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Jessica Duchen
Tuesday 4th May 2010
Out of a 'Grave'

One aspect of the Haitian earthquake tragedy that hasn't been mentioned much in Britain is what has happened to the music school in Port-au-Prince. 

A message arrived from JRI Records last night, telling me about Romel Joseph, founder and executive director of The New Victorian School and the Walenstein Musical Organisation in the Haitian capital, a violinist and teacher blind from the age of five. He had just gone up to his school's third floor to deliver a message when the quake struck. Buried in the ruins of the building for 18 hours with crushed legs and a fractured left hand, not knowing whether he would ever be able to play his violin again, he kept himself going by thinking of his family, praying and mentally running through every concerto in his repertoire.

Here he is, talking about it:

Joseph, raised in poverty in Haiti, had won scholarships that enabled him to study first in Cincinnati and later at the Juilliard School in New York where he gained a Masters degree. Instead of following a performing career, though, he went back to Haiti to devote himself to giving educational, musical and performance opportunities to Haitian children.

"I came from nothing," says Joseph. "One pair of socks. Holes in my shoes. You have to do what you can for others." 

Ten years to the day before the earthquake, the Victorian School, which Romel founded in 1991, had been destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt, renamed and reopened. Now it faces the process all over again. Meanwhile Romel, who was in hospital in Miami for two months and is still receiving treatment, aims to clear the rubble, find temporary shelter in which students can complete their year's study and begin rebuilding as soon as possible; ultimately he dreams of creating a performance hall to host all types of music and events. Right now, though, the priority is to find a way for the surviving children to continue their education and find comfort in music rather than focusing on the traumas they've experienced.

They are of course in desperate need of donations and you can help by clicking here (monetary donations via Network for Good) or here on the school's own website: they urgently require material supplies such as books, computers, stationery and, not least, musical instruments. Stevie Wonder has sent a keyboard.

Here's a clip from CNN about Romel and his recovery.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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