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Ozark Moutain Music and The Haiti Project Overview

The small village of Cherident is located high in the beautifully tranquil mountains of Haiti.  St. Matthias Church anchors the lives of the village residents and minister Pere Frederic Menelas attends to their spiritual and physical needs.  Cherident is a warm and inviting community of believers.  

Last summer, three young talented fiddlers and their chaperones, under the auspices of the Haiti Foundation, traveled from Branson, Missouri to Cherident to conduct a week-long music camp.  Music is an important part of the Haitian culture, and the fiddlers thought perhaps a music camp would be warmly received.  The traveling musicians were members of a troupe of musicians called the Possum Holler Fiddlers

Amazingly, the trip exceeded expectations.  The week-long experience was life-changing for the musicians who attended and for the young Haitians who participated in the music camp.  During the week-long stay the fiddlers played many gospel tunes, some classical music, and even a few old-time Ozark fiddle tunes.  The presence of the young musicians was an encouragement to the minister of the Cherident church,  Pere Fred and the residents of Cheridient who enthusiastically invited the musicians to return. 

Now, Ozark Mountain Music wants to do more than just send the Possum Holler Fiddlers back to Haiti. They want to make a lasting contribution to the youth of Cherident, by establishing a music program.

Here are our goals for the Haiti project.

  • Hire a qualified, full-time Haitian music teacher, initially for the next three years, thus adding music to the curriculum of Cherident’s high school.
  • Host a one-week music camp each of the next three years, in Cherident, 
  • Procure musical instruments to take to the Haitian students.

Ozark Mountain Music is embarking on this effort with the support of Haiti Education Foundation. HEF is an Arkansas-based organization that is ending illiteracy by operating Christian schools in Haiti’s mountains. Today, HEF funds schools in thirty-five villages, including Cherident.

Haiti Projects – How it Came About.

Often someone comes by and tells us how nice it is to hear the Possums excel.   Then they remind us about how so often today’s news only reports on the errant behavior of so many young people.   We sense the pleasure they share with us.  Music does cut across generations.  

Of all the above statements, however, the one most difficult to verify is the one about bridging cultural differences:  Does music really cut across cultures?

Finally, we have experienced the verification of this statement, too.  

After a couple of years of trying to put together an international experience for Ozark Mountain Music in a developing nation, we learned about the Haiti Education Foundation in Eldorado, Arkansas and director, Susan Turbeville.  After a telephone call followed by further communication we found a host country for our travels.  Susan invited us to travel to Haiti for a week of music.   

And so, in mid-July 2017 a small contingent of three young musicians, Reuben Fansler, Luke Thomas, and Harry Lance and four adults, Harry’s father Steve, Susan Turbeville, director the Haiti Education Foundation, and Bob and Karlene McGill departed for Haiti.  After an airline flight from Springfield via Dallas and Miami, we landed in Port au Prince on Tuesday morning, July 11.  This was followed by a four hour trip on a rough and curvy road heading south and east into the high mountains to the village of Cheridient.  There we were most graciously greeted by our host, Priest Pere Fred and his wife who promptly oversaw the serving of our first meal.  We were happy to be at our destination.  

To relax, the very first evening, Luke, Harry, and Reuben got their fiddles out and headed to the porch that sided the hospitality lodge where we were staying.  Within minutes they were playing several old gospel tunes that they would be teaching in following days.  To our surprise, a teenage Haiti crawled over the railing to the porch and joined the group.  He held a guitar in his hand.  Within minutes, he, too, was performing alongside our three musicians.  By the end of the first tune the musicians were trading thumbs up and high-fives.  Those of us watching sensed he was an astonishingly good musician.  Their bonding as musicians was immediate.  The musicians continued to jam for another hour without, of course, being able to converse in any language other than the language of music.  We felt success at the end of the very first night.

And so it went for the next five days. 

Our practice hall was in the beleaguered Cherident Church, a building rebuilt for the first time after incurring devastating damage resulting from the earthquake of 2010 when concrete walls and roofs tumbled down on structures across the nation killing roughly 230,000 people.  Haiti, and the village of Cherident again suffered major damage in 2016 when Hurricane Harvey ravaged the nation.  The storm in this disaster destroyed the community grade and high schools and tore off the church roof.  Today, without a doubt, the church building and its pastor remained the center point of stability in the lives of the community.  

It was in this building, still needing substantial repairs, that for the next four days Luke and Harry taught and jammed daily with twenty or so young Haitian musicians while Reuben headed to the balcony to teach a group of young girls to play the recorder.  It was a week of sharing centered around gospel tunes, Ozark fiddle tunes and occasionally a contemporary hymn.  (You should of heard ‘em play and sing “Hallelujah”.)

All efforts came together at the Sunday church service. St Michael was filled with worshippers well before the service began.  

Worship began with the playing of the Haitian national anthem followed by the “Star Spangled Banner.”  For the next two and a half hours the service progressed through the reading of the Word, a sermon, responsive readings, communion, and the performances of the young musical groups—first their musicians, then ours, then a combination of the fiddlers.   Even a choir of young Haitian preschools gathered on stage to sing “kum-ba-Ya” in Creole, of course.  The final tune of the day’s service, believe it or not, was a rambunctious playing of that good old Ozark tune, “Boil that Cabbage Down.”

Late Sunday afternoon after the church service our group was traveling back through the mountains over the rough and winding dirt road to Port au Prince where we over-nighted in a hospitality room in Port au Prince.  By late Monday morning we were back in Miami and headed back to Springfield but only after a several hour-long delay in Dallas.  Finally, late Monday night we were back in Springfield and it was good to be home.   

Our conversation on the return was of the awesome adventure we had just experience in Haiti.  The Haitians could not have been more cordial or appreciative.  Their invitation to return was heartwarming.  But this nation was different.  Haiti is the the poorest country in the Northern Hemisphere.  In this largely rural nation, much of the economy revolves around subsistence farming with families tending their own gardens of corn and beans, raising goats, and gathering fruits from the forests.  Still, their poverty was not one of spirit.  Even in a subsistence farming society, we found industrious satisfied people who so often had a smile on their faces and charity in their hearts.  Certainly, they were aspirations for their own future as education, particularly for children, was highly prized. (For example, we found grade school students motivated to walk two miles to school each morning, then studying all day before repeating the trip home that evening.)   And, we discovered that Haitians do not exhibit the incessant clamor for “stuff” that so often dominates the lives of us Americans.  Their poverty was not of the soul.  The visit buoyed our own hopes.  We all agreed that we were fortunate to have been a part of this awesome trip.  

We also discovered for ourselves what we had already been told so often, that we would be rewarded far beyond any contributions we would make to the village of Cherident and the congregation of St. Michael.  My reflection since returning is that with so much antagonism and discord in the United States and the world, even to the point of paralysis, here in our own country we can, even in the smallest of things make an impact on someone else’s life.  It’s clear that in so doing we bring greater rewards to ourselves than to those who receive from our efforts.  It makes us feel so much better and gives us some hope for the future.  Undoubtedly, we have much we can learn from the people of Haiti.  

So, if you are planning on doing something kind for someone sometime soon, why not consider taking a musician along with you.  You’ll all be glad you did.