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Ending (of the Beginning)

As my two and a half weeks in Haiti has come to an end, I've been able to understand more of the problems and situation of this country. Talking with people both of Haitian origin, individuals from the UN and other organizations, I have started to understand just how far deep the plight of this country goes. Improving this country is not going to be easy. There are superficial improvements and superficial aide to help the smaller immediate problems. However, the key for true change runs so much deeper than that. There is an immense lack of money to provide things that are needed - better roads, infrastructure, clean water, proper trash disposal, etc. It's difficult for Haiti to receive money because investors and businesses don't feel bringing their business to Haiti is a sound investment - due to lack of road infrastructure, businesses can't be sure their products will reach the necessary destination. Because of lack of electricity, they can't be sure that their products won't spoil. It's such a catch 22. Haiti needs money to provide education and create sound infrastructure. But they need sound infrastructure to build confidence and gain monetary support from outside countries and businesses.

It wasn't always like this. Back in the 60's Haiti used to be known as the pearl of the Caribbean - a beautiful, exotic and magical destination for honeymooners, nomads and vacationers. But government corruption and constant thirst for power killed that utopia, and since then things have been heading towards a downward spiral.

Alland was also explaining just how much things have worsened since the earthquake for everyone. Before the earthquake, Jacmel used to be known as 'the city of lights.' Since the earthquake oil has become incredibly expensive and people (who can afford it) must pay the government enormous sums of money per month to keep their homes lit. Even still, the government must regulate electricity because of the cost. Therefore, every day in Jacmel, electricity runs for only about 11 of the 24 hours a day. This makes things very difficult for the Haitian population - food constantly spoiling, inability to do important everyday business affairs, etc. It's even worse in other parts of Haiti. The individual I was sitting next to on the plane was saying how Jacmel is lucky to have 11 hours of electricity per day. His family lives in the epicenter of the earthquake and he said since January 2010 he's lucky if they have electricity even four days out of a month. It's astounding to me. So many things we take for granted are a luxury for this country. It's very sad to me, and maybe I have done a little bit to help in someway, but we are barely scratching the surface.

What is amazing to me is how the people of this country are so resilient and still continue to smile and experience life with such joy. They have been through so much, but somehow they hold on to faith so strongly and have hope for a better Haiti.

Yesterday, my student Linia invited me to a service at her church. She wanted me to hear them sing, and offer any advice or suggestions. Haitians have such an incredibly strong sense of faith, and channel this faith through song. I've never been to a church service before, and this service moved me in a way I can't explain. 60-80 young and old people standing up, rejoicing, praising and singing boldly to their God while Linia was belting over them in beautiful gospel song. It was so big and epic, it just moved me to tears. People from the outside were huddled around the open windows, quietly listening and praying. I could feel the hairs on my arm standing up, and my eyes filling with pools of water - in that moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that Linia and her church were giving their community a true hope for a better Haiti, like they were giving their country something to believe in. Even as I write about it now, I am welling up! I am ever so grateful to Linia and her church for inviting me into their faith and allowing me the opportunity to experience such a beautiful celebration of life and faith.

As I sum things up, I will say that this trip hasn't been without its challenges- stolen passport and money and IDs, extreme heat with lack of electricity, the language barrier, etc, but all of that is small in comparison to what this community deals with on a daily basis. All along the way however, they smile, and keep living. Their passion for music, for dance, love of food, extreme generosity and hospitality is inspiring and infectious. Alland, Ailene, and the music school crew took us dancing last night, and I was overtaken by what I experienced - just how much the Haitians embody a profound zest for life despite hard times. I have never sweat so hard on a dance floor before! Afterward, a long night ride under the Haitian sky on motorcycle, the breeze in our faces as we zipped down along the coast, and I just want to keep that memory tucked away forever and ever.

Haitians are so proud of their culture, and I can see why. Even though we have more than them in many ways from a materialistic, there is much we can learn from them. They live with such a positive attitude always. Whenever I ask how someone is, they always reply in this sweet singsong of a voice in creole 'All is well.' And then flash a big smile. This trip allowed me to see all of the extremes in Haiti- the dire poverty, the situation of the majority of the Haitian population, dirty and heavily polluted areas, and absolute serene and stunningly picturesque areas. Although this country may not be all beautiful in the quintessential meaning of the world, to me the people and the culture make it truly vibrant and breathtaking. The people here do what they can to help - Fritz, Alland, Aline, Fabrice, Mignon and others, providing hope and inspiration for the Haitian community through music. This country needs music, they need it to keep hope and instigate change. I'm so happy I could play a little part in that mission, and I hope this is the beginning of long and lasting relationship with an amazing country of people.



Teaching Boot Camp

Between yesterday and today, I have taught a total of 14 hours. Tomorrow I will teach 8. I've been here about a week and after tomorrow will have taught about 43 hours over since I arrived. It's nuts to me how much 1:1 teaching I've been doing, especially considering I did not do much of it before. I decided that qualifies as teaching boot camp. Turns out I actually really like teaching and am pleasantly surprised to find that I am really good at it! The students range so much in age and experience, and the language barrier provides an added obstacle at times, but slowly I am learning to get around that too.

I am finding that I especially love teaching in a 1:1 setting, especially older and more serious students. I already see an incredible change in some of my students, even just after 1 lesson. They are like sponges- so excited to be learning and eager to incorporate all of their leanings and practice hard. They stop by in their free time to ask questions, or just say hi, and it's just a wonderful feeling to feel as though you have these wonderful personal and friendly relationships with your students. It makes them feel at ease in their lessons and allows them to be as bold and unreserved when singing and learning.

The rigorous teaching schedule can be taxing for sure. I go at 100% each lesson because I want to make sure the students have the most positive and worthwhile experience they can have learning with me. There are moments where I feel too tired (like right now!) but then when you see your student improve right in front of your eyes you just want to do it all over again because seeing them learn and internalize lessons is honestly the most rewarding experience ever.

