Haiti Blog, Pt. 4

Day 7 – Saturday, April 1, 2017

All of the rehearsals and concerts having been completed successfully, we enjoyed our day off at the beach.

A spontaneous ball game began with locals and several musicians.

The local kids were very friendly and open.



 Day 8 – Sunday, April 2, 2017

Being a Sunday, the Mission Aviation charter flights were not available to transport us back to Port-au-Prince, so various groups, depending on their return flight schedule, made the arduous trip over the mountains in shuttle vans. There were unforeseen complications when the early morning group had to stop and wait as some nearby villagers had created road blocks with bonfires, large boulders and smaller rocks and broken glass strewn across the only road up to Port-au-Prince. Apparently, it was a protest against the government because the villagers were without electricity for four days. What was a 15 minute flight at the start of the trip was a 3 or 4 hour journey by vehicle.

Luckily, the roads were eventually partially cleared, and all parties were able to make their flights in time. Considering what a large scale trip with so many components this was, the week went remarkably smoothly, a testament to Janet’s planning skills, knowledge of Haiti and the students as well as John and Yuki’s efforts at organizing the week. And best of all, the heart of our mission, which was about the music and teaching was a resounding success!

Haiti Blog, Pt. 3

Day 5 – Thursday, March 30, 2017

The fourth session with the students further coalesced the music students and faculty, and we worked on strengthening each section and some specific spots that Maestro Fischer had mentioned needed work.

The students also told their coaches what issues had come up in the full orchestra rehearsal, and the sessions were increasingly easy and efficient.

In the afternoon, many of the faculty members rehearsed for the evening faculty chamber music concert to be held in the orchestra rehearsal space at the school.

That evening, the concert was packed with the students and many musicians and supporters from the community.


Day 6 – Friday, March 31, 2017

The student orchestra dress rehearsal took place in the morning, to be followed with sectionals and lessons with the Utah Symphony members in the afternoon, and the much anticipated final concert at night followed by a banquet for all back at the music school.

A large church, which was also a multi-purpose venue, served as a rehearsal and concert space for the day, and the students adjusted quickly to the new acoustics of the very live hall.

Some of the brass and lower strings took the afternoon off from sectionals to preserve their “chops” after a very intense week of constantly rehearsing and practicing.

The program for the evening:

Gabrieli – Brass ensemble work arranged by Jeff Luke
Schubert – Unfinished Symphony (first movement)
Percussion ensemble led by Eric Hopkins
Lamothe (Haitian composer) – Danza No. 4 (Canes Nicolas conducting)
Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 (first movement)
Bizet – Selections from Carmen: Prélude, Aragonaise, Les Toréadors
Grieg – “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt

The exuberant students celebrate a successful week at the post-concert after party.

Haiti Blog, Pt. 2

Day 3 – Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The teaching schedule now started in the mornings, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, with the bus picking us up early to take us to the school.

After teaching, we were free to stay in town for lunch, or to return to the hotel for beach activities or rest. Meanwhile, Janet had been driven all the way back to Port-au-Prince to welcome Maestro Thierry Fischer. Violist Roberta Zalkind had had a chamber music concert on Monday in Salt Lake City, so she and Scott Harrison, teaching a music management course also arrived Tuesday.

The three plus Janet took a 5 seater plane from Port-au-Prince in time for Fischer to conduct the afternoon full orchestra rehearsal. 

Utah Symphony trumpet player, Jeff Luke had arranged a Gabrieli piece for large brass ensemble, to be rehearsed that afternoon and conducted by Fischer. 

Jeff hopped on a motorcycle taxi (moto) to the school and watched some of the rehearsal with the maestro. 

Maestro Fischer at his first rehearsal with the orchestra, working on Beethoven 5.



Day 4, – Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The morning was once again dedicated to sectionals, technique class and private lessons as each instrument group got to know their Utah Symphony coaches better, and the coaches grasped and addressed the technical issues and challenges for the students.

In true Haitian style, it became clear at the last minute that a tap tap (a covered pick-up truck with wooden slats for seats) would be available to transport us to Bassin Bleu and back for an afternoon faculty outing.

The musicians thoroughly enjoyed the natural swimming hole despite the rustic transport.

