New Orleans' Marching Bands Short on Funds The 38th Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans ended Sunday night. It featured 23 marching bands among a hundred or so performers. Since Hurricane Katrina, many bands have struggled, especially high-school bands.
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New Orleans' Marching Bands Short on Funds

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New Orleans' Marching Bands Short on Funds

New Orleans' Marching Bands Short on Funds

New Orleans' Marching Bands Short on Funds

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The 38th Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans ended Sunday night. It featured 23 marching bands among a hundred or so performers. Since Hurricane Katrina, many bands have struggled, especially high-school bands.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Well, the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival ended last night in New Orleans, and among the many performers were no fewer than 23 marching bands.

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INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn reports from New Orleans on efforts to prevent a part of musical history from becoming history.

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ASHLEY KAHN: Unidentified Man #1: Rebirth brass band. Take us home.

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KAHN: In New Orleans, the appeal of marching bands starts early. Playing a trumpet or a sousaphone in high school is often cooler than being a jock.

GREGORY DAVIS: I've known (unintelligible) used to, you know, have this little saying, this little joke: If you're not band material, you know, try out for the football team.

KAHN: Unidentified Man #2: Hey, listen up. You all got to get in front of the band, all right?

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DAVIS: The marching band really, really was a source of pride for the school and the community. I don't think that there is another place that exists like New Orleans where the young kids have an opportunity to go out and play, to go out into the French Quarter and go out to these funerals and ply your way up there.

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KAHN: The history of marching bands in New Orleans started long before John Philip Sousa, and it sounds very different from halftime at college football games. Trumpeter Gregory Davis.

DAVIS: The marching bands that exist here grew out of the French military style of funerals. The difference being in a New Orleans marching band, you have a little freedom to add a little bit. You can put more of yourself into the part.

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KAHN: Unidentified Man #3: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

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KAHN: And especially its modern-day brass bands, which found a way of mixing the marching band formula with rhythm and blues and jazz.

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KAHN: Unidentified Man #5: One, two, three, play.

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KAHN: Before Katrina, school budget cuts were already making things difficult for marching band programs in New Orleans. After the hurricane, things were brought to a halt.

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VIRGIL TILLER: All of our uniforms were destroyed. Our percussion instruments, all our sousaphones destroyed.

KAHN: Virgil Tiller is a musician who graduated from St. Augustine and is now one of the school's band directors. St. Augustine was one of the high schools hit hardest by Katrina.

TILLER: This was a $200,000 state-of-the-art band room. We had six or seven feet of water in here. We lost about 60 to 70 percent of our music library.

KAHN: Before Katrina, St. Augustine had as many as 150 students in the band. Now only 90 are available, as students who have been scattered by the storm slowly find their way back to New Orleans. Some are living with relatives and some even on their own. Again, Virgil Tiller.

TILLER: In a way, the storm helped the music programs in New Orleans, because now they see that without music in the schools that the heritage and the culture is gone. So now there is an inundation of support for music in the schools that people across the country has poured out.

KAHN: Money, instruments...

TILLER: Money, instruments - Coca-Cola and McDonald's gave us instruments, uniforms, money, and it helps enormously.

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KAHN: The sound of brass instruments is only now returning to New Orleans high schools, which might be a sign that an important source of the city's music is coming back. But when a marching band is heard, the effect is always the same, whether it's a Mardi Gras parade on St. Charles Avenue or a performance at the Jazz and Heritage Festival: Hearts grow lighter, hands start waving handkerchiefs, and life, despite hardships or hurricanes, becomes a celebration.

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INSKEEP: I'm Steve Inskeep.

REBECCA ROBERTS, Host:

And I'm Rebecca Roberts.

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