There aren't any voice teachers at the school here, so the students have all been very excited to study singing. My schedule has been so full each day that I've had to double, triple and even quadruple up lessons a few times, which has actually been ok. I thought it would be difficult to teach more than one student at once, but surprisingly it's fairly easy, especially I think since everyone is so well-behaved and respectful here.

Of course I have favorites to teach. There's Linia, a beautiful girl and singer. She's so thoughtful, and cares so much about learning and improving. She speak English fluently too so we have gotten to know each other quite well. I love spending time with her and just exchanging stories and laughing. She asked I come to her church with her next Saturday to teach some music. I'm excited and feel so honored to do so!

Then there's Charles, a jazz trumpet player with a beautiful sound. He speaks Spanish too (hurray!) which means I get to practice my Spanish and communicate with him. He's so inquisitive, asks questions, just hoping to take as much in as he can. I played a lot of music for him which I made sure he got, and then we worked on some phrasing and even improvising. It was actually a little daunting at first to try and teach someone about improvising, especially because that is something I very much still need to work on, but once again I know more than I think! We did a few improvising exercises focused on creating clean phrases and leaving space, and the change in his improvising was almost immediate. In some of these cases, I am finding that it's just making students aware, and once they have the awareness they are able to make quick and immediate improvements.

That evening Friendship Jazz was having a concert, so all of the music school planned to go.

The concert was at the stunning Alliance Francois building in downtown Jacmel. Aline told us that the building had been severely destroyed from the earthquake, but had been rebuilt fast.

The building has transportive qualities, a cross between old European architecture, and the sprawling big colorful architecture of tropical Haiti. It actually takes your breath away, old stones set the wall behind the stage, while majestic palm trees provide shade overhead.


The concert at Alliance Francis was a scene. Everyone and anyone came out, dressed up to the nines. It was really fun to see such a high class social gathering, gave me some more insight into the Haitian community and their livelihood. It did feel very much like a little family. Everyone was talking to each other, getting to know each other. So many of my students were there either performing or watching so it was great to see so many familiar faces!

Friendship Jazz invited me to sing two songs with them - Autumn Leave, and Misty. I was super super nervous, but they were so so incredibly warm and welcoming and the audience was so receptive. It was really amazing to be able to share the stage with my Haitian friends, and I am constantly just astounded by the generosity, humility and kindness of this culture. Performing with Friendship Jazz was an amazing experience, and I hope we are able to work together again in the future!


After I was done singing, we grabbed some beers and chilled and watched the rest of the set. Haitian music has such complicated polyrhythms - big 2 against 4 against 5. It's fun to try and figure out whats going rhythmically, but I wish that automatically translated into being able to play like that!


All in all, amazing music, amazing company- one of my favorite nights so far.

Today is another long day of lessons and then I teach choir later this evening which I am looking forward to!

The lessons went smoothly. I had the pleasure of teaching this adorable shy sweet 16 year old boy named Luxama. You just want to squeeze him, he's so precious. He takes his singing so seriously, and has quite a lovely voice and great musicianship. He was painfully shy at first, but now he's opened up a bit and when he smiles at me big with his adorable little gap tooth smile I kind of melt a bit.

Leading a choir was a semi- new experience for me. I definitely have worked with a cappella groups before, but leading a choir on my own was a bit new for me. The number of participants in choir vary each week, and the set up is pretty lax- no really set schedule or repertoire week to week, so it was sort of up to me in terms of what to do. Lauren brought this amazing book of four part Northern Harmony hymns, so I photocopied a few songs from there to teach the students via solfege. Apparently before a student is allowed to begin an instrument study at the Jean Baptisse school, they must take a full year of solfege. Of course this means the students are killer sight- singers.

Teaching the choir was actually really fun, and I was surprised at how good I was at it. There was one dude who was a bit of a pain, but I was handling him. For my approach, I decided that we all learn each part first and then have some fun switching around so we could all get a better feel and understanding for the other person's part. This tactic worked really well. I also recorded them singing and played it back for them, so they could hear the weak areas and make improvements. We had a great time, and I was impressed with the improvements made just over the course of the hour!


Also, side note, while I was teaching choir, Lauren was teaching the cutest student ever- Edole. She made that shell necklace for Lauren that she's wearing in the picture. I am kinda jealous!


We decided to get a little cute this evening, as it was Friday, and go to our usual hang- Florita, for some bebidas and food.



Serge, the amazing bad ass saxophonist from Friendship Jazz stopped by to chat, as he was in the area. It was so great to chat with him about the concert the night before, and just rehash things. It blows my mind how thankful they are for our time and efforts here, and he kept reiterating how happy he was that I could sing with them all. I hope that he was able to realize how much of a special and exciting event it was for me as well, and how appreciative I was to have a group make me feel so welcome on stage.

Friday nights at Florita apparently have live music! It was the same band that played music under the straw hut for us while we were stranded in that crazy storm. They were so good, man we chilled, ate, and danced for hours. It's amazing- the band is a five piece band of four different percussionists (one who sings) and one harmonic instrument - a mandolin. No wonder why they groove so hard. People were dancing compa all up in the place. (traditional Haitian dance style I've mentioned before.) Alland gave me a mini tutorial, but he kept saying I was doing too much Indian shit in my dancing- too much obvious hip action. I guess it's all about the subtlety of the movement with the Haitians. I finally got the hang of it a bit after a while, but I am no Haitian compa dancer.


Alland also told us about a specific style of compa dancing known as 'plogé' which literally means to be 'plugged in' (to someone). Alland said this type of dancing is reserved only for your girlfriend. After seeing what it entails, I agree.