Band Director Makes Musical Mission Trip to Haiti
Director of Bands Keith Johnston, standing at center, with the low brass section of the
Keith Johnston, director of Bands at Sacred Heart University, recently joined music professors from across the United States and half a dozen countries to teach music to some of Haiti’s most talented young musicians. Johnston traveled to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, on a 10-day musical mission to teach at the Holy Trinity School of Music’s Summer Music Camp.
“The summer music program has run uninterrupted since 1971. Through political turmoil—and the devastating earthquake of 2010—this program has taken place,” he says.
Johnston first traveled to Haiti to teach in 2008. Invited by John Jost from Bradley University, director of the program, Johnston was struck by the talent, dedication and the willingness of the students to work hard in their pursuit of making great music.
“One of my first impressions of Haiti was on my very first night there, before camp even started. The boy choir had an impromptu concert in the darkened chapel on grounds of the campus. These kids were singing from the very depths of their soul, and the sound was transformative,” he adds.
He says his teaching trips to Haiti are the highlight of his year.
“The days are long and rigorous, but incredibly rewarding. Each day consists of teaching nine lessons, a trombone sectional for the wind ensemble, a sectional with the orchestra trombone section, two wind ensemble rehearsals and a full orchestra rehearsal,” he notes.
Johnston’s activities go beyond teaching. “The kids can’t afford instruments, supplies or music. Even if they could, these things are simply not available in the country,” he says. To help with that, Johnston is on the board of BLUME Haiti, a non-profit organization based in Appleton, Wis., that works with Haitian and other international partners to develop leadership skills and other opportunities through music education and performance. This summer, Johnston and fellow board members were able to provide hundreds of instruments to more than 20 different music programs across the country.
BLUME Haiti also provides scholarships for deserving students to study at music programs all year long. In addition, they brought Haitian music teachers to the U.S. for intensive study at select universities.
“They not only leave the programs as better musicians, but as better teachers,” Johnston adds. “Over the course of the year, we’ll be exploring options and looking for supporters with an eye towards establishing a training program here at Sacred Heart University beginning in 2016.”
Haiti is a country that for many complex reasons is in great need. I can’t solve every problem there, but I can be the best music teacher possible and share my love of, and passion for, music-making with them.
The return I get is far greater than anything I have to offer,” he concludes.
If you would like to help support Johnston’s work in Haiti, please visit www.BLUMEHaiti.org.