Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Author: Ruthie Ristich

Hammering Nails, Meeting the Neighbors, and Eating Our Way Across NOLA

Our Gracenote NOLA2015 trip has been a whirlwind combination of work and play that always includes cooperation and the agreement of the group.


Build those handrails!. JuliaPolanco, Andrew Crawford, Sue Buzzard and Jordan Lockaby.

Our Gracenotes Leader Laurie McFarlane & Ruthie

All tasks and decisions from the best way to measure and cut (with a circular saw) then hammer together two pieces of 6x10s and blue insulating foam to make a “sandwich” header for an interior door frame to the other extreme—and pleasure—what restaurant to pick or what dive bar to have a pre-dinner $2 cocktail….and the ultimate: where to go for more amazing live music.


Ruthie, Conchetta (new homeowner) & Emily (Habitat)

We have both had the good fortune to meet many of the neighbors on America Avenue in East New Orleans and also to see what poverty looks like. The juxtaposition of our privilege and the overall despair of a neighborhood with many dilapidated homes waiting to be razed is not lost on us. The residents have been very friendly, thanking us, blessing us, stopping to chat with their dog, cat, or (yes!) horse and also working alongside us and the AmeriCorps VISTA**, Habitat New Orleans, and NCCC volunteers. We, as Gracenotes volunteers, are not only individually volunteering to represent Berklee College, but we are also ambassadors helping to spread the word about Habitat and also the good work being done by AmeriCorps VISTA and its many offshoots. One of the soon-to-be new homeowners had never heard of this program or knew of this very positive government initiative. She, her name is Conchetta, was curious and amazed to hear that a young person could receive $5000 toward their college education after enrolling and serving as a community service volunteer for 10 months….in locations all over the USA. How often do we hear about this type of positive government program? Not often enough, wouldn’t you say? That is why there is no substitute for word-of-mouth and the experiential part of “doing”. Yes, we now have instant messaging, email, texting, tweeting, skype and a million other ways to share information but wouldn’t you agree that the best way is talking to each other about something you experienced—person to person, heart to heart.

The Maple Leaf and Rebirth Jazz Band

Rebirth Jazz Band at the Maple Leaf

Rebirth Jazz Band at the Maple Leaf

**Did you know President John F. Kennedy started the idea for VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) as a national volunteer service program to fight poverty and as a domestic version of the Peace Corps? During the Clinton administration it was combined with the newly created AmeriCorps program, which is a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). There are currently 5000 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in over 1000 projects across the USA. New programs of the umbrella group CNCS now include Senior Corps which bundled together the Foster Grandparents, RSVP–Retired and Senior Volunteer Program– and the Senior Companions program.

Jordan Lockaby, Ruthie Ristich, Sue Buzzard

Jordan Lockaby, Ruthie Ristich, Sue Buzzard outside Snake ‘n Jakes.


Inside Snake ‘n Jakes. Andrew Crawford, Sue Buzzard, Ashley Macchia, Laurie McFarlane, Tom Schmidt, Jessica Halton, Julia Polanco, Jordan Lockaby


New Orleans Here We Are!!!

Getting ready for some hard work!

Getting ready for some hard work!


Andrew, Sue, Jordan, Ashley (and Ruthie taking the photo) at Congo Square.



P1010494  Greetings from the heart of the French Quarter where we are staying directly across from Armstrong Park—and its Congo Square—a pivotal place for the beginnings of jazz since it was the only place where displaced Africans (slaves) were allowed to gather together to play music, sing and celebrate their culture. It is a powerful place to visit, as a jazz musician, and as someone who has read about those times and been heavily influenced by a long list of musicians steeped in that culture. Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Barney Bigard, Sidney Bechet, Irma Thomas, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Idris Muhammad, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and many more…. I’m looking forward to going to a concert in the park tonite.

We are here to help work on some homes being built by the organization Habitat for Humanity New Orleans. They are getting ready for, and we’re helping, for their first Build-a-Thon in NOLA “Rebuilding America Street”. The goal is to build 10 homes in 10 days. Many other volunteers are there, too and there is plenty to do. Gotta remember to drink LOTS of water, put on the suntan lotion, and don’t strain too many muscles.

Our group consists of 7 fantastic staff members (Laurie McFarlane–our group leader, Ashley Macchia, Jessica Halton, Jordan Lockaby, Julia Polanco, Andrew Crawford, Sue Buzzard) and myself—plus we had help from percussionist Tom Schmidt before he had to leave for a gig with the Portland Symphony. We are having a great time as a group…walking the city, experiencing the unique and delicious food only N’awlins can dish out, and taking in the music and the sights.

Copyright © 2024 Berklee College of Music