Sunday, January 15, 2006

This One Time, at Band Camp

A world class post at World Class New Orleans about three local high school marching bands uniting so that they can march in parades this year.

You know, I am warming up to Mardi Gras ’06. As much as I want the city to focus its resources (money, workers, time) on rebuilding, I also just want to bring my kid to a parade.

And then there’s the music, and those who play the music. To see World Class’s pics of the three bands jamming warms the heart. While every city in the nation has its high school bands that march in parades, there is something special about the way New Orleans bands do it – the sound, the look, the way they march. And especially the tubas.

I was a band geek (I mean that in a good way). At Jesuit High School I played woodwinds – clarinet, saxophone – in the marching band, JROTC band, and the jazz band. I started playing clarinet when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. My grandfather taught me how to play. He had a swing band in the 1940s and gigged around town.

He taught me all the old standards: “Just a Closer Walk,” “Do You Know What It Means,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “If Ever I Cease to Love” – there’s too many to list them all.

When I was a senior at Jesuit, I was burned out on playing music. I didn’t plan on being a professional musician, so I guess I just didn’t see the point. I was focused on SAT scores and getting into a college and music wasn’t necessarily going to help me with that.

Then I heard a tape playing in the band room. It sounded like the New Orleans music I knew, that I had been playing all my life, that my grandfather had taught me. But it was more vibrant. It felt new. It made you want to move. It made you want to groove – even a white boy like me.

It was the Rebirth Brass Band. And it was the rebirth of my passion for music. My senior year, I put down the clarinet and picked up a tuba. I didn’t know the fingering, but my grandfather had taught me to play by ear. So I faked my way through all the marching band songs – sometimes playing what was written, sometimes playing something that sounded better.

My tuba playing career ended on a high note. In the last parade of the season, as we rounded Canal Street and headed back towards the river, the band played a song that showcased the tubas. After the song ended and we lowered our instruments, I heard a voice from the crowd exclaim, “That’s pretty good for a white boy.”

How can you top that? The people of New Orleans know what good music is. We are not born with the knowledge, but we pick it up because we are surrounded by it. When you go to a CD store, there is always a New Orleans section. I don’t see a New York section, or an Atlanta section, or a Houston section. And it’s not just New Orleans artists. It’s New Orleans music, a genre all its own. No other city has this rich a musical heritage.

That’s what I am going to be looking forward to this Mardi Gras more than anything – the music. That’s something that Katrina couldn’t take from us. But it is something in a post-Katrina world that we will have to hold on to a little tighter.


Tim said...
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Tim said...

That was a very moving post... I saw that same post on World Class New Orleans last week and it helped to warm me up the idea of Mardi Gras as well.

Tim said...

As someone wrote to the newspaper, why should we have to explain the need to celebrate Mardi Gras in the midst of this crisis? We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah, didn't we? We celebrated New Years, didn't we? So Mardi Gras is just as important, perhaps more culturally important to our city as those holidays. My darling daughter was in a ball last night, and the whole family will be dancing on Canal Street on Mardi Gras day with a marching club just like we always do. Excited? You bet I am, and I'm glad to hear you are, too.