At 4:25am on February 28, 20 sleepy students plus Sabrina Tanbara, assistant dean of student affairs, and Rebecca Reuter, assistant director of community engagement, set out for New Orleans. Begun in 2007 as a service project in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Katrina, the ARTreach New Orleans trip has become a spring break tradition, with many students participating year after year. Some edited excerpts from this year’s blog, juilliardnola.blogspot.com, appear below.
“Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts.” —William Shakespeare
Once we landed, we drove to our home base for the week, split into groups, and determined the groceries we would need. We ended the day on a reflective note, sharing our highs and lows, peaks and pits, roses and thorns of the day. Cheers to our very first day in NOLA!—First-year singer Michelle Geffner holds Rosemarie Radman Lafiosca and Pfeiffenberger scholarships
For our performance at Trinity Episcopal Church, a benefit for the Shalom Zone Community, we put together a program that was comprised of different types of performances from music, dance, and drama and also a fusion of the three. By the end we saw that our art and passion had reached the audience as they were dancing in their seats and singing our group song along with us. Art matters.—Third-year violinist Natsuko Takashima
Today was magical! We started the day in the kitchen cooking, singing, laughing, and grooving to different styles of music and then went to KIPP Central City Academy (K.C.C.A.) to teach kids more about our art. It’s always a good feeling when at the end of the day, you teach some kids that want to learn. I learned as well, and I can’t wait to go back tomorrow!
After a full day, we prepared our minds, hearts, and stomachs for the New Orleans feast that my grandmother prepared. I am so glad the team got the chance to experience the culture and love I grew up with. We had baked mac and cheese, potato salad, salad, gumbo and rice, and my grandma’s famous bread pudding. Trust me, if I could capture the looks on the faces of my team members, I would post them right here in this blog. After the meal, Michelle sang, Natsuko, Zack, and Yaegy performed a piece, and the actors did a scene. They truly blessed the house. Our belts were loosened and our souls and bellies were filled.—Second-year jazz trombonist Jeffery Miller holds Wycliffe Gordon and Irene Diamond scholarships
Today was our first day on the Habitat for Humanity site! The house that we had been assigned was built in the simple sense, but was still a shell in many areas. We were all spread out and I had the opportunity to watch my team and the rest of the volunteers work selflessly and passionately to get as much done as possible. I was flabbergasted by how easily these people worked, talked, and laughed in the 77-degree heat without so much as a whisper of a complaint.
On our way to K.C.C.A., my team members and I were all desperately trying to find our second wind and prepare for day two of our workshops. But then we had almost double the amount of students that we had yesterday, which made me feel like I had taken a 5-Hour Energy drink! The kids were so rambunctious, funny, and smart, and I honestly couldn’t stop smiling as we played team-building games and each division gave us a snippet of what they had been working on. The kids were so responsive and excited to be there it made all the little bumps and blips that happened seem miniscule.—First-year dancer Zoe Hollinshead holds an Irene Diamond Scholarship
After a quick-fire breakfast, we make our way to the Habitat site for the last time this trip. It’s difficult to do justice to the determination shown by everyone. I like to think of it as a little musical arrangement of sweat, laughter, and frustration. At lunch we witnessed a little bit of magic when we put up a short performance for the neighborhood.
One moment that will stay with me was Michelle singing “Summertime” with Isaiah on the piano while Sean Jr. and Riley danced to it, and it felt like even the dust in the air paused to witness what was taking place. Our work is far from complete, but we’re a few nails closer to another window to another life, and one more family is closer to calling a house a home.—First-year actor Keshav Moodliar holds Mary Rodgers Guettel and Juilliard scholarships
After breakfast and rehearsing The Jungle Book, we were off to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where one student said improvisation had always terrified her, but today she felt liberated to dance without fear of judgment. To end our time at NOCCA, we put on a small performance for the students. Jeffery triumphantly performed for his old classmates. Victoria sang “Steam Heat,” and Malik stunned us with a self-choreographed solo.
Later, we had our annual dinner with friends and supporters of the NOLA team and then performed for the families. Victoria’s monologue prompted 4-year-old Wiley to ask: “Is she just talking or is she telling a story?” We were able to witness Isaiah on the piano in all his glory. At the end of the night I heard someone mutter, “These kids are so talented.” Of course I agree, but it is more than the talent of my fellow teammates that takes my breath away. The willingness to let go of any form of ego, to share their art, and bare their souls was humbling to watch. I was more inspired from this showcase of incredible artistry after a home-cooked meal in a cozy home than I ever have been from any professional show back in New York.—Third-year dancer Riley O’Flynn holds Andrew Willoughby and Lester R. and Doris S. Benjamin scholarships
What a glorious journey it’s been! Yesterday we presented The Jungle Book at the Lusher Charter School. The Lusher performance is one of my favorite days in NOLA. It comes at the end of a long week at which point everyone is still sore from newfound muscles found during the Habitat build, though spiritually and artistically fueled from a week of engagement. There’s something so joyful about watching a room of kids engage with a story; they squealed with glee as my dancer teammates kidnapped Keshav [Mowgli], giggled uncontrollably as Jayme [Bagheera] coughed up a hairball, and gleefully writhed as Keshav picked up the hairball and tossed it into the audience, where a third grade boy “ate” it, much to his peers’ disgust. Then they helped Mowgli arrive to safety helping us sing a call-and-response “Lean on Me” led by Jasminn.
My favorite question at the Q&A was directed to JJ and me: “You were the bunny in Alice in Wonderland, right? And you were Alice?” My heart skipped because we brought Alice to them with the NOLA two years ago. It was a moment where I recognized that our work does have an impact that may seem unmeasurable in terms of statistics, but the fact that several students remembered our performances and asked JJ for an encore of his silly bunny hop proves that what lives on in memory is as real as that which we experience in the present. It gives me hope to think that our work has the potential to positively influence those around us.—Third-year actor Victoria Pollack receives support from the James Stais Scholarship, the Soohee Kim Oh Scholarship for Leadership in Public Service, and the Richard Rodgers Memorial Fund in Drama