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He wanted to come to Utah, but he couldn’t get a visa. Here’s how this Haitian cellist made it to Abravanel Hall

Getro Joseph’s journey to Utah wasn’t easy. Haiti is in a state of turmoil, and the young cellist’s musical dreams weren’t a priority.

Getro Joseph a young cellist from Haiti, looks over at John Eckstein of the Utah Symphony as the two have a short practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Getro Joseph a young cellist from Haiti, looks over at John Eckstein of the Utah Symphony as the two have a short practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Getro Joseph had arrived at his church to play basketball in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when he saw a man playing an instrument he had never seen before. Out of curiosity, the 13-year-old approached the musician.

“I asked the man, ‘What is this?’ and he told me, ‘This is a cello,’” Getro recalled.

The teenager committed the name to memory. And when he got home, he told his mom he wanted to attend music school. Although it would take some time to come up with the registration money, Getro’s mom didn’t hesitate, telling her son she wanted him to learn how to play the “big violin.”

Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, concentrates on his music as he plays with John Eckstein of the Utah Symphony as the two have a short practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, concentrates on his music as he plays with John Eckstein of the Utah Symphony as the two have a short practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

But Getro hadn’t forgotten the real word.

“The name is cello,” he told his mom.

Four years later, cello is more than a word to Getro. It’s an instrument that has changed his life. Most recently, it’s an instrument that has brought him to the United States for the first time to study with Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein.

But his journey to Utah wasn’t easy. Haiti is in a state of turmoil, and Getro’s musical dreams weren’t a priority. But with the support of his family, friends and, ultimately, Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, Getro finally got his moment on the Abravanel Hall stage in the heart of Salt Lake City.

Meeting Getro

Eckstein met Getro in 2016, when he and two other Utah Symphony members traveled to Haiti to teach young musicians at a summer music camp. Getro didn’t speak any English then, but he had a visible passion for music and was a fast learner. He reminded Eckstein of his own son.

“He expressed ‘thank you’ with his eyes,” Eckstein said. “There’s a very kind and generous and gentle nature.”

Eckstein has returned to Haiti every summer since that first visit. In 2017 and 2018, more than a dozen Utah Symphony members traveled with him to host the Haitian Orchestra Institute, where they worked with 100 musicians on everything from Beethoven to Bizet. It was a labor of love.

But this last summer was different.

Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, answers a question during an interview at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, answers a question during an interview at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

With the ongoing civil unrest in Haiti, only Eckstein and violinist Yuki MacQueen made the trip. For months, anti-government protests have devastated Haiti. The protests have virtually shut down the capital of Port-au-Prince, and many gas stations, businesses and schools have closed. Looting and arson attacks break out every few days, The New Yorker reported.

“It’s so bad,” Getro told the Deseret News from Abravanel Hall. “Because (of) the protests, sometimes people can’t go to the school. I hope when I come back, we have school.”

It was during this upheaval that Eckstein thought it might be time to bring Getro to the U.S., where he could be exposed to more music resources and opportunities.

“This was a student with obvious talent that was being particularly underserved,” Eckstein said.

So the Utah Symphony cellist got to work, booking flights and making arrangements for Getro, who would first travel to New Mexico to study with cellist Janet Anthony, the president of a nonprofit music organization called BLUME Haiti, before arriving in Utah.

And then Eckstein hit a major roadblock that was beyond his control: Getro couldn’t get a visa.

Getting Getro here

Getro couldn’t even schedule an appointment for a visa — at least not until July 2020 — said Pat Richards, the Utah Symphony’s interim CEO. So Richards began reaching out to congressional delegation offices, seeing if anything could be done to expedite the process.

“I just knew how important this was, because of what it would mean to this young man, and maybe change his life — even if he doesn’t become a professional musician,” she said.

McAdams’s office was the first to respond. McAdams said members of his staff went through a cycle of phone calls and dead ends until they got hold of the right person and were able to express the urgency of the situation.

“I recognize that so much of Washington is bureaucratic and broken. But we try to focus on where we can make a difference,” McAdams told the Deseret News in an interview at Abravanel Hall. “We went to work trying to at least cut through the red tape. The process is the process, and Getro has to jump through the same hoops that anybody does, but to make sure that process is working.”

Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, meets Congressman Ben McAdams, right, who assisted Getro with his visa process. Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein stands at the side at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, meets Congressman Ben McAdams, right, who assisted Getro with his visa process. Utah Symphony cellist John Eckstein stands at the side at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A few weeks later, Getro had a visa.

Coming to the United States was now a reality, and he would be able to stay and study with Eckstein, who would help him learn the audition music for the Youth Orchestra of the Americas — an ensemble Getro hopes to play in some day.

Utah at last

Getro arrived in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3. Four days later, he was standing on the Abravanel Hall stage, taking it all in — the 2,000-plus seats, the multiple tiers and the crystal chandeliers.

But he wasn’t just there to observe. With Eckstein playing by his side, Getro practiced passages from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major — a piece he couldn’t have imagined performing when he learned about the cello four years ago.

“He’s catching up so fast,” Eckstein said with a laugh. “All I can see is high talent. I tell him something once and it’s done.”

Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, plays with John Eckstein, left, of the Utah Symphony as the two have a short practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Getro Joseph, a young cellist from Haiti, plays with John Eckstein, left, of the Utah Symphony as the two have a short practice session at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Getro also met with Congressman Ben McAdams, who assisted Getro with the visa process for his trip to Utah.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Getro will return to Haiti in mid-January. These days, he and his mom live in Mirebalais, just over 30 miles from Port-au-Prince. The music school there isn’t as advanced, and since 2017, Getro has volunteered his time, sharing his knowledge and teaching several students for free.

And he’s happy to do it, because music has changed his life for the better. Some of his friends were killed during the 2010 Haiti earthquake and, most recently, civil unrest has disrupted his education. But his cello has been a constant.

“Music’s a good friend for me. When I come back, I will teach my colleagues and my students about what I learned in United States, because they need me,” he said. “I try to help them understand what is music. … Music is my life, and music is my future.”