Vitalem Alriche

Trip to Haiti (Summer 2010): Does Music Matter?

Six months after the 12 January 2010 earthquake, progress is slow. Millions or billions of dollars (who is counting?) in aid seem not to matter. The rubbles, the tent cities, and the filth are still present. The rebuilding of Haiti is a puzzle. Uncertainty looms.

To put it in a broader perspective, consider the losses, the trauma, and the despair the victims are facing: destroyed or damaged homes, injuries, or death of loved ones. I have heard anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 dead. It could just as well be half a million, since no one really knows. I realize that statistics in Haiti are not always reliable, but similar figures have come from the international media. Whatever the real number might be the losses are colossal.

With all the pressing needs that preoccupy the Haitian people, why would music matter to them?

As Sister Anne Marie Bickerstaff once put it (Time Magazine 3 December 1979), “We must feed the soul as well as the body.” All right then, what does that really mean? I would like to believe she meant music (or all creative arts, for that matter) speaks to the soul. When reached a certain level, this communication nourishes the soul.

Consequently, music is not just rhythm, melody, harmony, or timbre. It is rather a unified whole, which can do wonders. Indeed, we have witnessed countless examples of the power of music to communicate meaningful messages. Sometimes the artist is the message. While at other times the message is expressed through the art. The ideal combination is where the artist and the art become one.

Music matters. Doesnt it? Consider the impact of the following key events: Woodstock (1969); We are the World (1985); Sarafina (1987); and the recently televised benefit concert for Haitian quake victims, Ensemble pour Haiti (2010). Have you wondered why artists were among the first ones to make a coordinated contribution to the humanitarian relief effort in Haiti?

As I get ready to travel back home for the first time since the earthquake, I am bracing myself for the unthinkable. Yet, I am prepared to mourn the losses, just as I am thankful to have the opportunity to reconnect with family, friends, and students. Some tears, a smile, a handshake, or a hug can be healing and comforting. If there is one thing I would like to accomplish during this trip, it is be able to make a difference. Beyond its essential nature as a creative expression, music is also a tool, a vehicle for change. Not only does music matter, but also for some in Haiti, it may be all that matters.


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