The viola faculty have assembled: Whittney Thomas and Roberta Zalkind

Haiti Blog, Pt. 1

Sixteen members of the Utah Symphony and our Music Director, Thierry Fischer, traveled to Haiti to work for one week with 113 of Haiti’s most dedicated music students and teachers. In association with the American non-profit BLUME Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education) this group would collectively create the first ever Haitian National Orchestral Institute. The colonial seaside town of Jacmel, Haiti was the setting for this meaningful and groundbreaking week.


Day 1 – Sunday, March 26, 2017

Many of us took red eye flights immediately after finishing the all-Bach concert at Abravanel Hall. After various layovers, the musicians arrived in Port-au-Prince where an arranged shuttle took us to Hotel Kinam for a one-night stay before our 15 minute long charter flight with Mission Aviation (doesn’t fly on Sundays) to Jacmel the next day.



Day 2 – Monday, March 27, 2017

The hotel shuttle took us through the winding streets of Port-au-Prince to the charter flight section of the airport where every piece of luggage, passenger, and carry on was weighed with care. We had booked a nine seater plane to fly us in two shifts. Upon arriving at the small landing strip in Jacmel, Janet Anthony, the president of BLUME Haiti, greeted us.
The bus that we had hired for the week (for student and faculty transport) took us to the hotel. When the whole group had arrived in Jacmel, we were bussed into town to greet the whole student orchestra briefly.
The 100 plus music students had already gathered in Jacmel from all parts of Haiti, and were already rehearsing with Haitian conductor, Canes Nicolas, in preparation for Thierry Fischer’s arrival the next day.
After lunch, the first session of teaching (sectionals) began. Afterwards, the faculty had dinner together at Hotel Florita, an historical coffee merchant house in the historic downtown district on a cobblestone street.

Haiti Mentors

Musician mentors share some thoughts on the first Haitian National Orchestral Institute project

David Porter, Violin

Lee Livengood, Clarinet

Maestro Thierry Fischer, Conductor & John Eckstein, Cello

David Binder, Trombone

Stephen Proser, French Horn

John Paul Lucas, Luthier

Mercedes Smith, Flute

Roberta Zalkind, Viola

Yuki MacQueen, Violin

Anne Lee, Cello

Whittney Thomas, Viola

Claude Halter, Violin

Haitian National Orchestral Institute – March, 2017

Jens Tenbroek, bass; John Eckstein, cello; Yuki MacQueen, violin; Stephen Proser, horn; Anne Lee, cello; James Hall, oboe; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Mercedes Smith, flute; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Claude Halter, violin; Eric Hopkins, percussion; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet

Jens Tenbroek, bass; John Eckstein, cello; Yuki MacQueen, violin; Stephen Proser, horn; Anne Lee, cello; James Hall, oboe; Roberta Zalkind, viola; Mercedes Smith, flute; Lee Livengood, clarinet; Claude Halter, violin; Eric Hopkins, percussion; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Jeff Luke, trumpet


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (November 29, 2016) – Fourteen Utah Symphony musicians along with Music Director Thierry Fischer will head to Haiti in March 2017 on a service mission to bring classical music training to 100 young Haitian-born musicians from across the island nation.

Spearheaded by Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein, the group will support Building Leaders Using Music Education (BLUME) Haiti, an organization dedicated to strengthening the country’s socio-economic fabric through classical music. They will create the first Haitian National Orchestral Institute – a week-long workshop for top Haitian music students March 27 to April 1, 2017 – held at the Dessaix-Baptiste Music School in Jacmel, the vibrant cultural capital of Haiti. Haiti is a Caribbean nation only 900 miles off the coast of Miami, FL that faces immense challenges ranging from natural disasters to political upheaval. It shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east, and was one of the regions hard hit by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. 

Every section of the orchestra – with the exception of tuba and harp – will be represented in the group of Utah Symphony musicians who have volunteered their time and expertise during a break from regularly scheduled performances. The full list of participating orchestra members is: Leon Chodos (bassoon), John Eckstein (cello), Thierry Fischer (conductor), James Hall (oboe), Claude Halter (violin), Eric Hopkins (percussion/timpani), Anne Lee (cello), Lee Livengood (clarinet), Jeff Luke (trumpet), Yuki MacQueen (violin), Graeme Mutchler (trombone), Stephen Proser (French horn), Mercedes Smith (flute), Jens Tenbroek (bass), and Roberta Zalkind (viola), While the musicians are paying their own way, the group aims to raise $20,000 to help fund travel and housing expenses for 100 Haitian music students selected from across the country to attend the workshop in Jacmel.

