Who speaks for music?
Is music in this city really that important? Is it credible enough as an economic and cultural force so that there is a “spokesperson” that can advocate for music, not just during Jazz Fest and other events like French Quarter Fest (when local business and hospitality industry think nothing but music), but all year long.
Music, in my opinion, is still considered “background noise” to most New Orleans metro area citizens.
We know that the importance of local music, for the most part, has never been able to permeate the consciousness of most of the people who live here. They are too used to it; they take it for granted. Music is as taken for granted in New Orleans as part of the culture as red beans and rice is as part of a Monday meal. It’s really nothing special to most of the people who live here—who would rather listen to Walton & Johnson than jazz on the morning show on WWOZ.
How do we engage the general public, get them to listen to and support local musicians and music businesses, not just as an adjunct to a special event (Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras). How do we convince them that music—while it’s part and parcel of our everyday lives—is something we simply cannot take for granted? There are people all over this country, and particularly living outside America, who think that New Orleans music is heaven’s most precious and wonderful gift (just ask the members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who have traveled worldwide and know the appeal of even an old chestnut like “When The Saints Go Marching In.” (Trust me, there’s nothing like seeing 3,000 people in awe of P-Hall when they play “The Saints” in a foreign country—been there, done that).
There are many disparate groups and businesses, including musicians, educators, promoters, and music businesses in New Orleans that need to be represented in a single voice. I don’t mean this as a conceit, but OffBeat has pretty much been “it” on an ongoing basis, and of course we’ll continue to do that. But we need more.
We need something that can pull together all the pieces of the music puzzle and that speaks loudly and carries a big stick, I mean baton. Here, again, I want to advocate for a music museum that will be central to pulling together everyone involved in music to organize the pieces of the puzzle to advocate for and to promote the preservation and furtherance of our musical culture. The only way we’ll be able to keep our culture alive it to nurture it, expand it and plant seeds in future generations so that in the future the music will always be with us.
I mention the music museum, music center, or whatever you want to call it, as a force that can draw attention to New Orleans’ position as a music city and explain why music is integral to New Orleans culture and way of life, both to locals and visitors. For visitors, it’s a no-brainer. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked “how can I learn about the history of New Orleans music and why it’s so important” by visitors to my office, I’d be rich. There’s no place in the city that can provide an answer to this question…academics and reading are great sources, festivals, listening to our music and supporting musicians is great, but a music museum/center would be a real place where the story could be explained and a place where we could engage not only the people who live here, but people who visit as well. An every-day accessible, bricks-and-mortar space that can tell our musical story, every single day. A place that is entertaining, educational and can show the history and the future of the art form that defines our culture.
When is this going to happen? If there’s no developer or entity in the city that understands this concept, or will help to finance it, then my feeling is that there are enough New Orleans music lovers out there who would be more than willing to give a home to our musical culture. This is what we need, and I sincerely hope that it happens in my lifetime.
There are people who love the city and its music so much, they’d support it in a heartbeat. Someone just has to do it.