Saturday, July 20, 2019

Perpetual Baptism



As we began, so we ended. With another door slammed in our face to see how serious we were about opening it. Five times in this course, my extraordinary NOLA host St. Allen greeted me with, “I got bad news.” We had just finished a stirring final song, cleaned up the room a bit and were heading to our final party on the Steamboat Natchez with its Trad Jazz band. How I was looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying a well-deserved party with no heavy decisions to make! 

But the bad news? Delivered at 4:30, two hours before our boat-boarding time—“Reservations cancelled due to mechanical failure.” So a few desperate phone calls and the agreement that the reservation would be switched to “The Creole Queen.” We just would have to show up.

And so we did and the people at the box office said “Huh?” No such transfer had been made and they said the tickets might be at another site a mile away. Allen's on the phone with the people at Steamboat Natchez who say they’ll transfer him to the right person to talk to. He hands me the phone and takes off running for the tickets, with 5 minutes before the boat is scheduled to leave. I get on the phone and hear an answering machine message. The Captain won’t let our people on without a ticket. I’m calling Allen back on his cell-phone and he’s trying to give me a confirmation number while he’s running. The people in the Creole Queen box office are friendly and helpful and they finally figure out a way to make it work while the Captain impatiently taps his foot waiting for the tickets to print out. But now Allen is a mile away and just shouts at me, “Get the people on the boat! Get the people on the boat! I’ll meet you after!!”

And so we get on the boat. Drinks are in order and off we go and after loving and fun small-group conversations with a slight night breeze, we head up to where the band is playing and have an all-stops-out dance in front of the exuberant band. When the boat docked, we followed the band out like a NOLA Second Line and had a jam session on—what else? —When the Saints Go Marching in. 

But the evening was still young. On we went to the remarkable Frenchman St. and back to the Snug Harbor club (our third time there) to hear the Ellis Marsalis Quintet. The drummer was Herlin Riley, the extraordinary drummer who had come to our course as a guest artist and lifted our spirits to the sky. He was the undisputed star of this show and when it was over, he came upstairs and hugged each and every one of us and then gave us an impromptu lecture of jazz, music, love and life. So this was the real climax, the Steamboat  being a deceptive cadence. We spilled out on the street and people started hugging each other goodbye, but then we discovered an all-women band across the street at the Spotted Cat and so we danced across for a delightful coda. Another 20 minutes of music and now the goodbye hugs began again. Well, for me. I left around 12:30 am, but many stayed and I’ll hear some of the stories later. 

The bottom line is this. All of life’s curve balls are necessary to keep you alert and agile and attentive so you can duck and not get beaned. Or to switch metaphors, there are guards at the gates whose job is to test you to see how serious you are, how badly you want something. From the severe and real threat of Tropical Storm Barry to the University officially locking us out of our room for three days (it actual ended up being open for two of them) to instrument orders that didn’t arrive on time to a cancelled Plantation Tour (then finally was re-scheduled and happened yesterday) to one of the guest artists never responding to our invite (and then at the last minute showing up)  a brief tornado warning to the last-minute cancellation of our Steamboat tour, it was one slammed door after another. But nevertheless, we persisted. Like the jazz soloist who is suddenly fed an unexpected chord from the piano player, we had to respond in the moment and find our way through without stopping the music. 

Time and time again, Allen and I had to figure things out quick. And the students had to deal with uncertainty and be prepared to respond immediately as needed. But being jazz musicians and Orff teachers, we knew all about flexibility and lo and behold, every door that was meant to open indeed did open and that made everything so much richer for all of us. It’s nice when the trains run on time, the meal you ordered comes to your table and the teacher follows the course syllabus, but those aren’t the stories you will tell your grandchildren. 

Each day of the 10 was an extraordinary awakening, in company with a diverse group of committed, dedicated, fun and beautiful human beings determined to be the best versions of themselves, to do the hard necessary work to become better teachers, more informed citizens and more compassionate human beings.

People, it doesn’t get any better than that. 

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