 “The response of my colleagues speaks volumes. I was overwhelmed that so many said they would spend their vacation time and own money to go and do this. But I think it shows you the reasons are compelling and what we get out of it far exceeds what we put into it,” said John Eckstein, who first experienced a teaching service trip to Haiti in July 2016. “What motivates us is basic humanity and the chance to make a difference in other people’s lives. That is what’s motivating us all to say yes, this is worthwhile to do.”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, members of the Boston Symphony traveled to Haiti occasionally to work with musicians in Port-au-Prince. However, as far as members of BLUME Haiti know, the March 2017 service trip by Utah Symphony musicians represents the first time such a large group of professional U.S. orchestra musicians has traveled en masse to share their knowledge with young Haitian music students. 

“Music is a key pillar of cultural expression in Haiti; indeed, we have seen over and over again the transformative power of music and know what an impact the Haitian National Orchestral Institute will have on the lives of the participants,” said BLUME Haiti founder Janet Anthony, who is a music professor at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin.” It is an honor for BLUME Haiti to partner with the Utah Symphony and our Haitian colleagues, as we work together to create an opportunity to ransform young lives, to do our part to offer the possibility of change in the life trajectories of our Haitian students.” 

In addition to the Utah Symphony musicians, Salt Lake City-based luthier (a builder and repairer of string instruments) J.P. Lucas will join the group to teach string instrument repair. Haitian-born conductor Canes Nicolas, who is currently a visiting professor of music at Southern Utah University, will accompany the group to his home nation to act as assistant to Utah Symphony Music Director Thierry Fischer.

“When the opportunity was presented to me to join 14 of our Utah Symphony musicians in Haiti to share our musical knowledge, I did not hesitate in saying yes,” said Mr. Fischer, who will conduct a concert with Haitian student musicians at the conclusion of the workshop. ”I felt it was so important to participate in sharing the transformative gift of classical music and am humbled for the chance to make a lasting impact on the music students of Haiti. It is an honor for me to be a part of such an important landmark mission.”

Although it is not a Utah Symphony | Utah Opera sponsored trip – each musician will be funding his or her own travel expenses – the organization is deeply committed to supporting the initiative. 

“We are inspired and committed to supporting this exciting initiative of our orchestra musicians as they embark upon a humanitarian and educational mission to Haiti. Music is a universal language that breaks down barriers and opens up opportunities,” said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera President and CEO Paul Meecham. “There could be no better example of this in action, as Utah Symphony musicians choose to give of their time and talent through music to serve communities in need. We are immensely proud of them and Maestro Fischer for their enthusiasm in bringing their knowledge, passion and musical expertise to talented musical youth of Haiti. They will be wonderful ambassadors of Utah Symphony!”

Two fundraising events involving chamber groups playing at art galleries will raise funds to help support travel expenses and housing for 100 Haitian music students from around the country to attend the workshop. 

On Sunday, December 11 at 4 PM, long-time symphony and opera supporter, Diane Stewart, will host a chamber concert at Modern West Art Gallery (177 East 200 South) featuring Principal Flute Mercedes Smith performing Katherine Hoover’s Kokopelli and members of the Utah Symphony strings section playing Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major. The $100 donation entry will go towards the student musician travel fund. For more information, please email info@modernwestfineart.com

Another chamber concert to support the Haitian student musician travel fund will be held in Park City on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at 4 PM at Susan Swartz Studios (260 Main Street, Park City). For more information, visit www.susanswartz.com.

Tax deductible receipts will be issued for people making donations to support the cause. Checks can be made payable to “Utah Symphony | Utah Opera” with the footnote “BLUME Haiti” on the payment. Online contributions may be made at www.usuo.org/give  (please include BLUME Haiti in the note section). For more information on BLUME Haiti efforts, please contact John Eckstein at jeckstein2004@yahoo.com.
Media Contact: 
Renée Huang – Public Relations Director
rhuang@usuo.org (801) 869-9027

PHOTO CREDIT: Julie Edwards

MOTUS in Haiti

James Hall, Yuki MacQueen and John Eckstein

James Hall, Yuki MacQueen and John Eckstein

Musical Adventure in Haiti

Three musicians from the Utah Symphony (James Hall, oboe, Yuki MacQueen, violin, John Eckstein, cello) decided to travel to Haiti this July to volunteer at a music camp run by the Holy Trinity Music School, based in Port-au-Prince. Their summer camp was on a campus just 40 miles West of Port-au-Prince (but 2 hours by car) in the village of Grand Goâve. What a learning experience for us! Although Haiti has gone through so many tough times, the students are overflowing with talent and hope.


