Thursday, October 15, 2015

Romel Joseph

Sr. Claire Marie's cousin, violinist Romel Joseph, died in Haiti this past week.

Romel Joseph, left, a Juilliard-trained violinist, lost his wife, their unborn child, and his music school in the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Two years later, he practiced for a concert, with his children, Bradley, center, on the piano, and Victoria, right, on violin. The family has raised money to help build a school of music in Port-au-Prince for children.
MARICE COHN BAND Miami Herald file

Violinist Romel Joseph, survivor of Haiti earthquake, dies at 56 

obituary (minus headline and photo) in the music section of Le Nouvelliste, the major newspaper in Port-au-Prince

As Sr. Claire Marie told me, his funeral was held today at the Cathedrale Sainte Trinite, Port-au-Prince, the cathedral of the Eglise Episcopale d'Haiti. On the Facebook page of the New Victorian School, the bilingual academic and music elementary school which he founded and directed, his daughter Victoria, also a violinist, confirmed this, saying,

"As you know already, Bradley and I are incredibly saddened to officially announce the loss of our beloved father, educator, violinist and Founder of The New Victorian School, Romel Joseph. As he is remembered, it is our hope that the focus not be on his passing but to the endless service he has given to his community and many around the world.

With the love and admiration for children and music education, our father embarked the ambitious journey of making his dream a reality. Without a doubt, the spirit of survival and resiliency that he demonstrated in the 2010 earthquake will continue to live in us and all the children in The New Victorian School. As a result, our 200 current students have embraced his vision at the school by marking its 25th anniversary beginning January 1, 2016. More than his professional and musical accomplishments, he is measured as a devoted husband, father, friend and teacher. "

I wish I had heard him play myself. I am glad to have been able to meet him, however briefly, back when I was living in Haiti. He came to Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra concerts, so there was opportunity for me to be introduced.

This is a recently posted video of one of his concerts in Holy Trinity Music School's Salle Sainte Cecile, which is - was - attached to Holy Trinity (Episcopal) Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.  Holy Trinity Music School was founded by our own Sr. Anne Marie, and Romel studied there, so there is yet another connection with us.

Romel Joseph's beautiful music and all his other achievements are all the more impressive when one learns he had a lifelong visual impairment. Clearly, it didn't stop him from using his gifts. As a child, he attended St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, founded by Sr. Joan; Sr. Claire Marie, too, is a graduate and taught there for a while before becoming a sister.
Ecole St Vincent - Facebook page
Centre St Vincent Pour Enfants Handicapes - Facebook page

As is mentioned above, he survived the 2010 earthquake in which he lost his wife and unborn child and spent 18 hours buried in rubble, keeping himself together by mentally playing concertos.

As a world-class violinist, he received media attention when, finally rescued, he was flown to a Miami hospital. As a result, Stevie Wonder sent him two of his keyboards as encouragement and so that he might practice and strengthen his fingers as he recovered.

Can you imagine breaking your fingers if you were a professional violinist? Obviously he also played keyboard - Sr. Claire Marie tells me, "he could play any instrument" - a wide variety, in any case.

And he did play again, despite cautions from doctors who thought this might not be possible. Furthermore, as he also vowed, his school was rebuilt and continues its work.

Romel Joseph, founder of The New Victorian School in Haiti, and his daughter Victoria perform at the Aventura Cultural Center in Miami on Jan. 8. It was Joseph's first performance since last year's earthquake.
Neil Oxenburg/Courtesy of Victoria Joseph via NPR

Quake Crushes Haitian Violinist's Hand, But Not His Spirit (NPR 2011)
Romel Joseph, a blind violinist who survived the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti after spending 18 hours pinned under concrete, played the violin at the rehabilitation center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in March 2010, just a few months after treatment. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

Read more here:

And here he is in 2014 with his daughter Victoria, playing a mini concert at the Miami hospital where he was treated following the earthquake.

Please keep his family, loved ones, and students in your prayers. 

If you wish to do something to honor his memory, you could post a memorial here:

You could also, I am sure, donate to his school (links above),
to the Holy Trinity Music School where he first studied the violin
Ecole de Musique Sainte Trinite Facebook page
or to Instrumental Change, a non-profit organization begun by a friend of mine that brings musical instruments to and otherwise supports a number of music programs in Haiti (including Holy Trinity Music School).
Instrumental Change Facebook page

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