Earlier this spring, I applied to be one of the volunteers in this year’s Gracenotes Rebuilding the Birthplace of Jazz trip to New Orleans to assist through Habitat for Humanity in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I was delighted and honoured to join this year’s team. I imagined that the week would consist of hard work building on the Habitat site followed by evenings exploring the city and listening to music in a city that was pretty much back on its feet after the devastating storm of August, 2005. The city is exciting and vibrant; it is lauded as one of the most unique cities in the United States and I agree wholeheartedly. Live music pulsed out of every restaurant, bar and café and on every street corner of the French Quarter, Bywater, Marigny, and Treme that I passed.
The Garden District and the Arts District are filled with galleries, artisans and new businesses. The city seems to be thriving and wholly alive.
But driving though some of the wards that were hard hit by Katrina tells another story. While we were inspired by the colourful community of houses in the Musicians’ Village (Upper Ninth Ward) and the futuristic homes built by the Make it Right Foundation (Lower Ninth Ward), there is still much work to be done to rebuild. Much of the Lower Ninth Ward feels like a ghost town and many houses still stand ruined and abandoned in the Seventh and Eighth wards as well. It was good to get to work on our house and feel that we were tangibly helping rebuild this vibrant community.
I was quite nervous on the first morning at the site. It was daunting to go into a half finished building and see just how much work needed to be done. Evan Clark, our team leader, blithely reeled off of list of the days tasks to be completed and asked who wanted to do what.
Not having any idea what “completing deadwood” or “great stuff the whole house” even meant, I found the prospect of beginning to work daunting. However, we gamely chose mystifying tasks and one by one, they became clear as Evan patiently taught us how to complete each job. I even got good at a few!
We worked with different members of our group each day and in this intense work environment, got to know each other quickly. I am astounded by the patience, good humour and diligence with which my Berklee buddies worked. What a joy to share this experience with this team: Maria DeMaio Goldberg, Lesley Mahoney, Benai Kornell, Matthew Frias, and Matthias Lupri. Joe Chinni, who had done the Gracenotes trip two years ago enjoyed it so much that he came back again this year and joined our team for two days even bringing along his friend, Kevin O’Neill to join in the fun (read hard work). We worked with several other volunteer groups over the week and on the last two days, had the pleasure of meeting and working with Roshand and Jayson Miller, the homeowners. They are a lovely and hardworking couple who loved seeing their home grow under their own hands and the hands of hundreds of volunteers. It was wonderful to meet and work with the people who would be living in and enjoying the house that we were helping to build for many years.
After only a few days, we completed a great deal of work on the house and it was satisfying to see the drywall going up as we left on the last day. The house should be finished in a few weeks and will soon be a bustling home for Roshand, Jayson and their two children. My team and I left New Orleans feeling happy to have participated in a small fraction of the work that has been done and still needs to be done in this amazing community. I am tickled to have met such delightful new friends and feel excited and inspired by the whole experience. I have been home for a few days and still feel like I am processing the experience of volunteering in New Orleans but would just like to end my post with a list of some of my favourite moments from this extraordinary trip.
- Touring the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards and seeing the Musicians’ Village and The Make it Right homes.
- Giggling with my new Berklee Family at the tall tales of our tour guides and trying to figure out if any of them were remotely true.
- Coffee with chicory and beignets at Café du Monde!
- Music at Preservation Hall, the birth place of Jazz!
- Becoming competent at using the circular saw, the nail gun and even the humble hammer. This competence prompted the plan for Lesley and I to open our own construction firm in Boston (Mahoney and Flynn Inc.)
- Dinner and music at Baccanal, an amazing wine and cheese shop with a wonderful backyard patio and excellent food.
- Meeting and working with Roshand and Jayson Miller on their house.
- Thursday evening at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art followed by dinner at the amazing restaurant Cochon.
- Making new friends who are now a part of my growing Berklee family.
Thank you Berklee for giving me the gift of this marvelous experience. I know I will continue to process and value this trip for years to come.
Kathleen Flynn, Associate Professor of Voice