MIAMI, Fla. – Claudens Louis, a Haitian-American born and raised in Little Haiti, is the site director for the Miami Music Project in Little Haiti, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses music as an instrument for social transformation, empowering children to acquire values, achieve their full potential, and positively affect their society through the study and performance of music. Question: How did you become interested in the arts?

Ever since I can remember, I was surrounded by musical arts. My father was very big on vinyl, so he exposed me to the greats like Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Stevie Wonder. He also introduced me to Haitian Kompa music from very young. In grade school, I experimented with the piano and drums but didn’t find my passion until I picked up the saxophone when I was around 13 years old. Being in a band was fun and made me feel a part of something bigger than me.

What are your biggest goals and priorities?

As a site director, my biggest goal right now is to raise the quality of our musicianship at the Miami Music Project chapter. We have extremely talented young musicians with great potential that need to be brought out more. My number one priority is to create a fun yet disciplined environment that provides a high level of musicianship and respect all across the board. I strive to give these kids the right direction they need to succeed. Creating a very respectable program is essential in providing the community something they can be proud of. I want other communities to listen to Little Haiti and be inspired by the Miami Music Project and work on uplifting their own people.

What are some of the biggest challenges?

I think one of the biggest challenges that music programs are facing today is the lack of passion in teaching. Many music program directors come from professional musician backgrounds but aren’t necessarily instructors or teachers. Being a music teacher is a lot deeper than just knowing how to play an instrument. Especially in underserved communities, teachers take on multiple roles from an educator, friend, and even a role model in some instances. Sometimes your students will see you more than they see their parents in their day-to-day lives. We, as music program directors need to realize that we have a great responsibility to our students musically and on a personal level. Music is the tool that we use to navigate certain things, but we need to take our positions as mentors and second parents seriously. Allowing students to communicate their feelings through music rather than just teach them how to play an instrument is very important. Keeping students motivated to continue pursuing music isn’t easy, but intertwining theory and life can help them see the bigger picture.

What keeps you motivated?

Seeing myself in all of my students definitely keeps me motivated in providing these kids with music programs. Growing up in Little Haiti, I dealt with a lot of hardships, and I understand what my students are going through now. Not living in the most ideal situations can make it easy for kids to turn to negative activities. The Miami Music Project gives them that positive gateway from their hardships. Giving them hands-on experience with music helps show these kids the fruits of their labor. Helping these kids discover their love for music at a young age keeps me going, and focusing their energy on something positive than negative fuels, my passion for the Miami Music Project. If we all invest in the kids, then we invest in the community. Investing in the community then turns into a ripple effect that brings more positivity out of the community.

Do you have a favorite experience?

I’ve had so many amazing experiences with the Miami Music Project, but reuniting with all my students in the community after coming back from on tour was one of my favorites. They were all so young, and seeing them grown up, and now leaders in the Miami Music Project program was so rewarding. They welcomed me back with open arms, and I was just so happy to be back with them and continue the work we started.

How do you partner with the community?

Professionally, I’ve been playing music for more than 20 years. It’s been a long ride from playing with musicians and bands to now working with community leaders. These connections I’ve made over the years have allowed me to partner with all kinds of people from different walks of life. It’s rewarding that I now have the opportunity to represent Haitian-American culture in the same city that raised me. I’ve met and grown close to a lot of my students’ families and parents before working with the Miami Music Project because of how close-knit the community is. So, this partnership extends deeper than business for me. It means family. Although I recently moved to Miami Gardens, the bonds I’ve built with those in Little Haiti will never be broken as I still work and worship in the community.

What have been some of your most rewarding moments?

My first concert once I became the site director for the Miami Music Project really touched my heart. Seeing what my students had accomplished in just one month was mind-blowing to me. I had chills and came to tears just seeing their growth in that short time. Getting to know these kids and having them open up to me was a beautiful thing to see. For our first winter concert, I believe the musicianship, behavior, and overall quality of our students were starting to see a rise slowly but surely. Just seeing these kids grow as I also grow as a director with them is the most rewarding experience I’ve had at the Miami Music Project. These kids are going to shock the community with how far we’ve come from where we started.

 Why is it essential to support arts nonprofits during this time?

It is essential to continue supporting the arts and nonprofits because the arts (music, film, dance, etc.) are what’s keeping people’s spirit alive throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. What would one be doing at home without the masterpieces that artists have created for us all to enjoy? It goes without saying that the arts are a major key to our survival at this point. For some of our kids, music is an escape for them. That being said, they need to continue playing their instruments to get better and to feel the joy that music creates. It helps them forget the struggle for that time they are holding the instrument in their hands.

How are you navigating the project during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am navigating the Miami Music Project by keeping its mission in mind at all times. This program is more deeprooted than just music. I care about our students and families in my community. With that being said, I have made it my business to make sure that all of our families have the resources they need to get through this time. I pass on any resources or information to my students’ parents and help them in whatever way I possibly can, given the circumstances. I am also making sure that all of the families that need musical support in terms of sheet music, musical activities, playlists, etc. are receiving what they need and right when they need it.

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