Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Rebirth!

Today I met with a member of the Orleans Parish School Board, an individual with a passion for the arts in public education, and a veritable walking encyclopedia of the history of music and music education in New Orleans. We talked for almost three hours, taking an expedition through history, perspective, and experience that connected the current social/musical/educational landscape to the past. We discussed New Orleans being an excellent community for El Sistema to take root, due to Sistema's focus on need and the rich heritage of classical music in New Orleans. 

Wait a moment. I thought we had established that this city is built on jazz and marching bands... 
This was the first I had heard someone talking about New Orleans as a city of classical music, and I was excited. 

Usually when it comes to education, I'm against the idea of being 'filled' with knowledge- I much prefer to nurture an environment and a culture where the teacher and students discover knowledge together. This builds a sense of ownership and empowers future exploration/discovery outside of the classroom, hopefully imparting the understanding that they can learn within any community, from everyone they encounter. However, this morning I became a student-like sponge, listening and scribbling notes, absorbing everything I could. I learned that New Orleans was once a capital of classical music in the United States, starting with it being "America's first city of opera". NOLA was also home to a great classical string tradition, most notably in the black community. The Negro Philharmonic Society was founded in New Orleans well before the Civil War – The orchestra at one point had more than 100 performers. Racial hostility put an end to the Society prior to the Civil War, however the classical string tradition in the black community continued until the early 1990s. The classical tradition on a whole has been passed down for generations within New Orleans families. Parents had every child learn an instrument, not so that they would go into music, but because of the extra-muscial benefits studying music imparted. Not only was music access to a culture of discipline and accomplishment, but music was the opportunity for social connection and growth. Alvin Batiste, Kidd Jordan, and their contemporaries grew up sharing ideas, debating, and discussing around rehearsal times. Music was the forum for intellectual and social growth. And though known primarily as jazz musicians, the afore mentioned players and many of their contemporaries wrote for the orchestra. 

There is a glowing classical music connection through history in New Orleans, but it has dimmed recently. How can we rekindle that light? If Sistema were to grow in New Orleans, the classical music that we would hear from the youth in underserved communities would not be a new sound, but a rebirth! 

A New Orleans Renaissance. 

Questions of the day: 
Can music provide connection to the past? 
How does music reflect the present? 
Can music be used to shape the future?  

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