Home » News

Utah Symphony members will lend a hand in Haiti

First Published      Last Updated Dec 12 2016 09:13 am

Fifteen Utah Symphony musicians, including music director Thierry Fischer, will spend their spring break in Haiti coaching student musicians. Between now and then, they're raising money to cover room, board and travel costs for 100 students.

Cellist John Eckstein, violinist Yuki MacQueen and oboist James Hall spent a couple of weeks in July working with BLUME Haiti (it's an acronym for Building Leaders Using Music Education), a nonprofit founded by Eckstein's longtime friend Janet Anthony. "The kids are wonderful," said Eckstein, noting he'd given money to charity in the past, but never really given his time. "You feel a sense of attachment to them very quickly." After watching multiple children sharing the same Suzuki method books and using "a Xerox of a Xerox" for sheet music, MacQueen said she saw the amenities at Abravanel Hall and in Utah schools with new eyes.

MacQueen's Facebook posts about the project piqued the interest of several Utah Symphony colleagues, and Eckstein said he started thinking, "What if a group of us went to cover all the instruments?" Before long, a full roster had been assembled. Nearly every instrument in the orchestra is represented — in addition to Eckstein, MacQueen and Hall, there are violinists Claude Halter and David Langr, violist Roberta Zalkind, cellist Anne Lee, bassist Jens Tenbroek, flutist Mercedes Smith, clarinetist Lee Livengood, bassoonist Leon Chodos, trumpeter Jeff Luke, hornist Steve Proser and percussionist Eric Hopkins. They'll also take a luthier along to teach students about instrument repair.

"We're hoping for a fan-out effect," Eckstein said. "Janet [Anthony] suggested that working with 100 people can eventually have an effect on thousands."

Because so many orchestra members were going, Eckstein emailed Fischer to give him a heads-up and to ask if he had any advice; the Swiss conductor, who spent nearly half his childhood in Africa, summoned Eckstein and MacQueen to his office and told them he'd like to join the group.

"That was huge," Eckstein said of Fischer's commitment. "We were essentially too big to fail, but in a good way."

"I'm proud to be a part of this," Smith said, noting that the trip marks the biggest presence ever by an American orchestra in Haiti.

The musicians are traveling at their own expense and being housed by BLUME Haiti; Smith and a string quartet will play a benefit concert Sunday to raise funds for the students. Another fundraiser is planned in January. Eckstein noted that tax-deductible contributions can be made at usuo.org/give (enter "BLUME Haiti" in the note field).

When • Sunday, Dec. 11, 4 p.m.

Where • Modern West Fine Art, 177 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $100; seating is extremely limited, so be sure to email info@modernwest­fine­art.com to RSVP.