neworleans

at risk of full disclosure

It’s rare that I get personal, specifically on here. There’s a fear that links vulnerability and inhibition, and the divide between personal and professional – an anxiety that occurs when we let people see too much of ourselves. At the risk of full disclosure, I’m about to get a bit personal, not not too much.

Unless you know me – really know me, I generally come across as a “full speed ahead” kind of person. I’ve always tried to fit a lot in to my schedule.  One of the great things about certain types of anxiety is that in order to process, negotiate, and handle it, you use every technique in the book to avoid the symptoms – which means you keep yourself busy, every moment of every day. I’m really, really, really, really, really good at that.  I’m positive that many of our world’s greatest accomplishments have resulted from similar circumstances. Consequently, once in a while you seemingly hit a wall and can go no further.

No, I’m not at that point, though when I do get there, my walls tend to be fairly thin. That is, it doesn’t take long for me to bounce back.  It happens maybe every other year, and lasts 2-3 weeks or so. I am, however, veering toward a need to tap on the breaks a bit – perhaps to paint the wall a different color or add some texture. I’m acknowledging the potential for that wall to get thicker.

It’s early Wednesday afternoon, and I’m sitting in my home office. I can hear hawks outside my window, which is open. Breeze is flowing in, which is good.  My beautiful dogs are laying at my feet. Above them on my desk, there are stacks of around 400 papers and quizzes to grade, not including those submitted online which adds another couple hundred. My teuxdeux list is racking up bullets. Each day the overflow seems to add 10-15 new items, so today my list is at about 60 items, which of course are mostly big items with several steps that are only noted on my list as “do such and such.”

I’m approximately two weeks behind in a very important class – which means about 400 pages of reading there plus a few assignments. In the others, I’m staying afloat by gliding into each session having just finished the work for the day. However I’m also behind in readings for those, too.  This isn’t how I normally do things. Prior to recent weeks, I generally had things done 2-3 weeks ahead of time. Grading typically takes a few days.  I like to work ahead.  Not anymore.  Not to mention, I have two large exams looming: both tomorrow and Friday.

Let’s dig a bit deeper – not too much. I’ve been feeling symptoms akin to a resurgence of mono. I had it last year for a few months, and this week feels very much like that. I’m waiting on blood test results to see if I’m having metabolic, insulin, or others issues concerning my physical anxiety: I’ve been shaking quite a bit. I’ll leave it at that.  Both of my long-term relationships are on the verge of nonexistence, which of course is effecting everything in the sentences above. One of them already seems to be in disrepair (and yes, for the sake of disclosure again, they’re both very much aware of each other and quite close themselves) and I’m avoiding, at all costs, the mere thought of that for the moment.  Additionally, I keep seeing metaphorical shadows of my ex as I glimpse around unexpected corners. Those are whole other posts, which I’ll spare you. My house smells like a dead cow (which will be explained in a later post), financial stress continues to increase, and anxiety seems to be taking over for logic in a very big way.

Spring break is just around the corner, but I’ll be in New Orleans – for Mardi Gras – not exactly relaxing. Not to mention, it’s fieldwork. Yes, Mardi Gras as fieldwork.  A good thing, however I’ll be so drained by the time I get there, I’m anticipating being a bit irked. It also means that instead of relaxing, I need to stay quite focused.  I’m very irritable lately, which is also unlike me. I typically just take each day as it comes. I never “anticipate” a bad day coming up – normally according to my logic, that would just be unproductive and silly. If I expect it to be that way, it will be. Yet, this is happening more and more.

So – that’s where I stand. Now that I’ve written this down, I’m heading off to the land of paper grading. I have four specific posts on my teuxdeux that I want to add here. I’ll get to them soon. They aren’t a way for me to procrastinate. Quite contrarily, they’re a way for me to intersperse my productivity in various segments and media. That’s all for now –

Brass Band Parallels: From India to New Orleans

Red Hot Brass Band at New Orleans Jazz & Herit...

