St Trinity Music School Provides Educational Opportunities for Young Haitian Musicians (Tequila Minsky)

  • Posted on: 6 April 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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The Second International Haitian Jazz Festival provided an opportunity for many of Haiti's best musicians to showcase their talents.  Below, long time Haitian Culture Vulture Tequila Minsky writes about the St. Trinity Music School in Port au Prince, which is educating the next generation of Haitian musicians.  


The St. Trinity Music School in downtown Port-au-Prince provides musical instruction to hundreds of primary and secondary school students. Among its many performing music groups, the school has a boy's choir, Les Petits Chanteurs, that has performed internationally, a chamber choir, and the only symphony orchestra in Haiti. It has a summer program in Leogane and is the largest music education program in Haiti. It may well be the only public space that has a grand piano (there are a number of private individuals that have one.)



With numerous performance group opportunities the students receive rigorous classical music training. But, the 20 music students interested in jazz are purely self-taught. That is why, the expanded jazz workshop program-from the U.S. Embassy's pioneering initiative last year-was such a meaningful outreach of the 2nd edition of the recently concluded International Jazz Festival of Port-au-Prince.



Five sessions, part of the Jazz Festival's "Studio Program" with music students, were held in the large concert hall of St. Trinity Music School.  For many of these music students, this was their first contact with different musicians from all over the world playing different styles, having different teaching techniques and philosophies. One musician/teacher told students, "You should learn how to read music," another, during the same session, said that reading music wasn't necessary.



Arriving a bit late (the noon, rush hour traffic was intense), I missed the actual workshop I was going to visit but was able to speak with some of the students who had attended the week's sessions.   Luccanes Louis, former St. Trinity student, now, teacher, choral director and pianist, attended the workshops at St. Trinity and commented, "It was good to meet with musicians from the outside; I was able to gain knowledge and information. For example, I learned (from the Mexican musicians) that with the dominant chord you can do anything and improvise anything!"



Earlier that week, the Toussaint brothers from Mexico demonstrated techniques during their workshop. Trumpet player Carlot Cave was inspired to learn more. The American, Chilean, Mexican musicians, Haitian saxophone player Jowee Omicil and the Canadian singer Annie Poulain, taught the St. Trinity workshops  Following our conversation, the three St. Trinity musicians I spoke with gave me a spontaneous performance of "Autumn Leaves," leaving me with goose bumps.



Simultaneously, workshops were held across town in the intimate FOKAL auditorium on Rue Christophe. FOKAL is an organization that sponsors many cultural events. Sessions were open primarily to music program students (mainly from frequent collaborator Ecole Nationale des Arts �ENARTS) in order to keep the attendance of 20 to 40 a manageable size and to present class content relevant for attendees. Members of the Swiss and Spanish bands, pianist Mushy Widmaier and singer Annie Poulain gave the workshops there.



Students learned Flamenco guitar technique from the Spanish band. For good arrangement, one participant recalled, "You need balance, focus, variety and economy." He learned this from Mushy's class in 'steps to good arrangement and composition,' where Mushy also played music tracks.



Annie Poulain's voice workshop-with singers, musicians, and actors attending-started with physical stretches and breathing exercises, to get the body ready. At the end of the class, singers with their accompanists had the chance to demonstrate their style.



Happy to take a voice workshop, one student of acting said, "We learned technique, how it is supposed to drive your voice." One guitar player said the voice workshop would help when he is arranging music.



How much can be learned in a two-hour session? Obviously, it is just a start, simple contact. But an attentive class, serious and hungry for information, gave equally back to the teacher. Following the teaching session, singer Annie Poulain said, "This was the best experience of my life."



The Mimi Jones Band, three Caribbean-heritage New York-based women and one man, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, had conducted a music workshop session at St. Trinity Music School. Participants were supposed to play in a collaborating performance at the residence of American Ambassador Sanderson, however, they were rained out.



Adaptation is the mantra in Haiti, so later that week, brass musicians and a drummer from the workshop joined with the Mimi Jones Band for the last third of their French Institute performance. Even when it began to rain halfway through, audience members took shelter under umbrellas and overhangs and stayed throughout the performance.



The Mimi Jones Band members also conducted workshops to music students in Jacmel.   "It's good for Embassies to have their bands do something in the provinces where there isn't much going on," said one of the Festival founding organizers Pascale Monier. "It gives a chance for artists to give workshops and see the country. For the people, they have a chance to participate and have contact with the invited musicians." (The Chilean Trio also gave a concert in Cap Haitien.)



Not a Festival requirement, performing Festival musicians were offered the chance to participate in the teaching workshops. While the students were exposed to different styles and techniques, the musician-teachers, like Annie, gained as much as they gave and had the opportunity to work with students really involved in the classes and extremely appreciative for the possibility to learn more. 



Like the love that performing musicians received from the Haitian audiences, the workshop teachers felt the affection too, gaining many more positive ambassadors for Haiti.  Along with the educational outreach of the Jazz Festival the ten music workshops, countless Haitians watched the concerts while broadcast on TV.



Thirteen thousand jazz enthusiasts heard the music live, during the eight-day event that was organized by a committee which included nine collaborating embassies, the Ministry of Culture, co-founding members Paul Levy and the French Institute, and musicians Pascale Monier, and Joel Widmaier. There were also countless partnering sponsors


Tequila Minksy

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