Tuesday . 26 March . 2019
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Creativity From the Chaos of Hurricane Maria

Ms. Acevedo is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, where she directs two a cappella choirs: the University of Puerto Rico Chorus, a student group, and Coralia, made up of students and alumni. This year, from February to June, the students in both groups decided to spend Saturdays singing in hurricane-damaged towns.

After the hurricane, I came to Miami for four weeks because of the devastation. I live in a condo that was fully flooded, and my front door was partially lost, but actually I consider myself extremely lucky — it’s not a big deal when I saw what people were going through. When I got back, I thought we needed to do something to help our community, so we came up with this project, Canta y Siembra (Sing and Sow), where we went to different municipalities, presented a formal concert with our academic classical repertoire and our lighter repertoire. We’d hand out supplies — clothing, food, water, bed linens, insect repellent, you name it, we just had a little bit of everything — and then we’d finish our visit planting trees, because we lost so many during the hurricane.

The first one we went to was Morovis. Part of the road leading up the mountain was missing, but we were able to get there. There was no light, no electricity, and they didn’t have much water, but just being there, presenting the concert, was really kind of a spiritual cleansing for a lot of them. People would come up to us crying, saying thank you for caring about us. A lot of people just needed company — someone to talk to them, someone to listen to them, someone where they could just spill out what they were going through.

It was such a growing experience for all of us. A lot of my own students lost their homes, lost their roofs, lost their cars, and yet they were there singing for all these other communities and towns. It was just amazing. The students learned so much about giving back — maybe your own situation is tough, but look at what these people are going through.

We don’t deal in politics — we’re in the arts, and the arts is, for me, one of the strongest ways for you to communicate a message. Our message is one of a certain amount of peace, but also of hope — you’re not alone, we are a community, and we will be here for one another regardless. Some of the music is very profound, it’s very spiritual, and a lot of it is thinking about the possibilities: Yes, we went through incredible devastation, but we will prevail. — MICHAEL PAULSON

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