Red Hot Brass Band: NOLA

In 1990, Gregory Booth published an article in the journal Ethnomusicology (34/2) called “Brass Bands: Tradition, Change, and the Mass Media in Indian Wedding Music”.  Sixteen years later (in 2006), he turned this fieldwork into a book called Brass Baja. Booth discusses the context of a baraat (sometimes seen as barat), “a procession from the groom’s house to the home of the bride.” (1990, 245) These processions are typically accompanied by brass bands.

As the author discusses to great length in both the article and book, there are a lot of interesting questions to ask about these brass bands. The concepts of tradition, acculturation, identity, nationalism, musical migration, and the general exchange of music and musical ideas can be brought to the table here. There can also be parallels drawn with the brass bands of New Orleans. Certainly this is indicative of their early European/UK roots wherein brass bands would be sponsored and associated with specific areas.

Later in 19th century New England (U.S.), these brass bands, having migrated from Europe, were woven into the fabric of the Industrial Revolution – I can retrace this to my own roots by looking at the South Barre Brass Band, and the Barre Wool Brass Band (both in Massachusetts), both of which have familial ties. For many years I performed in the Quabbin Community Band, a group that evolved out of the two brass bands above that still maintains its roots by performing the works of its original bandleader, Severino D’Annolfo.

Booth recalls major Indian cities as having between 30-100 uniformed brass bands, and that they “band together” in certain areas of the cities – territories, if you will.  This is certainly not unlike the brass bands of New Orleans, which are often decorated and territorially sound. That is, in New Orleans quite often, the brass bands are defined by their neighborhood associations.  Their band names and lyrics are wrought with these neighborhood references.

A distinction of the Indian brass bands however, is that they generally have ties to a physical space in which to store their horns, their instruments, and likely as a place to rehearse. According to Booth, they have these “shops” that are clustered together for pragmatic reasons: it is a place where potential patrons can find the group and hire them for their services. While New Orleans brass bands typically play for funeral services, these Indian brass bands play for weddings.

State Police Brass Band (India)

Notably, instrumentation between these groups are very similar: percussion, sousaphones, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, and trombones are the commonly seen axes. Certainly there are more parallels to unravel.

As a brass band enthusiast, and dare I say “scholar”, it would seem that a potential study hangs here – I can imagine there are more lackluster topics to attach yourself to in comparison to this. So I’m adding it to my list.

NOLA Notes Pt. 1: Amzie

We were at a cafe on Saturday morning. Amzie’s black top hat was dusty around the rim – you’d leave a starkly contrasted trail with any finger swipe.  He had his winter jacket on; rust-colored with gold buttons – it reminded me of the jacket Bette Midler wore in her “Oh Industry” scene from Beaches shown below – without the frilly shoulder cuffs.

(Note that my favorite quote from this movie is also in this clip – can you guess which one? When I was young I had this entire scene choreographed and my dorkiness came through over this past holiday season when I accidentally remembered it)

His pants were tight black leather with alternating black & red star cut-outs from ankle to knee.  On his right thigh, a weathered black leather fanny pack.  He wore red doc martens which looked like they’d been traipsing the Quarter for months. His thick white beard wrapped from ear to ear – mustache to match.

I dumped copious amounts of honey into my tea as I glanced over at him reading the “A Section” of the Times Picayune while Om Lounge soared over the cafe space, complete with scratch beats.  As for the rest of the soundscape? Tips (change) being counted behind the counter, a barista ripping receipts as he takes orders, coffee chatter, the cappuccino machine frothing, two dogs barking at each other from opposing sides of the room, and a calliope from the steamboat Natchez announcing its lunch voyage on the river.  A tall thin black guy in his late twenties leaks a sonic glimpse from his headphones as he checks Facebook on his Sony Vaio.

This Week's Ambush Cover

I glanced over and Amzie was perusing the front page of Ambush, a local queer publication.  On the cover was a giant advertisement for “Big Freedia’s Big Gay Birthday Bash”, a Sissy Bounce show I had plans on attending later that evening (and did). He squirted ketchup on his hash browns.

