Saturday, July 3, 2010

Help us Help a School in Haiti

Greetings all – especially to those of you who have been directed here so that you could read my semi-annual updates of what I am doing in the music world.
I usually try to update you on new pieces I am writing, or pieces just released by my publishers, or some traveling or guest conducting I am doing. This time I am going to write something that is not so much about me-me-me; and ask you read all the way to the end if you can.

I am in Raleigh, North Carolina teaching the 32 gifted choral students at the North Carolina Governor’s School East ( ) on the campus of Meredith College. The NC Governor’s School selects 600 of the brightest high school students in ten discipline areas from all over the state and brings them together for a six week intensive summer experience where there are no grades; just the challenge of concentrated work in their main area, as well as amazing explorations of learning in new areas for each student. This is a place where students can be (as we say here) “nerds, geeks, and artsy freaks” to the hilt without being self-conscious about it, and where the unofficial motto is “try, fail, fail better”. In other words, we give these kids freedom to not have to worry about maintaining an immaculate GPA and we throw daunting, yet cool projects their way and let them solve them without our help. It’s all great fun, very challenging and yet exhausting in a good way for six weeks.

When I was at the ACDA conference in Cincinnati this past spring I heard Ethan Sperry’s great group from Miami University of Ohio sing music from Haiti, as arranged by Sten Kallman. I was blow away by this soulful music and corralled Ethan one evening. I found out that these pieces would soon be out in his earthsongs series and I immediately decided we had to sing them at NC Governor’s School.So that is what we are doing-- we just sang one of those pieces June 30th and July 1st (titled Freo—O Brother) to very enthusiastic packed-house audiences and we will add “Gede Nibo” soon to our repertoire. The students love this music and have totally connected to it musically and spiritually. We have also been highly successful in singing it with pretty authentic tone colors for this folk music.

Sometimes things in the world align, and here is what developed here over the last three weeks—I met the new French teacher and she is fluent in Creole and is teaching her French students “Nawlins” and Haitian Creole. We’ve put our classes together and learned more about Haiti, both past and present. We then realized that the grassroots environmentalist Dave Chameides ( ) was visiting our school to not only speak about the environment (we know him as Trash Dave for his speeches to us about how wasteful Americans are; he also owns two Emmys for his work as a TV cameraman), but also would give a short talk to our students about his trip to Haiti just two weeks after the earthquake(visit of my students attended that short talk.

You can see all these things coming together, because Lesley Curtis (the French teacher) and I had started to talk about our classes doing a service project together. Lesley knows two American teachers who were in Haiti when the earthquake happened, and one of them actually knows a school whose building was destroyed and still hopes to start school in some way in a few months and that is in dire need of school supplies for two hundred students.

So Lesley and I hinted to the students that we should do more than just be scholars, or practice room shut-ins (hope you agree on that!); and that we should do something for the world. And our students really grasped this idea- that they, even as teens, could step up and do something important to help others.

So here is what is happening-- that school in Haiti (they have a brand new 501c3 website set up by friends in NYC) has given us a modest list of school supply needs for their 200 students. All they are hoping for is a packet for each student consisting of:

three spiral notebooks
three black pens and three red pens
ten pencils & one eraser
one ruler

Dave told us he decided to help in Haiti in a number of ways- but one of them specifically was to find a way to give to people directly and make a personal connection. There’s nothing wrong in giving money to Red Cross, for instance, but he wanted to make his connection personal. This is what we at N. Carolina Governor’s School East choral music and French class want to do; make it personal. We are going to try to donate these supplies by ourselves, and also through the parents, through the community, through pleas to OfficeMax or Staples, or any way we can. When get the supplies all gathered together we also intend to write personal notes to the people at the school and put them in the supply packages as well. And maybe we can record our Haitian music on a CD and they can hear us sing THEIR music as best as we can. By the way, you can see pictures of the Korebel students, the ruins of the school and efforts to keep teaching the children amidst the runs by clicking here

This is where you can help if you would like to join us. I have spoken to the NC Governor’s School East director, an amazing person and historian named Dr. Michael McElreath about this goal. He tells me that if any of you in the US choral world would like to contribute to this cause, you could write a check to us and we will buy more and more supplies for this school and try to overwhelm them with kindness. We also feel that it would be silly for you to mail us school supplies, because we would still have to ship them again to Haiti. That’s why we are hoping some of you will want to mail us a check to help this cause.

I am hoping that ChoralNet/ACDA will publicize this and help build this. I think folks there like Philip Copeland and Tim Sharp are great people who want our music to be more than just mere notes on a page; and that our singing should bring joy and uplift people and that we really must work harder in our field to make what we do be of further impact in the world. All of the recent growth and energetic new leadership at ChoralNet and at ACDA are amazing me. I think there is a groundswell of newly focused energy in the American choral world, and that is what I am trying to tap into in as big a way as possible. Who knows, what we do here in Raleigh for this project and what you might contribute might overwhelm this small school in Haiti to the point that they will need to share the newfound abundance with other schools nearby. How amazing would that be?

So if I have touched a nerve within you, here is how you make a donation (hopefully a bit before we finish the session July 24th):
Checks should be written to “NC Governor's School East" and put "Haiti school supplies" on the memo line.

Mail your contribution ASAP (any size appreciated) to:

Dr. Michael McElreath
NC Governor’s School East
3800 Hillsborough Av
Raleigh, NC

Thanks in advance for anything you might want to contribute!

Best wishes,


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