Charles Darwin. Lady Gaga. Starbucks. Sydney Opera House. Homeless Basketball. Abraham Lincoln. Children of Haiti.
A quick scan of his bio only served to increase my intrigue with the work and play of Haitian-American composer, performer, violinist and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain – also dubbed DBR.
My daughter Lizabeth and I met Roumain a few years back when Roumain served as an artist-in-residence at Arizona State University.
She was nearing a decade of violin study and performance, and he was graciously working with several students from Arizona School for the Arts.
Recently we chatted about his own foray into the world — he might say “worlds” — of music. I began by asking Roumain when and why he started playing. Was violin his choice, or something his parents chose for him?
“The violin chose me,” he quipped — leaving me to wonder how exactly such a thing might be possible. Seems he was in kindergarten when he walked by a room in which the 6th grade orchestra was practicing.
Hearing the violin was all it took. “It called to me,” recalls Roumain. He asked the music teacher if he could play, but the teacher explained that students didn’t start playing at school until first grade.
The teacher suggested he come back the following day. Roumain suspects the teacher never expected him to return. But he did — and he got the okay to play.
Because his earliest violin lessons were at school, there was no charge. But eventually Roumain progressed to weekly private lessons, getting his first violin during 5th grade.
At first Roumain practiced just an hour or so a day — but admits he eventually hit six to eight hours a day. It hardly seems possible until you read reports that put teen technology use at nine hours a day.
Still, practice should never be a chore. “Music should always be fun,” shares Roumain. Who can really say what we will be when we grow up? There’s no reason to pressure young children when it comes to making music.
“When I grew up in Florida,” recalls Roumain, “music was everywhere.” Now music is scarce in American schools. “What’s becoming,” wonders Roumain, “of all the musicians, all the music, the world will never know?”
A violin certainly can’t speak to a child who never hears it.
Still, Roumain feels it would be “presumptuous” to offer a single “magic bullet” sort of solution to declining arts programs in our schools. It’s something parents, educators and community members have to work out in the context of a larger question.
What really comprises the ideal education — the perfectly balanced school day?
Roumain, age 40, is the father of 18-month-old Zachary. He’ll be faced soon enough with evaluating arts offerings from a parent perspective.
The composer likens music to a “medicine” or “anecdote” in a world where “there are so many ills.” Music, he reflects, is like exercise. “It can never hurt or harm you.”
While he’d like to see every child exposed to music, Roumain says parents need to give children the freedom to forge their own relationships to it. Some will want to play night and day. Others will want to play casually. Others will want to attend concerts. And some are perfectly happy to listen to CDs.
And while schools can choose to reduce art offerings, Roumain is convinced that they lose something in the process — believing that decreased art programs in recent years are related to increased school violence.
“Music,” says Roumain, “is as vital as a school lunch.”
Roumain, who was born in 1970, recalls growing up with a diverse record collection — including music by ABBA, Al Stewart, Bach, Beethoven, The Jackson 5 and Stravinsky (the alphabetizing was his own).
As he got older and went to more concerts, Roumain listened to everything from Prince to Dizzy Gillespie. MTV was in its early days, and a lot of music contained political themes.
Roumain is a fan of the many technologies that make it possible for kids to hear more music, and more types of music, today. He speaks of watching a Lang Lang performance on television with his wife and son over a meal, of listening to the radio during long driving jaunts.
Today his personal favorites include Rhianna and Jay-Z. To get the Lady Gaga reference, you’ll have to read his bio. At home, he says, the family listens to “everything from Bieber to Bach.”
Roumain brings his own passionate blend of music, art and movement to ASU Gammage in Tempe on Sat, Feb 5. There’s a 7pm show for the kids, and a 9pm show for adults.
He’ll be presenting a world premiere titled “Symphony for the Dance Floor,” featuring “the raw uncompromising photography of Jonathan Mannion” and DBR music “inspired by hip-hop, electronica and symphonic sound.”
The work is choreographed by Millicent Johnnie with lighting design by Miriam Crowe and direction by D.J. Mendel. Roumain describes it as “an ecstatic journey” traveled with “a soundtrack of our time.”
“I have hope,” reflects Roumain. “And hope is America’s greatest national resource.”
Note: Click here to learn more about “Symphony for the Dance Floor” and other “Gammage Beyond” events presented by ASU Gammage in Tempe. And check your local PBS listings for days/times you can see “Children of Haiti” — a film for which DBR wrote the soundtrack — which will help you learn more about Haiti as we all remember the 2010 Haiti earthquake one year later.
Coming up: A touring production of “A Chorus Line” comes to Mesa and Phoenix this week
Photos from www.dbrmusic.com