Instruments of hope in Haiti

By Abby Wilson ’10  /  Photography by John Cahill

HaitiIn 1970 John Jost stood in a practice room at Stanford University playing his violin and questioning his study of music in light of turmoil in the world. He chose to attend Goshen College in Indiana for a year to see life from a different perspective, and he spent a term in Haiti.

John Jost

A student learns to play the violin during the annual music camp. “Haiti often has some kind of crisis, either a hurricane or a political upheaval or something,” says Jost, “so the people are used to things never really settling down. But the music provides something regular, something stable, something really positive, and something to look forward to.”

John Jost

A student at the music camp where Jost teaches every summer performs on his recorder for friends and family.

“I really fell in love with the country and was interested in living there for a while,” said Dr. Jost, Bradley’s director of choral activities and professor of music. “But being a musician, I couldn’t see how I could be of much help.”

Then Jost met an Episcopal nun who ran a music school, Ecole Sainte Trinite, in Port-au-Prince. “She believed very strongly in giving students artistic opportunities, as well as teaching them to read and write,” said Jost.

Volunteering as a violin instructor at the school, Jost delayed his return to Stanford for four years. During that time he also taught at the school’s summer music camp at Ecole Sainte Croix.

“I made a personal commitment to continue teaching at the camp with whatever job I had in the States as often as I could,” said Jost. He has returned almost every summer for nearly 40 years. ROB WESSLER ’61, retired assistant professor of music at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, has accompanied Jost for the past 10 years.

The musical training has provided a better way of life for several students — some have gone on to study and teach music in the United States or in Haiti.

“People in Haiti have a much more spiritual way of seeing the world,” said Jost. “They see it as an arena of competing forces, and music is one of those forces. It’s a connection with things that are higher than ourselves. It’s a connection with a whole area of mystery.”

After Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January 2010, Jost wasn’t certain the camp would take place. The music school was destroyed along with hundreds of instruments. However, almost all of the school’s students survived.

Although the 2010 music camp was different, it was also especially meaningful. The camp’s participants, who are mostly high school aged, played a memorial concert behind the ruins of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.

“Music provides a sense of continuity, a sense of regularity, and I think it’s a connection,” said Jost. “Music is part of their survival kit. And survival is always an issue in Haiti.”

Plans are to build a temporary facility on the original site of the school by this spring. A permanent school will eventually be built there or in a safer part of town. Contact Jost at jrj@bumail.bradley.edu to donate instruments to the school. 

John Jost

Dr. John Jost, Bradley’s director of choral activities and director of music, teaches two Haitian violinists outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, 4,992 schools in Haiti were affected by the earthquake, 3,978 of which were destroyed.

John Jost

Participants in the annual summer music camp in Haiti perform a memorial concert behind the remains of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.