and a multinational group of guest musicians from Argentina, Colombia and Brazil.

"Unlike more traditional ways of teaching children music, in this program we take children and youth with zero knowledge of musical instruments and expose them to an intensive training program, engaging them emotionally and motivating them with the possibility of performing live concerts," said Andrés Navia, Senior Program Specialist with the OAS's Department of Cultural Affairs. "From the beginning the children learn camaraderie, discipline and group work, helping to generate a spirit of community and respect among them." Navia also said this could be the beginning of an expanded program: "We want to expand this program within the Caribbean, and to create a support network with countries that have already instituted similar initiatives."

Yelé Haiti, a grassroots movement founded by the Grammy Award-winning musician Wyclef Jean, partnered with the OAS and the École de Musique Sainte Trinité to create the Youth Orchestra of Haiti, provided some funding and will be a channel by which people can make earmark contributions to the Orchestra.

"We are delighted to be partnering with the École de Musique Sainte Trinité and the OAS to create the Youth Orchestra of Haiti," said Hugh Locke, President of Yelé Haiti. "Our interest is in seeing how music can be used in support of development, and we do this already through many of our programs. This is one more means by which we can contribute to this tradition."

Locke also said Classical music can be a strong foundation to any aspiring musician.

"Our founder Wyclef Jean, his training is as a classical musician and he has always recommended it to young musicians regardless of the genre they intend to pursue," he said.

The Organization of American States has for many years supported a similar Venezuelan initiative known as El Sistema, but this is the first time the OAS has worked to institutionalize musical learning programs for youth at risk. El Sistema has been a highly successful program, contributing to the musical education of the now famous Venezuelan conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel, currently the Conductor and Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Los Angeles, California. The OAS worked closely with the governments of Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, and received assistance from Colombia and Venezuela, which joined forces to put together a team of trainers to lead the program's launch.

The first and second concerts of this series were performed on October 11 in Castries, Saint Lucia, and on October 23 in Kingston, Jamaica. The Port-au-Prince concert was performed in the Salle St. Cecile of the École de Musique Sainte Trinité and featured the work of composers Vivaldi, Villalobos, Holst, as well as Haitian Folk arrangements.

November 4, 2009