Outreach work is a common requirement for a modern orchestra, and I am proud to say that both of the orchestras with whom I am closely associated have a strong commitment to their local community. As music director of Utah Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor at Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, community work features regularly in our schedules and is crucial for engaging people outside the concert hall. Next week however, I will embark on something completely new. With musicians from the Utah Symphony, we will travel to Haiti to launch the Haitian National Orchestra Institute with the support of BLUME Haiti.
Haitian National Orchestra Institute
Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein contacted me towards the end of last year about his plan to go to Haiti with a number of musicians from the orchestra. They were to spend a week coaching over 100 music students from all over Haiti, culminating in two public concerts in Jacmel. John described the wonderful students that are in need of guidance and hope, and before I had even finished reading his email I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of, I was so moved by his words.
This will be the first time I have ever done anything like this, and I am highly motivated to make it a week to remember for the Haitian students. I am also so proud of my colleagues at the Utah Symphony for organising this project with BLUME Haiti and for raising the funds to bring Haitian students from nineteen different music programmes to take part. BLUME Haiti’s aim is to develop leadership skills and awaken individual potential, creating opportunities for social and civic collaboration and economic development through music education and performance.
The Power of Music
How is classical music relevant to communities who struggle to put bread on the table? My view is that music provides hope. And through hope comes the motivation and the belief that life can be better. Music presents a pure form of beauty that everyone should be able to experience and enjoy. I strongly believe that involvement in the arts makes life better and worth living, and music has as much of a place in a struggling rural village as in a thriving cultural city.
More than a Concert
Next week we will work extremely hard, rehearsing all through the day with the students in a climate we are not so accustomed to. I feel a heavy responsibility to inspire and motivate these young people, and am mindful that this could potentially be one of the biggest weeks of their lives. But experience tells me that this must be more than a week of coaching or a concert performance to them. The project must resonate into all facets of their lives and stay with them for a long time. I hope we can impress on them the dedication and discipline required to be a professional musician, and the power that music can have to help the human spirit overcome life’s difficulties.
I don’t know yet what kind of impact this project will have on me, or how the Utah musicians will feel when we return for rehearsals in Abravanel Hall, but I am sure it will be a most worthwhile experience. I go with an open mind, ready to learn as much from these young people as they can learn from us.
Some musicians are more gifted than others at sharing their enthusiasm, which is vital for community work. Hence I don’t think education and outreach work should be mandatory. The recipient needs to feel their authenticity, not obligation. For me, communicating with the younger generation comes easily. Their wide eyed reactions and ability to consume information gives me great joy. Focusing on the simplicity of sound and speaking in clear contrasts is always well received, as well as sharing stories from my earlier days on the podium or as a player, even if they are sometimes exaggerated!
Every kind of outreach initiative is worthwhile, whether it be in Haiti or Princeton. What is most important is the intention and willingness to give back. The audience development work I do as music director of the Utah Symphony – going to schools and universities and performing toyoung audiences – is crucial. I realised early on in my career that these kinds of concerts cannot be viewed as merely a warm-up for the big event. We have to be even more prepared so that we can make a real impact on the audience. Since the audience has no preconceptions of what they are about to witness, we can’t take anything for granted. Our aim is always to try and create a desire in the young listener to discover and hear more of our music, especially in our own concert hall. Even if only one person out of 100 is convinced, that is still a success. We must bear the responsibility to future generations to pass on this art-form.