For most hospital patients, an eighth grade chamber orchestra is the last thing they want to hear.
Most hopital patients aren't Romel Joseph.
The 50-year-old violinist and teacher was born in a poor village in northern Haiti, blind in one eye and seeing just shadows in another. Grants and scholarships helped him play his way to a violin performance degree from the Juilliard School in Manhattan, but he returned to Haiti to help rather than launch a career with the Boston Symphony. There he founded a school to educate poor children and teach music in Port-au-Prince; it burned to the ground in a fire in 2000, was rebuilt, and was destroyed again in the January 12 earthquake.
Joseph was trapped in the rubble for 18 hours, two of his playing fingers severely fractured and both legs smashed. His pregnant wife died two floors below.
Friday, the strains of music he played in his mind to sustain himself while buried alive became reality, as the South Miami Middle School Chamber Orchestra played for Joseph at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was flown for surgery. The concert, he told the Miami Herald, strengthened his will to continue and rebuild again.
"It gives me more courage to get better," he said, "and work toward giving more of myself and my musical knowledge to other children."
The group of 13-year-olds happily enlisted to play when their cellists' mother, Barbara Ronda, learned Joseph's story. The hospital's director of business development, she called South Miami's orchestra teacher, reserved a conference room, and "brought me back to my world," as Joseph put it.
Adrian Nuñez, Gabriel Alberts, Rocio Nicot, and Isabelle Csete, a former South Miami Middle student who now attends Miami Arts Charter, were joined by teacher Kristina Cutchens. They played Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Jean-Joseph Mouret's "Rondeau,'' and themes from Mozart's Symphony No. 40.
Csete played "Nigun'' from Ernest Bloch's Baal Shem Suite.
"I wanted to impress him and reach his heart,'' she said. "It made me feel actually really happy that he enjoyed it.
"I'm so happy he's alive."
Joseph says he hopes to reopen his school for a third time the day after Easter.
"As long as Haiti has children, you have a purpose of being there. As long as there are kids there, they have to have a reasonable level of health and they have to have an education.''