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Friday Spotlight: The Roots of Music

roots_kids._romain_beaxisA bit of a departure for today’s spotlight…

“We were thinking about a lot of stuff with rebuilding, and getting our lives back together – getting the lights back on, getting the economy back up. But we didn’t think about our children, we didn’t think about what the children need to get back to their normal life.” ~ Derrick Tabb, Roots of Music founder

As a North Louisianan, I realize that I’m probably a bit late to the party (as usual – see “Shreveport Mardi Gras”), but it was only a few months ago that I first got to experience a tiny slice of the amazing work that The Roots of Music organization has been doing  in New Orleans since 2007. I heard a small Roots of Music ensemble perform at the state capitol prior to the inauguration of Governor John Bel Edwards and was excited to learn about how the group uses music education to connect, mentor, and empower middle school age youth from low-income households all across New Orleans. Derrick Tabb, New Orleans native and snare drummer for the Rebirth Brass Band, co-founded Roots of Music along with Allison Reinhardt to fill the void created when many schools discontinued marching band programs after Hurricane Katrina, especially at the middle school level.

Today, Roots of Music supports a 100+ member marching band and drill team for kids ages 9-14 that has delighted Mardi Gras parade crowds since 2009 and performed for President Obama during the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Katrina. Tabb was named a 2009 Top 10 CNN Hero and the music site The HUB recently gave Roots of Music a shout-out as one of eight non-profits “changing the world with music.”

What I think is so impressive and inspiring about Roots of Music is the way that the organization has committed not only to teach kids to play instruments that they might not otherwise have had the chance to master, but also to neutralize the conditions that often make this experience impossible – systemic barriers created by generations of poverty, racism, and neglect.

When you hear and see Roots of Music perform, as I did in January, you are keenly aware of how music affects the kids – they are proud, joyful, confident. What you can’t see is the academic tutoring and homework assistance that is part of the five day a week, year round program. You don’t witness the mentoring from positive adult role models, or the way the students are encouraged to find a shared identity as New Orleanians – and to appreciate their common heritage as New Orleans musicians – even though they come from different parts of the city. And you especially can’t experience the quiet peace and security of knowing that, when you’re a Roots of Music kid, a bus is going to pick you up and get you home from practice, and you’re going to eat a hot meal.

Music can surely transform your life – but not if you can’t get to someone who can teach and encourage you. And not on an empty stomach. Tabb and his staff get that, and that’s really important. They’ve created something that is so much more than a marching band.

So, if you haven’t encountered these inspiring performers yet, visit the Roots of Music website or Facebook page for upcoming events in New Orleans, like the St. Augustine High School Marching 100 spring band concert on April 16 and a Jazz Fest parade through the Fairgrounds on April 28. If you’re not in New Orleans…well, get in your car.

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