How Do You Keep the Music Playing?

The New York Times has published two remarkable stories about young musicians in the past few days.  The first, in the Sunday edition, is “Face-the-Music Academy” and it is the story of the young music fellows in the New World Symphony based in Miami, FL.  In today's edition, we learn how “In New Orleans, Bands Struggle to Regain Footing.”  This is a story about High School Band Musicians from the New Orleans public schools and their indomitable will to keep the music playing and the bands marching.

The young musicians profiled in each story come from very different backgrounds – in Miami, extremely talented graduates from leading conservatories studying with the finest music instructors.  Thanks to a generous donor, they live rent-free in a Miami Beach Hotel converted for the exclusive use of the New World Symphony fellows.  In New Orleans, we read about 17-year old Montreal A. Givens, a trombonist and drum major who lives by himself in a FEMA trailer so that he can finish out his Senior year with the band.  He is an honors student and his father, also a musician, lives in Houston, TX.  He says,

“I came back here (to New Orleans) for the music.  I took a hard hit, but I couldn't stop my life because of the hurricane.”

I am not writing to point out seeming inequities or different social situations.  I am drawing your attention to these two articles so that you can discover the personal stories of individual musicians as they struggle to keep the music playing.  And to point out the important role that music plays in defining a city's life force.

The late Ted Arison, the founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, and his wife donated over $62 million to found the New World Symphony as a training opportunity to help talented musicians make the transition from conservatory to a career as a working musician in a symphony orchestra.  Hi generosity and vision are paying multiple dividends – to the music fellows in the symphony and to the music and arts community in South Florida.  Early in his life Mr. Arison had hoped to make his living as a pianist.  He founded and operated a cruise line instead.  But he left a tremendous legacy and his program has helped to launch some major musical careers.  Bravo!

The donor base for helping to restore music programs in New Orleans is much more modest – but no less sincere.  NAMM, the International Music Products Association partnered with the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation to donate instruments and other materials.  The Tipitina's Foundation gave over $500,000 worth of instruments to the schools in 2006.  One band director, Paul Batiste, had his band practicing on what he could afford from his own pocket – just the mouthpieces for trumpets and clarinets – until the donated instruments arrived.

In the words of 3rd year music student Joshua Phipps we get a glimpse of what musical discovery means:

“At my first band practice, I just fell in love with the sound.  I practiced a whole lot, every day, and it was like a hidden talent I didn't know I had.  I want to be a band teacher.”

How does a band teacher help to restore a city's spirit?  Virgil Tiller, the band director of the St. Augustine High School Purple Knights said:

“This band is the city's band.  When we march, it's amazing to me how many people say: 'Thank you for coming back.  If St. Aug's back, the city is coming back.'”

In Miami, Naomi Gray – a cellist with the New World Symphony said:

“There's very few things more exciting than being part of a hughe machine, part of a huge effot.  The power of music is monumental, and the more I play here, the more I realize that.”

That is why we keep the music playing!  Do what you can to help, please.

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