Haiti Quake Crushes Violinist's Hand, But Not His Spirit Last January, Romel Joseph found himself trapped under the rubble of the collapsed school he founded in Port-au-Prince; his pregnant wife was killed. A year later, he has regained enough strength to start playing music again and is making good on a promise to rebuild the school.
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Quake Crushes Haitian Violinist's Hand, But Not His Spirit

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Quake Crushes Haitian Violinist's Hand, But Not His Spirit

Quake Crushes Haitian Violinist's Hand, But Not His Spirit

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GUY RAZ, host:

In Haiti, much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, still lies in ruin a year after last year's devastating earthquake. Just days after the disaster, we heard the story of how a violin sonata in A major composed by Cesar Franck in the 19th century helped to keep one of the victims alive.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Romel Joseph played this piece of music in his mind note for note as he sat trapped under the rubble of his music school for 18 hours. Joseph is a Juilliard-trained violinist who founded the New Victorian Music School in Port-au-Prince two decades ago. When the earthquake struck, he and his wife were inside. Tragically, she was killed.

Romel Joseph managed to live, but his left hand was crushed. When we spoke to him last year from his hospital bed, he made this promise.

Mr. ROMEL JOSEPH (Violinist): The only thing I do know is as soon I'm able to walk and I'm functional that I will go back to Haiti, and I will start the reconstruction of the Victorian School.

RAZ: Well, Romel Joseph has returned to Haiti to get the school going again. He's in Miami at the moment and he's on the line.

Romel Joseph, welcome back.

Mr. JOSEPH: Well, it's a pleasure to be with you guys again. And I would like to wish everyone a happy New Year 2011.

RAZ: Indeed. How are you doing?

Mr. JOSEPH: Well, my feet are not quite okay yet. My hand, I still have the iron plate in two fingers but it's a lot of improvement for sure from last year.

RAZ: You left Haiti after the quake, of course, to be treated. You have been back since. What is it like now?

Mr. JOSEPH: Oh, the first time was really amazing. It's like, wow, that's really what happened. And we have clean up done in Victorian School's space, and we are in the process of rebuilding a temporary shelter. The students have started school. I mean, Haiti has a long, long way to go. But however, we have hope that it's going to get there. I mean, we have to hope.

RAZ: One of the most amazing things about you in talking with you last year was your resilience, your ability to maintain your optimism and your hope. But I wonder over the past year, I mean, were there times where, say, you had trouble sleeping or you were just really deeply, deeply upset?

Mr. JOSEPH: I remember at the beginning after the earthquake, a few days, somehow I had this feeling that my wife, Lizzie(ph), was still alive, you know, and I really was not able to go and try to get her out. And that was very frustrating, unfortunately. And, you know, as I go through the whole treatment process, you know, because I don't like hospitals. There was a train near the hospital and it just made me think it was an earthquake, that I was back at night.

But, again, eventually, it's like, well, you know, life has to go on. So that -this is a whole new episode of my life and I have to follow the mission that I have for the rest of the time I have around.

RAZ: Your left hand, which was crushed when you were trapped under the rubble, I understand it has recovered enough to actually play the violin, somewhat. Is that true?

Mr. JOSEPH: Yes. My left hand has recovered enough so that I can play Mozart; I can play something that are not too difficult. But I'm really thankful because it's - I'm going to play some things. And it's really wonderful because I never thought I would be able to play again.

RAZ: Romel, I don't want to put any additional strain on your hand, but I was wondering if maybe you could play something for us just ever so briefly. And I understand your daughter is there with you and that you have been playing with her a little bit now and again.

Mr. JOSEPH: Yes. She is with me. She plays the viola and I play the violin, and the two of us together will be playing the "Passacaglia" by Handel. And we're playing some parts of it, because it's a beautiful piece; kind of sad and at the same time it has happy ending, which is what it's going to be all about, a happy ending, a happy recommencement.

RAZ: Romel Joseph, thank you so much.

Mr. JOSEPH: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Passacaglia")

RAZ: That's Romel Joseph. He's the founder of the New Victorian Music School in Port-au-Prince. It was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He's written a new book about his life experiences titled "The Miracle of Music."

(Soundbite of song, "Passacaglia")

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