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Band Director Heads to Cuba for Musical Mission

Johnston conducts a week of classes, capped with a concert

Keith Johnson conducts in Cuba.

Keith Johnston, Sacred Heart’s director of bands and professor of trombone, traveled to Santiago, Cuba, on Feb. 6 to give master classes and perform a concert at the Orquesta Sinfonica de Oriente’s request.

Johnston conducted a week of classes and rehearsals with the orchestra’s brass section, leading up to his performance on Feb. 11. The concert, which took place at the Sala Dolores Concert Hall in Santiago, showcased a newly commissioned work for brass ensemble by Cuban composer Ernesto Burgos.

Johnston collaborated with Juilliard-trained horn player John Cahill on the trip. Cahill is a retired music educator from the U.S. Virgin Islands who has worked with Johnston previously, successfully presenting a brass festival in Jacmel, Haiti.

Johnston referred to his trips to various countries as a “musical mission.” He explained how music is a universal language that everyone can speak, and that it “has the ability to unite and bring people and cultures together.” When he travels to Haiti, he said, the language spoken around him is Creole, and the prominent language in Cuba is Spanish. Although he speaks neither of those languages, once he begins to play with the other musicians, they are all able to communicate with one another, he said.

“This is an important concept that I reinforce to my students here at Sacred Heart through their international tours to countries such as Ireland, Italy and their upcoming tour to Prague and Vienna,” Johnston said.

Keith Johnston in Cuba 2

Director of Bands Keith Johnson, far right, with the brass section of the Orquestra Sinfonica de Oriente in Cuba