Berklee Raises Its Voice for Haiti

Danielle Dreilinger
March 10, 2010
After tragedies such as the earthquake in Haiti, says Berklee president Roger H. Brown, communities need to reflect, and then use that time as "a way to commit ourselves to becoming stronger, better helpers."
Student poets Garrett Frierson (left) and Scott Kapelman ask, "What constitutes a 'looter'?"
Professor Darcel Wilson performs "The Greatest Love of All."
Bill Elliott, a contemporary writing and production professor, plays a composition by Berklee student Bruno Valverde, who lived through the earthquake.
Student poets (from left) Sarah Bonneville, Jazmin McCray, Jennifer Ayala, and Joshua James shake listeners from complacency, saying, "This <em>can</em> happen to you."
Student pianist Christian Li accompanies Wilson.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

It's unusual to find a moment's silence at a music college. But that's exactly what Berklee president Roger H. Brown called for at A Time for Haiti on February 23.

"Sometimes it's hard to know what to do. I just think it's very important to stop and let the compassion we have for people sink in," he told a lunchtime audience at the Berklee Performance Center. In addition, the college held a concert that evening, and president Brown created a webpage listing charities for direct contributions.

Of course, the silence didn't last long, moving on to words and notes with the power to stir listeners to action, such as a letter and a composition by Berklee student Bruno Valverde, who lost his mother in the January 12 earthquake.

"I was in the front yard of my house when the earth started to move. . . I could hear the people scream and scream," read his friend Martin Nessi. "It felt like the end of the world."

As the words sunk in, contemporary writing and production professor Bill Elliott and violinist Melissa Bull played an arrangement of Valverde's piano piece "Le Parfum d'une Tasse de Thé Vert." Perhaps the composer meant only to evoke the peace of sitting with a cup of tea, but in context, the violin lines seemed both plaintive and hopeful.

Student poets from the Berklee Poetry Slam Scene club took the stage—and the BPC floor—to invoke anger and frustration. "Now they're all just bodies . . . and they do not get up. Get up! Get up!" exhorted Jennifer Ayala, Sarah Bonneville, Jazmin McCray, and Joshua James. Garrett Frierson and Scott Kapelman ran through the aisles urging audience members to stand.

Frierson and Kapelman also performed a piece Kapelman initially wrote for Armisted Christian's Flo'ology class, describing a so-called looter beaten to death by an angry crowd. At first he was "a little hesitant" to participate in the concert, Kapelman said afterwards, but decided "it would be a great opportunity to perform."

"As musicians, we have the power to bring people together and to heal broken hearts," said Adam Owens, Student Government Association president—a truth professor Darcel Wilson proved as she sang the afternoon's final number, the Whitney Houston hit "The Greatest Love of All." Accompanied by student pianist Christian Li, Wilson gave new meaning to words everyone had heard countless times. Her voice started at nearly a whisper, then rang out to the rafters as photos of children in refugee camps scrolled behind her.

All proceeds from the concert went to Haiti relief organizations.