Monday, April 25, 2011

episode 11: interventions

In Fall 2007, I collaborated on a brass band workshop with the Rebirth Brass Band and students from school marching bands all over New Orleans. At the end of the night, snare drummer Derrick Tabb asked me if I would help him launch an afterschool music program targeted towards younger kids who were not getting being educated in music in their schools. I was able to get a few instruments and a little bit of money donated, but it was the herculean efforts of Derrick and Allison Reinhardt that got Roots of Music up and running.

On May 22, 2008, Roots of Music launched with Derrick, Lawrence Rawlins, Allen Dejan, and Shoan Ruffin teaching about 40 kids aged 9-14 the rudiments of music. Our talks with the school district had gone nowhere but Tipitina's offered up their club as a rehearsal space, so every weekday, all summer long, the teachers and students piled into the hot, dark, musty bar, beaming with enthusiastic smiles.

Seeing Reginald Williams open up a brand new tuba case and hold the instrument for the first time on that day is something I'll never forget...


Later that summer I saw Reginald standing around after rehearsal, so with Derrick's permission I offered him a ride and he politely declined, saying he was waiting for his brother Jaron to finish practicing. Jaron then appeared, trumpet case in hand, so we climbed into the car, I asked where I should take them, and we were all stunned to find that we live a few blocks from each other.


Witnessing "Diggy" and "Bear" learn how to play music has made me realize the power of music in positively shaping the lives of kids in New Orleans. Listening to them practice scales on my street, helping them figure out the melodies to brass band songs in my yard, and watching them march in Mardi Gras parades in their resplendent Roots of Music Marching Crusaders uniforms is a endless supply of pride and joy. Like many before them, they have music in their blood - Diggy's dad is the rapper Tec-9 from the 90s rap group UNLV and their uncle is trombonist 'Big' Sam Williams - and like many before them, they've had music teachers who have intervened in their lives and taught them how to be productive young men in addition to teaching music.

The short-lived Street Runners Brass Band posing for a group shot in my yard, Summer 2009

Diggy and Bear lost their older brother to violence but they didn't let this tragedy slow them down: Diggy graduated from Roots of Music (which now runs a fully operational 'school' at the Louisiana State Museum with over 100 students) and he plays trombone with the greatest high school marching band in the city, O. Perry Walker, led by Lawrence Rawlins' brother Wilbert. You can see him and his brother featured in a preview for the amazing documentary The Whole Gritty City.

You can also see Bear throughout Season Two of Treme. There he is in the opening scene, practicing the tunes to "When the Saints" and "I'll Fly Away" while walking past cemeteries on All Saints Day and murder scenes that same night.

As for the rest of the episode, I'm bowing out of that discussion. I'm no TV critic, I'm no fan of the music that happened to be featured this particular week, and I've had some people positively intervene in my own life at various points who have taught me: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Better to praise Treme for sponsoring a fundraiser for Roots of Music and the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic earlier this year, and to suggest that you help support Roots of Music by making a donation or attending their Marching to New Orleans Gala on May 20.

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