Honor concert preview: looking at Haiti with majesty, joy, and love

PEORIA (Jan. 29, 2010) — The levels of excitement and anticipation are high here at the Illinois Music Educators Association All-State Conference. Hundreds of Illinois’s best high school musicians have assembled, auditioned, and been assigned into bands, orchestras, choirs, and jazz ensembles. Work has begun in rehearsal, preparing for public performances at the Peoria Civic Center Friday (jazz) and Saturday.

Among the works to be performed by the All-State Honors Orchestra at a 3 p.m. concert Saturday is the Danse Capoise by Ludovic Lamothe, orchestrated by John Jost.

One of Haiti’s greatest composers, a student at the Paris Conservatory and the Institution de Saint Louis Gonzague in Port-au-Prince, Lamothe composed only for the piano. In this transcription of one of his works, the stroking of each note will have a unique effect for each person in the audience.

When the pianist-composer returned from Paris to his homeland in 1911, he supported himself mostly by giving piano lessons and Sunday afternoon recitals in the homes of middle- and upper-class Haitians. These performances earned him the nickname “The Black Chopin,” since his recitals often included works of the 19th-century piano master.

Honors orchestra conductor, Jean Montès, has significant ties to Haiti as well, having spent his summers as assistant director at the Holy Trinity Music Camp there.

The piano music of the Haitian masters takes listeners on a journey—a journey purely of the soul—to discover just a few of the country’s hidden treasures: the sounds of the wind, the trees, the ocean. The glimpse Montès will bring us is brief, indeed, but our nature pauses to listen and take in these rarest of jewels. The soul can do wonders in just a few moments.

The physical side of our being, on the other hand, can only go so far: many lives, of course, were lost in the aftermath of a massive earthquake near Port-au-Prince earlier this month. We find the Danse Capoise juxtaposed here on this January day in Illinois with terrible tragedy in the homeland of its composer.

Current estimates put the death toll in the tens of thousands, but the number is expected to go much higher as rescue and relief efforts settle in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation.

Illinois schools and students, joining schools and other organizations throughout the world, have gone beyond the call of duty to send aid to Haiti. For example, volunteers from schools in Tremont, just southeast of Peoria, are raising funds by selling T-shirts in the schools and to the public.

“I have a son who is adopted from Haiti, and my sister’s son is also adopted from Haiti,” the Peoria Journal-Star quoted Fern Wagenbach as saying. She organized the fundraiser, saying she has a 14-year-old son at Tremont who wanted to do something to help Haitians during the tragedy.

Elsewhere, the Maryland State Department of Education asked state schools to participate in the voluntary Maryland Kids Care Campaign: Operation Haiti, asking Maryland’s 1,600 schools to collect pennies for the earthquake victims.

“As we witnessed through the Hurricane Katrina campaign, Maryland children are extremely caring and compassionate and always willing to help others,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools. “The people of Haiti have experienced a tragic natural disaster and this new campaign will provide an opportunity for all Maryland school children to give what they can to help the hundreds of thousands affected by the earthquake.”

A campaign five years ago after Hurricane Katrina raised more than $1.3 million as students emptied piggy banks and organized various fundraising activities.

For this brief moment, then, we close our eyes and let the music evoke a vision of Haiti as it was for Lamothe: majestic, joyful, and full of love.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.