Challenging Environment

Tropical heat and the absence of air conditioning had the faculty guest rooms feeling more like a steam sauna, so we grabbed our mosquito nets and slept out on the roof the first night.

Very Receptive Students

Most lessons took place outside because of the occasional breeze, so any shady spot became an instant teaching studio. We could hear other lessons and rehearsals from every direction, but the attention of the students was admirable. Despite the language barriers (Haitian Creole and French are the principal languages), we taught through gestures and demonstration.

ReedsHaitiJames wrote: “I found the students that I taught excited and enthusiastic about the oboe. I was able to give each of them reeds I had brought from Utah, and also managed to provide them with more reeds by the time I left. What with all the teaching, coaching, rehearsing and reed-making my schedule was pretty jam-packed, but the experience was very rewarding given the student’s focus and eagerness to learn and improve”.


John and Yuki each played a selection of solo Bach for the evening vespers assembly.


Faculty Performance

On chamber music performance night we performed a movement from Schubert’s two cello Quintet and the entire Mozart Oboe Quartet, collaborating with Janet Anthony, cellist and long time organizer of Blume Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education) from Wisconsin, Usman Peguero, an accomplished violinist from the Dominican Republic, and Marta Kocon, a fabulous violist/educator/conductor from Denmark . It was terrific to get to know all the other volunteer faculty members from far and wide as well. An impressive bunch of dedicated people! James Hall wrote: Performing in the ever-present heat and humidity certainly was a challenge, but the positive and enthusiastic atmosphere made up for any discomfort we were experiencing.


Another Music School in the South

After our time at the summer music camp, we headed south to the scenic and historic seaside town of Jacmel. There, we also had the opportunity to teach and meet students from the Ecole De Musique Dessaix-Baptiste. Music is alive and well in Haiti, and although living conditions are challenging (to put it mildly) we were impressed by the musical talent and positive spirit of these young students.

Donations of Music Supplies from MOTUS

We are tremendously grateful for the materials so generously donated by our colleagues and friends which we were able to transport with us to Haiti and bring to the students in both Grand Goâve and Jacmel. They were all extremely thankful and appreciative, especially given the difficulties they face in obtaining music-related supplies. For more information about supporting BLUME (Building Leaders Using Music Education, please visit BLUME Haiti.


The Musical Journey, Pt.27


Time flies when you’re having fun!

Symphony Guild lunch with Lisa, Henriette Mohebbi and Bob

Symphony Guild lunch with Lisa, Henriette Mohebbi and Bob

“Time flies when you’re having fun!” and somehow our year long sabbatical has come to an end. Our goals that started with a canoe ride on a quiet lake in northern Michigan were met. The stack of books have been read, my new “Quotation Etudes” book is now on sale, Lisa’s scrapbook of concerts is complete and we’ve just finished rejoining the Utah Symphony in performing eight Beethoven symphonies in nine days! It will be difficult to decide which two ballets, 22 operas, 50 recitals or 80 orchestra concerts will be our most memorable, or which hall or conductor is our favorite, or which city the most exciting, but allow me to recap some of what we experienced over a 12-month period.

During the months of October and November we spent our time at Interlochen, Michigan. Cathy and “Dude” (my dad) Stephenson graciously invited us to stay in their cabin on the shores of Green Lake. Interlochen is the site of all my summertime childhood memories, along with those of my five brothers. It’s where we were all surrounded by the Arts, where we learned to swim, fish, water ski and sail, where we used to run the 100 yard dash, where we would run free for eight weeks every summer and where I first held an oboe. Like two of my brothers, it’s where I went to high school and amazingly where my oboe teacher, Dan Stolper, still teaches! His resume of successful students is the largest of any oboe teacher anywhere. Sometimes you just get lucky in life and I was lucky enough to be the son of someone who had the skill and energy to direct Gilbert and Sullivan operettas every summer.

