Peabody alum enlists musicians for free concert to benefit island of Vieques

Tiny island, which is part of Puerto Rico, was battered by Hurricane Maria in September

A pile of timber and splintered construction

Image caption: Barbara Schneider's home and office where she helped run a ecotourism business were both destroyed by the storm this past September.

Credit: Barbara Schneider

For Barbara Schneider, the move to a tiny island in the Caribbean in 2013 represented a grand new adventure and the next step in a strengthening relationship. With her fiancé Abe, she built a home, a family, and a business on the small, white sands island of Vieques, located about 8 miles east of Puerto Rico's main island.

There, she and Abe opened and operated an ecotourism business conducting kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking tours around Mosquito Bay, a national landmark and one of the world's finest bioluminescent bays.

But Schneider's world came crashing down this past September—literally—when Hurricane Maria, the 10th most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record, struck the island.

"Our home was flattened," says Schneider, who earned her Master of Music degree at the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute in 1998 and taught violin and performance there until 2013. "We lost our home and our business simultaneously."

The worst part, Schneider says, was the fact that although she and her daughter Anani had evacuated to the mainland U.S. before Labor Day, Abe stayed behind. For five agonizing days, Schneider tried and failed to contact anyone on the island to confirm his and his family's safety.

A man and woman hold a small girl

Image caption: Barbara Schneider with her fiance Abe and daughter Anani

Image credit: Barbara Schneider

"It was terrifying," she says.

Finally, she reached a fisherman who had access to a satellite phone and who confirmed that Abe and his family were alive. They had sheltered in Abe's brother's concrete house during the storm. They were safe, but many of their friends and neighbors were not.

"Nobody knew if anyone was coming for them," she says.

That's where the group ViequesLove comes in. A GoFundMe group reliant on charitable online donations, ViequesLove was originally founded to help rebuild the island. But in those first days after the storm, the crisis in Vieques was so great that the group instead mobilized an emergency response effort, delivering satellite phones and critical relief supplies—food, first-aid, water, and medications—to Vieques, which had received inadequate FEMA support.

"ViequesLove stepped in when no one from the government had been able to meet with us yet,"says Schneider, who has set up a GoFundMe account to defray her family's costs of recovery. "They were able to bring supplies, evacuate people who needed it, and stock our local hospital."

Now, more than 120 days since the storm, the needs of Vieques have changed, but the urgency remains.

The people of Vieques have been rebuilding their economy since winning a hard-fought battle against the U.S. Navy in 2003 to end a 60-year military easement on the island's east and west coasts. They've invested in agriculture and ecotourism, drawing visitors to their pristine, undeveloped beaches where wild horses roam freely and to their two bioluminescent bays where single-cell plankton called dinoflagellates illuminate the water in an iridescent blue glow.

But the hurricane leveled the nature reserves, destroyed the farmlands, and disturbed the delicate chemistry of the bays—the tourist attractions on which much of the local economy depends.

"When I saw how much need there still is, and the fact that the government can't bring the financial relief we need, I thought, 'What can I do?'" Schneider says. "My life has been music, and I can bring together the musicians I know to perform, make beautiful music and bring people together—and to raise awareness and funds for our island."

This Sunday, musicians from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Brass Quintet will perform a free benefit concert at the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. The concert is open to the public and donations will be collected to benefit ViequesLove.

"Barbara and I became fast friends when we both taught at Peabody," says horn player Larry Williams, assistant vice provost for faculty affairs at Johns Hopkins, who recruited his brass ensemble, the Lyric Brass Band, to perform in the concert. "I watched all the coverage of Hurricane Maria closely, knowing Barb and her family would be affected. I saw some chatter on social media about a possible benefit concert, and I reached out to let her know that I would love to participate with my group."

The program includes works by Bach, Gaubert, Haydn, and Mozart. The performing musicians are:

  • Dariusz Skoraczewski, cello
  • Marcia Kämper, flute
  • Lukasz Szyrner, cello
  • Ivan Stefanovic violin
  • Kevin Smith, violin
  • Karin Brown, viola
  • Troy Stuart, cello
  • Kevin Dines, trumpet
  • Guy McIntosh, trumpet
  • Larry Williams, horn
  • Milton Aldana, trombone
  • Andrew Spang, tuba
  • Ellen Troyer, violin
  • Boram Kang, violin
  • Lachezar Kostov, cello
  • Sharon Meyer, viola
  • Lisa Bergman, horn
  • Phil Munds, horn

"It's going to be a great program with lots of different performers and different types of music, but with one spirit in mind: to support the cause of ViequesLove and to support our friend Barb," Williams says. "I can't think of a more worthy cause."

The concert takes place Sunday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Second Presbyterian Church located at 4200 St. Paul St. in Baltimore. To make a donation, visit the ViequesLove GoFundMe page.