SHU Band Fraternity Helps Haitian Musician’s Dream Come True

News Story: February 1, 2010
Haitian musician Jean Gerald plays his oboe during a visit to SHU in March 2009.

Twenty-five year old Haitian oboist Jean Gerald had been trying for years to find a way to study full-time at a major music conservatory somewhere in the world.  “I can honestly tell you that music is my whole life,” says Jean Gerald.  “It is like the air that I breathe.  What words cannot express, music does!”

Sacred Heart University Director of Bands Keith Johnston first met Jean in the summer of 2008 when he went to Haiti to teach and conduct at the Holy Trinity School of Music summer music camp.  Founded in 1963 in Port au Prince by a group of Episcopal nuns, the school of music now enrolls over 1,200 music students, mostly from modest means.  The school hosts 5 orchestras, 3 bands, a professional symphony orchestra and the internationally-known boys choir Les Petites Chanteurs.  It is also the home to Haiti’s only concert hall.

In March of 2009, Johnston brought Jean to Sacred Heart to present a performance-lecture demonstration entitled “Haitian Culture and Western Music”.  During the visit, Jean got to know some of the Sacred Heart students and he also had the opportunity to play for renowned teachers from the Yale School of Music and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

Through these contacts, as well as contacts at Lawrence University in WI, Ohio University, and Bradley University in IL, Jean attracted the attention of Alex Klein, former principal oboist with the Chicago Symphony, and oboe professor at Oberlin Conservatory.  Alex Klein personally intervened to help secure a full time opportunity for Jean to study oboe in Brazil’s largest music conservatory.

Travel plans were made, visa’s were secured, airline tickets were donated, and Jean’s dream of studying music and becoming a professional musician were about to become a reality. 

That all changed on January 12 when a massive earthquake struck Haiti.  Even though the school of music was destroyed, along with many instruments, and countless lives were lost, Jean Gerald survived.  As a result of this tragedy, his friends from the United States stepped in to help.

Steven Huang, director of Orchestral Studies at Ohio University and a conductor at the summer music camp in Haiti, was able to change Jean’s ticket so that he would depart from the Dominican Republic on February 16.  Additional professors and faculty from other colleges helped provide funds for remaining necessary items.  The only thing missing was the money that Jean would need to travel to the Dominican Republic so that he could make his flight.

Johnston presented the problem to the Sacred Heart chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, a national honorary band fraternity.  Within 24 hours, current members and alumni reached into their pockets to raise the funds, and on Friday, February 12, Jean had his travel money.

“Financial donations are desperately needed to help Haiti right now,” said Johnston. “But with Jean Gerald there was an opportunity for SHU students to directly help an individual whom they have met and heard play.  Jean is their age and he has dreams just as they do.  And right at this moment he is in need of greater assistance than we can even begin to imagine.  I’m incredibly moved that our students, who rightly have their own concerns about their finances, have looked past that to help someone who is in even greater need.  They have recognized someone who has much less than they do and changed his future by simply deciding to make a difference.” 

Johnston went on to say “I have no doubt that Jean Gerald will develop and grow into a world-class oboist.  And I couldn’t be more proud of SHU’s Kappa Kappa Psi chapter for their selfless and rapid response.  One of the expectations I have of my band students is for them to seek out the best in others, and to help those less fortunate.  I can’t think of a better example than this act of generosity.”

To view a short before/after slideshow of the Holy Trinity School of Music, please visit http://sites.google.com/site/haitimusicschools/pictures-and-videos.

For additional ways to help the Haiti relief effort, visit SHU’s ‘Hearts for Haiti’ official webpage by clicking here.