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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.



Hot Hot Hot

I'm pretty sure this isn't a technical term, but it is hot hot hot as balls today. Like holy s$@*%! Lauren and I tried to go on a early morning excursion to find the grocery store, but between the pounding heat and the constant game of Frogger we are playing dodging motorcyclists on the main road, we gave up. We all get Wednesday mornings off so we coordinated to go do some Internet work at Florita and then check out the neighboring artisanal community that Jacmel is famous for.

I resigned myself from 7 am this morning that I would be a sticky hot mess all day. There was no escaping that. This would be a full sunblock and hat day.


We gladly sought shelter from the magnitude of the sun at Florita, who's bar is lined with revolving wall fans. You don't even know how clutch fans are until you come to Haiti.


That's our iguana friend (I forget his name) who lives at The Florita sometimes. Apparently, he too needed some shelter from the beating sun today!


Jacmel is known for its local art. A lot of the homes that display the art and serve as art studios used to be charming old French mansions from during their reign in Haiti.

I absolutely love looking at handicrafts, so I made the bold trek under stifling heat with Diana and Reginald (a contrabassist from the school) around the various craft hovels. Everything is made by hand, with such vivid colors and care taken in each brush stroke. The Haitian artists tend to create a lot of patterns of fruits or flowers - quite true to their tropical locale. They also do a tremendous amount of weaving- beautiful bags and pot holders hand crafted purely from white straw and dyed straws. Painting is also a frequently practiced trade for these artists - extremely vibrant and vivid paintings of scenery, dancing bodies, and other festive moments dot the sides streets waiting to be bought by foreigners passing by.


Paper mâché is also a big handicraft here. Vases, masks, jewelry, coasters are all expertly made here by paper mâché and then painted in bright pinks, blues, greens, etc.


Heidi in a sexy paper mâché mask. Now I know what to be for Halloween next year.



Along our walk, an older man approached us asking if we'd like to see his shops. His family was from Venezuela so he also spoke Spanish, which meant I could communicate with him and that made me happy! He told me the Haitian community is like one big family. Everyone looks after each other and takes care of each other. He said that all of the artists work together with each other as a collective unit, and so not only did he support us buying from his store, but also the stores of his friends. Because of these collaborative spirit, a lot of the shops have similar things, or slight variations of the pieces.

Even the surrounding area of the artist community is a work of art itself - beautiful, vibrant and color pops of graffiti line the sides of the street. The ocean and lilting palm trees beckon in the back. It looks like a painting itself.



The outside of one of the shops we were taken to:




Even as the hot sun was oppressively hanging over us, I couldn't get enough of the shops and the surrounding area. There was just such a beauty and peace to it all. That's our Venezuelan friend we made (sadly, who's name I forgot!) who took us around to all the various artist shops.


The afternoon was packed with five hours of lessons back to back. The students I had ran the gamut from 12 years old - 50 years old, some instrumentalist wanting to learn how to sing, to some who are experienced, to some just starting out. Regardless of where they are at, everyone is so inquisitive and excited to be singing, it really is amazing and makes me so happy to be able to hand down my knowledge. When I give direction and hear or see that change being carried out and thus improving the musicality of the song, that is just when I feel so so lucky to improve these amazing musicians' knowledge. I am also amazed at how fast of a learner everyone seems to be- it's clear that the Haitian people just have music coursing through their veins.

The other thing that I am realizing is that because English is not known to many of my students, learning lyrics can be quite tedious and take up a large part of the lesson. So we have been learning songs on vowels rather than words, and then add the words in later.

During the evening I went to hear 'Friendship Jazz' rehearse again at the school. There have swag, there is no other way to put it. You can't help but pop your booty when you hear them play. They just have something that can't be taught. They invited me to come sing at their concert tomorrow, which I am really honored and excited about!


Their rehearsal left me in such a great mood until upon our return we found the power to be out. You have no idea how effing hot it is. Lauren and I did a little power chant under candlelight- we need moving air!!! It was too hot to fall asleep, and finally our prayers were answered with the electricity coming back ! We happily fell asleep, but awoke again to the sauna of the night as once the power went out at 2 am (as it always does each night to save usage of electricity.) Nevertheless, some how we managed to sleep through the night!