New Orleanians and Louisianians alike know all too well the devastation a hurricane can bring to a community. This year, our region was devastated yet again when Hurricane Ida made landfall on the 16th anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes know no differences; it is a life experience that impacts many with no discrimination. We learned recently about a Marrero middle school band that took a big hit. Because of this devastation, Marrero Middle School band director Jeremy Williams is a man on a mission, fighting to replace all the band equipment lost in the storm, from building damage to excessive heat that came with no power for weeks.
Q: Tell us a little about your background. I was born and raised in Kenner. Before I went to college, I already knew what I wanted to major in. I grew up in a musical family. My father played the trombone, my brother played the trombone, so I wanted to play the trombone, as well. I was constantly surrounded by some of the best musicians in the city. My brother and I were both taking private lessons and studying with some of the best low brass instructors in the area. When I was kid, I started to play music because it was always around me. As I progressed through my studies, I continued to play because it was so much fun. Little did I know when I was playing in the school band, the youth orchestra, and honor bands I was just in the infant stages of beginning to mold my musical experience. There are jobs people do for the money and some for the glory. Music education is not a job you do for the money or the glory, I can assure you this much. As of this year I have been teaching for 15 years now.
Q: What was it like teaching after Hurricane Katrina? I started teaching in Chalmette right after Hurricane Katrina. In many ways the situation the band is currently in [since Hurricane Ida] parallels my teaching experience then. When I taught in Chalmette, I walked in the band room and there was nothing but a bare room. I had to get equipment, do bids, order and everything else that is entailed to get a band in full operation. After getting the program going, I was hired to be the band director at Marrero Middle School.
Q: Tell us about the Marrero Middle School band and its challenges. When I arrived, there were only two instruments and only a few kids in the band. I have been building this program for 10 years now. Currently, we have a concert band, marching band, jazz band, New Orleans brass band, brass ensemble, and woodwind ensemble. Now [since the hurricane], we find ourselves having to rebuild from the ground up again, which we will. We will come back stronger than before.
Q: Why is music in schools so important for kids? There is the scientific and academic side with skills such as language development, increased IQ, the brain is forced to work harder, spatial-temporal skills, improved scores and so much more. There are also all the character building and life skills such as develop creativity skills, exposure to multiple cultures, craftsmanship, teamwork, discipline, helps to develop both self-esteem and self-expression, prepares students for future jobs by helping overcome stagefright, anxiety and risk taking, which all leads to reaching full potential and being a fully developed, well-rounded musician and person.
Q: What was the impact of Hurricane Ida on the band and the school? Kids came back to school in August of 2021 with hopes of returning to music. Instead, many showed up to school for a few days and then everyone was sent home for Hurricane Ida. In our case when we returned to school, we returned to a band inventory that is now unusable. Returning to a silent band room is never something any band director dreams of. All the love the community has poured out to the band program recently not only gives a sense of hope for the future but, it also brings a much-needed breath of fresh air to the soul.
Q: How can the community help? I would encourage people in the community to share our story wide and far. [Also] we are also asking people to check their closets and attics. With this being a musical city like it is, many times people have old instruments just sitting not being used. If you have any unused instruments that you are willing to part with, dust them off and donate to the program. Teenage years can be very difficult, typically this is a time of coming of age, time of transition. These years can be the most important times of a young person’s life. For every instrument put into someone’s hands this gives them meaning so they have a purpose, it provides them with direction, discipline, life skills and so much more. Playing music is a great positive outlet that not only gives kids something to do but it provides them with something that they can continue with for their entire lives. As we all know there are few things, we can all do for our entire lives, but music is one of those few activities we can carry with us forever.
Where is the best place to watch live music in the city/area? The best place to watch live jazz is the one and only, the legendary Preservation Hall and the more recently the New Orleans Jazz Museum. They are both living breathing museums. To me, these two places are both musical sanctuaries.
What is your favorite song the band plays? The band’s favorite song would probably be the local New Orleans standard “Do Whatcha Wanna.” There are so many good songs, but I tend to like the old school songs from an earlier generation. I love the New Orleans standards, there are also so many concert band pieces I love. But one of my all-time favorite songs that the band plays is 25 or 6 to 4 by the classic horn band Chicago.
To make a donation
Jeremy Williams, Band Director
Marrero Middle School