From Denver to Haiti: An Orchestra on the Road
Catherine Beeson is a busy woman.
As a musician and education leader for the Colorado Symphony, she performs double-duty as Assistant Principal Viola and Director of Community Education Programs.
"I play music because I love it and I can't live without it," says Beeson, "and I bring it to other people because there is nothing more rewarding than creating community by sharing."
Beeson cultivates and grows this community through Colorado Symphony's MusiCurious education programs, which bring on-site mentorship to K-12 students throughout metro Denver while drawing 25,000 attendees to Youth Concerts every year.
MusiCurious has expanded to include adult education programs and provide sensory-friendly concerts, as well.
Catherine's goals are as ambitious as her workload, and it's little surprise that she found a kindred spirit in Denver native and local high school student Zach Harris, who founded the Haiti Youth Orchestra under his parents' non-profit organization Road to Hope Haiti.
Zach, who has two adopted Haitian siblings, was just fourteen when he started the Haiti Youth Orchestra in 2012 and began supporting Orchestra St. Pierre, a high school youth orchestra in the small, inland community of Mirebalais.
In 2014, he reached out to the Colorado Symphony for help in collecting instruments for the students.
"Our initial goal was to collect instruments to support Zach's project, and we did for two years," Beeson explains. "We eventually began brainstorming a partnership that could create a system of self-sustaining youth orchestras in the many communities and towns far from Port-au-Prince, where access to arts programs is limited."
This partnership eventually culminated in a week-long trip to Haiti in June 2016 for three Colorado Symphony musicians: trombonist Paul Naslund, clarinetist Abby Raymond, and violist Helen McDermott arrived in Port-Au-Prince on June 6 with donated instruments and supplies in tow, tired but ready to teach the equally-eager Haiti Youth Orchestra students.
Within just one day of side-by-side lessons with the Symphony musicians, Mirebalais' Youth Orchestra members were able to play two songs all the way through.
One of the first pieces they learned and performed was "Le Desalinienne," Haiti's national anthem—which they have since performed at the beginning of their school year and to celebrate the opening of another school.
This was mere weeks before Hurricane Matthew descended upon Haiti in October, hitting Mirebelais with severe winds and rain. While the community was spared the worst of the storm's damages, it underwent days of darkness and extreme weather.
Incredibly, three students from the HYO—cellist Fencia Clervoyant, her older brother violinist Peter Clervoyant, and trumpeter David Marcellus—were still able to travel to Denver for a week-long visit of shadowing, receiving instruction, and socializing with the Colorado Symphony musicians this past November, which can be read about on our blog.
All of Haiti Youth Orchestra's programs—including the students' November visit to Denver—are supported by Zach Harris' own fundraising efforts, and have been since their founding in 2012.
It's a testament to his dedication and mission-driven work: "Music has played such a large role in my life. I loved the idea of taking energetic, young kids who had never even seen some of these instruments and [helping them create] their very own orchestra."
Beeson shares the same passion for making and sharing music. "Music literally vibrates at a frequency that causes us to change on a molecular level," she says. "I am called, compelled, to bring that to everyone I can."
And that she does. We know the influence and results of the Colorado Symphony's music education programs are a success not just because of statistics, but because the students tell us so. We keep their thank-you notes and drawings at our desks next to our family pictures and pen cups.
Programs like these wouldn't be possible without the generous support of you, our Colorado Symphony patrons and donors. Your ticket purchases are vital and valued, but make up about 43% of our revenue. The rest of our operating costs come from donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations.