Faculty and Staff Blog from New Orleans Musicians' Village

Margot Edwards
June 11, 2009
Jon Hazilla, associate professor of percussion, during last year's trip
Michael Williams, professor of guitar
Jeff Muzerolle, senior data center technician, and Kathryn Hencir, academic advisor, Counseling and Advising Center
From left: Camille Colatosti, chair, Liberal Arts Department; Roya Nassery, assistant director for faculty development programming; Barbara Thomas, major gifts coordinator; Kathryn Hencir, academic advisor, Counseling and Advising Center
Diane Richardson, associate professor of voice
Photo by Maegen Wright
Photo by Maegen Wright
Photo by Maegen Wright
Photo by Maegen Wright
Photo by Maegen Wright

Continuing Berklee's commitment of giving back to the birthplace of jazz, the college's Gracenotes Volunteer Committee is sponsoring its third annual trip to New Orleans. This year, the committee awarded sponsorships to four staff members and four faculty members. The group will travel to Louisiana with two Gracenotes administrators June 22–28 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. 

Get behind-the-scenes stories—read the Berklee on Tour blog.

Kathryn Hencir, academic advisor in the Counseling and Advising Center and Gracenotes administrator, said of the progress, "The Musicians' Village saw significant improvement in rebuilding efforts from the first to second time Berklee partnered with Habitat for Humanity. But with each house rebuilt in a neighborhood, there may be seven or eight waiting for volunteers. The relief work from the devastation of Katrina is far from over."

The sponsorship recipients were chosen in part based on letters of intent describing their motivations and expectations for the experience. Said Hencir, "The applicants revel in the culture and rich music history of New Orleans. They recognize Katrina's devastation to the area and want to personally be part of the rebuilding effort." Many of the recipients were interested in giving back in their daily life. Others had been moved by, or performed with, New Orleans native and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.  Blanchard's A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)—the score to Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke—and his vivid accounts of the hurricane itself inspired them to volunteer.

Berklee's work in New Orleans is truly representative of the college's community. In past years, the experience has proved to be a highly rewarding chance for a variety of people across different areas of the college to interact, increasing the overall sense of community. Said Hencir, "The personal gratification of serving is infectious for each Berklee volunteer who gets to experience the rebirth of this city." 

Staff and faculty traveling to New Orleans:

  • Noah Brown, administrative assistant, Information Technology
  • Janelle Browning, director of marketing and external affairs, External Affairs
  • Giles Christenson, support consultant 1, Training and Support
  • Maria DeMaio, travel and events liaison, Meetings and Events
  • Garrett Kenehan, assistant professor, Liberal Arts
  • Barbara LaFitte, performance division coordinator, Professional Performance Division
  • Greg Mooter, professor, Bass
  • Omar Thomas, assistant professor, Harmony
  • Linda Embardo, senior training and support coordinator, Training and Support; Gracenotes administrator
  • Kathryn Hencir, academic advisor, Counseling and Advising Center; Gracenotes administrator

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 MarsalisMarva Wright, Harrison, and Meters bassist George Porter Jr.

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.