It was good to see Amzie (my partner calls him ‘The Wizard’). One of my facebook posts over the weekend involved a metaphor of my soul as a wilted fleur de lis (the symbol of New Orleans) – Amzie is one of those characters that rehydrates it.  Several months ago I made a post about him and the homemade bass he brought in my living room while I was having a yard sale.

After breakfast at the cafe, I was walking down Decatur and my partner and I did a double-take when we saw a homeless guy picking through the trash. Normally, people do a double-take when they’re not used to seeing them, when they’re culture-shocked, or when they’re doing something “odd”. We did one and simultaneously said “he’s new”. That’s a good reminder for me that New Orleans is home. We can be in a neighborhood crawling with thousands of residents and tourists and still distinguish when new migrants/homeless folks are in the area – it means they aren’t part of  the group that we [as a neighborhood] collectively watch over. That reminds me – I didn’t see Bill or James this weekend (my two homeless friends). I hope they’re both okay.

Africa, Indonesia, India…New Orleans

When I jump on a new instrument for the first time, it feels how you’d expect: alien, not quite comfortable – maybe like I’d imagine a hip or knee replacement would feel at first. It’s my third week in African ensemble after a several year hiatus of playing (and building) African drums, and I’ve settled on the dunun as my axe for the semester – specifically, the samba. My spirit loves playing it. This past Monday, a “click” happened somewhere in the land of ambidexterity (left hand on bell, right hand on the head) and instead of following the instrument, I was leading it – (yes, I mean in a spiritual-hippie-granola-crunchy- kind of way). It felt natural and no longer alien – more of an extension of any inherent rhythm I might possess (I know it’s in there somewhere!). I felt its dance.

Along those same lines, in gamelan, we’re performing Baris – I chose an instrument that acts as an intermediary between the colotomic structure and the interlocking parts that exist at the highest densities. I wanted something technically “simple” this time so that I could actively listen to other parts and put it all together like a puzzle – you know, like you’re supposed to. I’ve been playing the gangsa polos part on other pieces which is too fast for me to think realistically about the multiple stratifications happening around me. Yesterday’s rehearsal (and my repetative 4-note cycle) became a meditative exercise for an hour or so – I found myself, after having the part on auto-pilot, paying close attention to the height of my hammer, my grip, the exact placement of the hammer strike on each slabbed key, the space my arm occupied in the air after each strike and whether I was in rhythm with the air itself, and how my body alignment felt in relation to the instrument – as if it were my spine.

In short, it was lovely. Afterwards, we switched to Puspanjali and I tested my spatial knowledge of the gangsa by trying to play sections with my eyes closed or glued to my professor’s hands on the kendang (drum). I had no trouble at all with the phrases that moved step-wise. Once it skipped two or more keys, I found myself striking the air between the slabs – it’s probably best for the ensemble’s sake that I stop intentionally trying to screw myself up. I do enough of that with my eyes open.

(Skyping w/ Viji)

Regarding India, I’m at a standstill in my sitar purchase, or potential purchase. It scares me too much to spend $900+ on an instrument I’ve never touched without having its quality backed by a friend and not a salesman. Speaking of India, an hour ago I sat in a world music room with my “Music of India” class as we skyped with a Karnatik vocalist in Chennai – she taught us a song text and its corresponding tala, a few easier ragas, and workshopped ornamentation. I love technology.

In four hours or so I’m driving to New Orleans for the first time since I started this program and I’ll be there all weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing friends, eating, seeing some of my old students, and doing a bit of fieldwork. Saturday night I’m heading to see Sissy Bounce artist Big Freedia. I can’t wait to get home – some ethnographic notes to come! 🙂

Amazing New Orleans Musicians [That you Probably Haven’t Heard of]

Some nice and unsuspecting soul recently asked who my favorite New Orleans musicians are.  This is a really hard question to nail down because there are so many. However below are a few who make my personal top-list. They aren’t in any particular hierarchal order. (more…)