Dr. Susan Nelson, a volunteer physician with the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership, delivers a flute donated by Memphis Symphony Orchestra board chair Gayle Rose to Myrielle Julian, 15, outside Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti. Myrielle’s father, Moliere Julian, asked Nelson if she could find a flute for his daughter, who recently started taking lessons. (Courtesy of the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership)
How does a beautifully restored flute get from a Memphis music store into the hands of a budding musician in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?
With a few e-mails, a bit of faith, some serendipity and, because this is 2014, Facebook.
The story starts in late March, as Dr. Susan Nelson was preparing for her 13th medical mission trip to Haiti with the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership.
She received an e-mail from Moliere Julian, a man she’d grown accustomed to seeing at Sunday services at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti.
Julian had found a teacher to give his 15-year-old daughter Myrielle flute lessons for free, he wrote in Kreyol, but he couldn’t afford an instrument.
For a moment, Nelson wasn’t sure what to do with Julian’s request. Ignore it? “If I give him a flute, next time is he going to want a car?” wondered Nelson, a primary care physician at Harbor of Health.
Nelson is not naive. She knows what some people will say — that in a country where three-quarters of the people live on less than $2 per day, a flute is a needless extravagance.
Those people have not seen the video taken after the January 2010 earthquake of orchestra members digging their instruments out of the rubble. Those people have not seen the blind Haitian handbell choir play.
“All those things that music does for children,” Nelson said, “that’s important for children in Haiti, too.”
The question of why turned into why not.
“What does it hurt to get the man a flute for his daughter?” Nelson decided.
So she passed along Julian’s request to just about everyone in her e-mail address book, including me.
I shared it on Facebook, which is where Gayle Rose, chairwoman of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra board, saw it.
If Rose had scrolled past my Facebook post, I would have never known — and who could have blamed her, what with the MSO’s recent financial woes?
Those who know Rose will not be surprised by what happened next. The local businesswoman and philanthropist called Amro Music, which gave her a discount on a restored Gemeinhardt flute.
Rose, a classically trained clarinetist, tested the flute herself and drove it to Nelson’s office. A few days later, Nelson was headed to Haiti with the instrument.
“The MSO believes in the transformative power of music and knows that this small gesture could change that young girl’s life,” Rose said.
On the first Sunday in April at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Nelson saw Julian and his daughter, Myrielle.
“As I pulled the new flute in its case, with the music books, out of my bag, I tried to tell the story of its origin and generous donor,” Nelson wrote in a blog post for the partnership’s website.
“Brittany, our pharmacist, was looking frantically through her Kreyol-English dictionary to help me. ‘Patron’ is the closest word we could retrieve. ‘Li jwe flit’ (She plays the flute). ‘Li vle ou aprann’ (She wants you to learn).”
Myrielle politely accepted the flute, but with so little emotion that Nelson wondered if she’d translated Julian’s request correctly.
But the next day, Myrielle and her father came to St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children where Nelson was caring for patients. The teen had written her name on the flute’s case.
“I asked her to play for me, and she happily agreed,” Nelson wrote.
“Placing her music book carefully in her lap, she played a scale. Haltingly and carefully, like a beginner. A musical connection between Memphis and Haiti has been born.”
Contact Wendi C. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-529-5896.