Serenade for Haiti: Interview With Producer Christy McGill

“Music poured from everywhere-- from car radios, from sidewalk drumming bands, from spontaneous RaRa processions, from the sounds of roosters crowing all the time, to Carnivale parades, from transistor radios to all of the open windows of churches on Sunday. Music... is everywhere in Haiti. As if in the air. It's life.”

-Christy McGill, the producer of Serenade for Haiti, writes of her time spent in Port-au-Prince working on this documentary.

Serenade-For-HaitiI_PS1.jpg

The film was spurred by the director, Owsley Brown, taking interest and wanting to capture the incredible community of the Sainte Trinité Ecole de Musique. This classical music school, located in a “very troubled corner of a pretty chaotic city” according to Christy McGill, shows a different truth about Haiti. As revealed in the film, the artists and talents in this oasis of music are able to transcend the simplifications and labels constantly used in the media, showing Haiti in a new light that isn’t solely “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”

Documenting both the period before and after the earthquake in 2010, music was seen to take on an even greater role in the community after the devastation. “Children as young as 4-years-old were seen in days afterward rooting through the rubble at the destroyed school campus in search of their instruments,” describes Christy. Students came together to “rehearse in the rubble -- as if the classrooms were still standing.”

There is much to learn from this film then, in terms of history, culture and more. Christy however hopes that ultimately it shows that even in the face of great loss or adversity, one can “ always draw from deep within themselves and find strength, connection to their country's culture, and, most importantly, to hear the beauty and importance of their own voices to keep going.” Music and art are incredibly powerful tools, and as seen in this film, they can help lift ourselves up, and lift up our communities as well.

Serenade for Haiti_violin child student_reduced.jpg

 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

1) What was originally the inspiration for starting filming in Haiti? How did the subject come about?

The film began as a desire by the director, Owsley Brown, to document what he had discovered-- this incredible community of the Sainte Trinité Ecole de Musique that comprised a serious classical music school in a very troubled corner of a pretty chaotic city, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The media constantly labels Haiti as "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere" and while true, what we all found was something quite different: an oasis of a music school filled with artists and vitality and teaching and health and well-being, from children as young as 3 years-old to graduates of high school and the makings of the first national symphony of Haiti. The film sprung out of this core discovery of one very special artistic community and a desire to show the world a different truth about Haiti.

 

2) Were you also there both before and after the earthquake? Did the way people listened to music change before and after the earthquake?

I was there on the ground in Haiti as a field producer in 2014 (the last third of the film) which was  4 years after the catastrophic earthquake. What I can attest to is the absolute essentialness of music as a part of the living fabric of Haiti in 2014. Music poured from everywhere-- from car radios, from sidewalk drumming bands, from spontaneous RaRa processions, from the sounds of roosters crowing all the time, to  Carnivale parades, from transistor radios to all of the open windows of churches on Sunday. Music... is everywhere in Haiti. As if in the air. It's life.

 

3) What was the effect of having music in the community following the earthquake?

I think having music-- and each other in the music school-- was one of the most core life forces available to this community after the earthquake. Children as young as 4-years-old were seen in days afterward rooting through the rubble at the destroyed school campus in search of their instruments. As we hope the film illustrates, the will to come back together and play music and to sing together drove students and faculty alike to return and rehearse in the rubble-- as if the classrooms were still standing.

 

4) What do you hope people will gain from this film? What effect do you hope it has on them?

This is a great question. I truly hope that this film provides hope and perhaps even some guidance for how individuals of any age or any community who have experienced great loss or adversity can always draw from deep within themselves and find strength, connection to their country's culture, and, most importantly, to hear the beauty and importance of their own voices to keep going. There is an almost mysterious and totally magical agency of transcendence that music and art have in our lives. When we connect with the songs deep within ourselves, we can lift ourselves up, and lift each other up.

 

Serenade for Haiti_Davd Conducts_(c).JPG