NPR – January 23, 2010
Haitian-born violinist Romel Joseph had to rely on his sense of touch to determine that there was no way out of the rubble he was buried under; he was born blind.
“I was completely surrounded by concrete,” Joseph said. “So, in my head I knew I wasn’t going to get out.”
Trapped after the massive earthquake that struck Haiti, the Juilliard graduate realized he couldn’t escape on his own. He didn’t panic — instead, he kept himself to a strict schedule. He spent part of each hour in prayer. The rest of the time he filled by rehearsing his favorite classical music performances in his head, note by note.
“For example, if I perform the Franck sonata, which is 35 minutes long in my honors recital at Juilliard, then I would bring myself to that time,” Joseph told NPR’s Guy Raz. “That allows me not only to kill time, but also to mentally take myself out of the space where I was.”
Joseph played through concertos and symphonies in his mind for 18 hours until his friends were able to clear the debris that was crushing his leg. A dual citizen of Haiti and the United States, he was flown to Miami, where he is recovering from multiple surgeries.
The chunks of concrete that Joseph’s friends rescued him from were the remnants of the New Victorian School, the music school Joseph founded in 1991 in Port-au-Prince.
Joseph was on the third floor of the building when the force of the earthquake broke it to pieces. His pregnant wife was on the first floor. She did not survive.
Joseph’s left hand, the one he uses to hold the neck of his violin, was severely fractured as he fell into the rubble. Doctors performed surgery on it late Thursday night and are uncertain whether he will regain full use of it. Still, Joseph seems confident that he’ll be able to play the violin again at his school.
“When you teach, you have to be able to play for your students,” he said.
Remarkably, an accidental fire burned the New Victorian School to the ground 10 years to the day before the Jan. 12 earthquake. Joseph quickly rebuilt the school back then. Despite his injuries, he plans to return to Haiti and begin reconstruction as soon as possible.
“I need more than an earthquake to make me stop my work in Haiti,” he said.
Copyright 2010 National Public Radio