The work Uptown commenced right on time. There was still some scraping to do, but most students were engaged in priming and caulking. And throughout the day, all were engaged in talking.
People often focus on the sights of New Orleans, but the theme today seemed to be the sounds of New Orleans. While work proceeded at a pretty good clip, students talked to each other, became more acquainted with homeowners and extended family, neighbors, and sometimes people walking down the street. And this is where the education comes in.
In a tiny classroom in New Hampshire, I can talk until I’m blue in the face and show a thousand PowerPoint slides, but the experience of learning about a city from a sidewalk is irreplaceable. Whether is is hearing about someone’s Katrina experiences, discussing gang violence, or learning about the best local place for po-boys, it helps expand awareness and knowledge about other people. And it many ways, it can be viewed as an extension of New Orleans’ oral tradition. And the information can be put to good use, whether it’s gathering information for a term project or buying lunch.
In the afternoon, we returned to St. Raymond’s where Miss Kathey treated us to a traditional dinner of red beans and rice. We then braved rush hour traffic to cross the river and clean-up. All in preparation to hear some classic New Orleans sounds.
For the fourth year in a row, my class has had the very real pleasure of meeting with clarinetist and educator Dr. Michael While to learn about the origins of New Orleans traditional music. We met in a small studio in the music building where we were feted with the sounds of Michael, Kerry Lewis on bass, Detroit Brooks on banjo, and Greg Stafford on trumpet and vocals. And, we were joined by the fifth UNH group that is working over in the Lower Ninth Ward, making 45 of us in attendance.
The group went through the musical ingredients of New Orleans music, from African rhythms and marches to church music and the blues. And Michael focuses on the pioneers, including Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. I believe their take on “Basin Street Blues,” with Greg Stafford on vocals, brought the evening to a nice healthy crescendo. And in spite of the late hour, the event ended with a spirited question and answer period.
While most of the attendees headed downtown or back to Marrero, I went with Kyle and Maddie to the Maple Leaf on Oak Street, not that far from where we are working during the day. Not satisfied with an evening of exquisite music, we went to hear Rebirth Brass Band. The place was packed to the rafters, but Rebirth’s steeped in funk take on New Orleans musical traditions made it all worthwhile. Alas, after a long day of work, sun, and excitement, we left after the first set. But the brass sounds and percussive rhythms linger in our brains. Or maybe that is the ringing in my ears.
And appropriately enough, Madonna Manor was abuzz with jokes, and story-telling, and guitar strumming that went well into the morning. It seems as though these oral traditions are both infectious and hard to break.