Faculty and Staff Build Homes in New Orleans

By 
Nick Balkin
June 1, 2010
Faculty and staff Gracenotes volunteers at the New Orleans Musicians' Village.
Roya Hu
Joe Kay
Sally Blazar
Michael Moss
Laurie McFarlane
Tyler Brenneman

Continuing Berklee's commitment to giving back to the birthplace of jazz, the college's Gracenotes Volunteer Committee sponsored its fourth annual trip to New Orleans, awarding sponsorships to four staff members and three faculty members. The group traveled to Louisiana May 10–16 to help build the New Orleans Musicians' Village, an ongoing Habitat for Humanity project to create new and affordable homes in the city's Upper Ninth Ward for musicians and other residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Kathryn Hencir, academic advisor in the Counseling and Advising Center and Gracenotes administrator, said of the progress, "While our inaugural team witnessed abandoned neighborhoods and meager growth, this team saw countless homes rebuilt. It's an entirely different city, and that change has been tremendous."

This year's volunteers included:

  • Sally Blazar, professor, Liberal Arts
  • Tyler Brenneman, front line coordinator, Financial Aid
  • Roya Hu, assistant director, Faculty Development
  • Joe Kay, department coordinator, Ensemble
  • Laurie McFarlane, corporate and foundation coordinator, development
  • Michael Moss, assistant professor, Music Production and Engineering
  • Jeri Sykes, assistant professor, Contemporary Writing and Production

Team members volunteered hours of physical labor, but they also gave back musically. Jeri Sykes and Michael Moss, along with alumnus and renowned jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison, jammed with local students at Tipitina's Foundation, a Berklee City Music Network member which offers free music instruction to underserved teens.

Berklee's outreach began a month after Hurricane Katrina hit, when the college organized the New Orleans Resurrection Brass Band to march in Boston for a fundraising event that featured alumni and Big Easy natives Donald Harrison and Christian Scott. That year, Berklee also initiated the New Orleans Visiting Artist series (NOVA), hosting musicians whose lives were affected by Hurricane Katrina for teaching and performing residencies. Recipients included Ellis Marsalis, Marva Wright, Harrison, and Meters bassist George Porter Jr. The 2010 Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival, September 15–25, will celebrate the music of New Orleans on the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

The Gracenotes Volunteer Committee strengthens relationships with the college's neighbors and allows Berklee employees to use their abilities for the benefit of the community by providing a number of service opportunities throughout the year. Annual events include volunteering at the American Red Cross Boston Food Pantry's Thanksgiving drive; establishing Berklee teams to participate in the Boston Heart Walk and providing music for the event; organizing City on a Hill, where volunteers serve as judges for Roxbury Charter High School's annual science fair; and the Mother's Rest cleanup to beautify the park in Boston's Back Bay.