Saving a City, One Trumpet at a Time

It sounds like the plot of a Twilight Zone episode: The destruction of virtually all of the musical instruments in a major U.S. city. Yet that’s what happened when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and a tourist destination with an economy that depends on music.

Eric Gordon of New Orleans" Next Generation Brass Band.© Tipitinas

"It’s hard to wrap your brain around what a disaster the flood was for musicians down here," says Mark Fowler, a program manager at the nonprofit Tipitina’s Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring the musical culture of New Orleans. "Hundreds of working musicians lost their instruments and sound gear, with no insurance compensation," says Fowler. "Without replacements, these musicians can’t go back to work."

The waiting list for instruments is growing as more musicians return to New Orleans, and the post-Katrina financial outpouring is mostly over. But now the Foundation’s musicians" cooperative has started a recycling program, and is making a nationwide appeal for tax-deductible donations of used musical instruments in playable or easily reparable condition.

"There are enough instruments sitting idle in the closets, attics, basements and storage units across the U.S. to replace all of those lost in New Orleans," says Fowler. "We need to or-ganize local instrument drives, and to obtain donated repair and shipping services."

In addition to being cost-effective, instrument recycling has a positive environmental impact. "Too many musical instruments end up in landfills when their owners decide it’s not worth the money to fix them up," says Fowler.

The Foundation’s instrument recycling program is one of several that has arisen in response to increased environmental awareness and school music program budget cuts.

Charity Music in Michigan recycles instruments to U.S. military families, and Syracuse Jazz Festival program benefits schools in New York and New Orleans.

"The loss of thousands of musical instruments in New Orleans is one of the most underpublicized tragedies of Katrina," says Frank Malfitano, producer of the Syracuse Jazz Festival. "But we can bring the music back."