Wednesday, February 25, 2009

a personal reflection...

Hello! My name is Alli, I am forth year Double Bass major, and one of the co-chairs of the New Orleans Project 2009. This will be my third year involved with the trip, and I couldn't be more excited to go back. 

This is a brief reflection I wrote shortly after returning from the 2008 trip. I hope you enjoy...

*I have changed names to insure anonymity 

APRIL 30, 2008

This past march, when I was more than half way done with my third year here at Juilliard, and felt that I was very much at the cross roads of my musical career with graduate school auditions and graduation looming near in the future. I decided to forgo a spring break full of catching up on practicing and work, to go to New Orleans with ARTreach the student run organization here at school. I went because I felt the personal need to go, get my hands dirty, and try and make a difference, however small. I knew it was a city in the midst of a vast transformation and I hoped to be a part of that journey towards a brighter future, little did I know it was I who would leave the beautiful city of New Orleans transformed and forever on a voyage of rediscovering and redefining my own personal meaning of art.  

            In the past I often found myself thinking about the role of the arts in our society – and how that role was constantly changing, evolving, and sometimes even disappearing. I would try to predict how that role would change in the future – and how that transformation would affect me. However that all changed when I meet Michelle and Sarah, two of the girls we taught at the YMCA near the lower ninth ward of New Orleans – ironically within sight of where the levees broke.

            I believe my colleague on the trip, drama student Finn Wittrock put it best “getting to know the children was exhilarating but keeping order was exhausting.” And our first day proved to be both of those things. Within the first few minutes of our class a fight broke out between the girls, and it was getting very violent very fast. We immediately scraped our lesson plan and decided to start by performing for the students. My teaching collaborator Alex Rodriguez got up and presented a monologue that immediately brought the room to a silence that just moments before I didn’t think would ever exist. It was one of those powerful silences that says more than most conversations could every hope to do.  Alex then opened the floor to the students – one by one they started to open up in their own way. After they started to get more comfortable and realized that it was a safe environment to share their ideas, something really amazing happened. They started to bring in their own work, free writing, poetry, lyricss. That is where Michelle and Sarah come in, these were the two girls who tried to start a fight in our first class, and these two girls both brought in poetry, poetry that they had written will they were waiting out hurricane Katrina in the superdome. They were only 10 when the storm hit but their words and the wisdom their language communicated was well beyond their young age. When they got up to share their work with the group, that silence I mentioned before came back. I looked around and there were tears streaming down the faces of almost all of the children in the room, including all of the girls who were just days before trying to harm each other. There was a newfound comradery in the room that was more powerful that anything I had ever experienced. It was at that very moment I realized that art isn’t about missing a note in an audition, or getting front row seats at a popular concert, its about Michelle, Sarah and others just like them. Art to me now is not in a constant state of transformation, it is in fact very constant. It is the perception of art that is constantly transforming – and that should have nothing to do with my own experience and love for my music.

Michelle and Sarah taught me that Art is not an privilege for the wealthy it is a necessity to human kind. When it came down to a situation of true desperation these children turned to art – and I believe that says something very very powerful.

It amazes me that a city that physically shows so little transformation holds so much hope and optimism in the hearts of it’s people and the people it touches. 

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