Besides the beauty of seeing the fall colors and looking at the ever-changing lake out our front windows, being in this setting helped give us inspiration for our various sabbatical projects. Lisa and I had stacks of music we wanted to get to know. I had etudes to both practice and compose, books about baroque performance practices to read and flute and oboe music to discover. We took time to enjoy being with Mr. Stolper, meeting with the faculty and students and attending a variety of concerts. Being a student there is like being a member of royalty and for the tuition of $54,000 that’s understandable! The facilities are amazing and the cafeteria food very good. We loved the time spent with old family friends like Bruce Douglass and Barb Sandys, four of my cousins, college classmates of Lisa’s, high school classmates of mine and Catherine Valovick of Traverse City.

Utah Symphony woodwinds

Utah Symphony woodwinds

Using Michigan as a starting point, we began a road trip that included seeing “Electra” in Detroit and staying with the terrific Florin family of St. Clair. We went to hear the orchestras of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston. We saw “Aida” and “Carmen” at the Met and “Il Trovatore” and the Chicago Symphony in Chicago. We visited my birthplace, Ann Arbor, and heard the San Francisco Symphony on tour. We knew players in every orchestra and in New York we spent as much time as possible with our son, Kendall. He was in the process of completing his master’s degree at The New School of Social Research. He was an excellent tour guide and chose some great restaurants for us to try.

Besides some wonderful concerts, we visited the homes of nine U.S. Presidents. We also enjoyed the sights of Washington D.C. including a tour of the White House and the Library of Congress, which houses a spectacular flute collection. Lisa was in her own “candy store”.

We returned to Michigan and before long, were shoveling snow. The edges of the lake were beginning to freeze and the leaves had fallen. The loons continued their calls across the lake and two beautiful white swans repeated the daily routine of paddling before us on the smooth surface of the shoreline. We boarded up the cabin and drove back to Utah. After having heard the orchestras of Colorado and St. Louis heading east, we stopped in Kansas City heading west to hear that orchestra. They have a new hall that is really fabulous and the musicians were all excited about their future.

After the holiday season and some time in Salt Lake City, we spent a month in Los Angeles. We continued with our projects and heard the orchestras of Los Angeles, San Diego, Rotterdam (on tour) and Pasadena. We heard a couple of operas and the L.A. Chamber Orchestra. It was nice being in a place that was comparatively warm and where we didn’t need to shovel snow! It was fun to spend time with all the Byrnes relatives in the L.A. area.

On March 12th we took the direct flight from Salt Lake City to Paris. Maja Bogdanovic allowed us the use of her apartment in Paris and, despite the jet lag, we began taking advantage of every day. That was pretty much our motto for the next three months. By the middle of June we had been to nine different countries. Some of the highlights included time spent with Mary and Lee Stephenson in Amsterdam, Brussels and London, Lisa’s baroque flute lessons with Rachel Brown, visiting homes of famous composers, seeing the “Ring Cycle” in Vienna, seeing “Don Giovanni” where Mozart first performed the opera in Prague, hearing Interpreti Veneziani perform in Venice, hearing Radek Baborak play horn with the Afflatus Woodwind Quintet, walking the forests of Karlsbad where Beethoven and Tchaikovsky strolled, seeing the rebuilt cities of Dresden and Berlin, the waters of Lake Como, the palaces of Versailles, Sanssouci and Esterhazy, the Alps of Switzerland and the architecture of so many spectacular European cities. We took a stab at several different languages and several different cuisines and put a lot of kilometers on our shoes.

Bob's published etudes

Bob’s published etudes

The months of June and July took Lisa and me in opposite directions. Lisa continued her association with the Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop at Humboldt University and I went to southern Tennessee for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. It was fun getting back to these familiar environments, seeing old friends, practicing, coaching and teaching.

A lot can change in a year’s time. Our daughter Chelsea became Mrs. Mutscheller, Kendall got his Master’s diploma, our nephew Tucker married Colleen Hampton, buildings popped up in Salt lake City and at least half a dozen talented musicians joined us on stage at Abravanel hall as members of the Utah Symphony. It promises to be an exciting season. We anticipate drawing from this musical journey and for those who have read the articles and seen the pictures, thanks for following along. We’ll keep trying to bring life to the notes and something notable to life.

-Robert Stephenson and Lisa Byrnes