Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: Music Matters: 'Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation: Tugging on Our Global Heartstrings' by Carolyn Desrosiers

Shortly after the Instrument Loan Program was developed, the REB Foundation’s second program followed as a complementary way to help young artists pursue their musical careers. Grants for Education and Career are given to young artists in difficult financial circumstances for expenses not covered by traditional scholarships, such as lessons, entrance fees to competitions, audition recording sessions, accompanist fees, and instrument repair and maintenance. Currently the REB Foundation supports 25 different young artists through the Instrument Loan Program and the Grants for Education and Career. “That’s a lot to keep track of for one person,” says Hannah.

The REB Foundation does have one other staff member, but his time is dedicated solely to working on the Foundation’s third program, The String Student’s Library of Music by Black Composers, a substantial endeavor to research, commission, and compile classical works by composers of African descent. Rachel first became interested in this subject in 1997, when with the help of Chicago’s Center for Black Music Research, she compiled and recorded “Violin Concertos by Black Composers from the 18th and 19th Centuries” with the Encore Chamber Orchestra. Her goal now is to publish a curriculum for both beginner and professional musicians to acquaint them with the rich heritage of Black music. “We’re hoping to publish the first couple of books within the next year starting with Violin Book One which correlates with Suzuki Books One and Two,” Hannah shared. The books will be available on the REB Foundation website as well as in commercial music stores.                       

   A playlist of Rachel's performances of music by Black composers.

The fourth major component of the REB Foundation is the more recent Global HeartStrings program, which gathers supplies to support classical musicians in the developing world. The idea to add the Global HeartStrings program to the REB Foundation’s mission actually came from Hannah in 2009. “Rachel is an international soloist so she gets e-mails from a lot of different people…but she started getting these e-mails from people in Africa saying ‘Would you be able to send us your old discarded strings? We don’t have any strings.’ These people had not changed their strings in over 20 years…and they wrote asking for the strings that she considered worn out because they would still be so much better than what they had.”

Something needed to be done. Hannah was in college at Peabody at the time and saw an opportunity to hold a donation drive in the Conservatory. Donations included a trumpet, a lot of music accessories and sheet music, and later on a number of violins. The REB Foundation started asking people to hold drives of their own and little by little, they were able to amass enough instruments and materials to begin shipping overseas. (Learn how to hold a drive on their website.) Hannah says she’s always getting random boxes of donations in the mail, whether from the music sorority Sigma Alpha Iota or from the Eagle Scouts. She calls it “the crowdfunding of music accessories.”

“Every professional musician has something sitting in their closet that they no longer want…every music student has something that they’ve outgrown that they’re never going to use again. And we want those things. We want your half used rosin, your junk strings, that edition of music you bought that your teacher said ‘oh no, that’s not the right edition.’ All of that can be used; all of that is still good. And if everyone sends us just a little bit we’ll have a lot of stuff to give to people who need it.”

In addition to supporting programs in Haiti through BLUME Haiti, Global Heartstrings supports the Ghana National Symphony, and a professional string quartet in Nigeria. Both of those groups are made up of professional musicians, but they also do a lot of teaching. “We’ve sent a number of instruments to Ghana because we found out that the concertmaster had a studio of children who were coming to his house every day to practice since the only way they could practice was on his violin.” The REB Foundation is currently evaluating programs in Kenya, the Middle East, and South America for support. 

Rachel Barton Pine, Hannah Barton, Emmanuel, Daniel, and Taina.

BLUME Haiti President Janet Anthony found out about the REB Foundation through mutual colleague Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, the world’s foremost authority on Black classical composers, who serves as the Chief Advisor for the Music by Black Composers program. Dr. de Lerma taught for many years at Lawrence University and still lives in Appleton. “After Dominique let me know about Rachel's work with musicians in Nigeria, I contacted her…we have been in touch over the years and, now that the Global Heartstrings Foundation is more established, she was able to ensure that a significant donation could be made,” said Janet.

I asked Hannah, “Why music?” She replied, “Music is important. Obviously everyone needs basic things like clothes and shelter and food, but music feeds your soul. It’s a universal need as much as food and clothing, maybe even more so for people whose lives aren’t the most wonderful thing in the world. I find that the more privileged we are, the more comfortable our lives, the less music means anything. I have students who practice once a week but then you look at the kids in Haiti and the kids in Ghana and they are making music a priority in their lives because they need it that much.”

We at BLUME Haiti agree that music is a universal need and we think that it should be a universal right. We are so grateful for the support the REB Foundation has given us through Global Heartstrings, and we applaud the work they do in all of their program areas. “The extraordinary donation we received from Global Heartstrings will impact students and teachers at most of the schools we support located all over the country. From instruments, to supplies, to sheet music and method books, this donation will keep many young musicians happily playing and learning,” said Janet.

Rachel and Hannah- thank you for making music happen across the globe! 

By Garrett Schumann (@garrt

No comments: