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Spring Break in New Orleans


Tyvek, Barber, White Handkerchiefs

On the seventh annual spring break trip to New Orleans, nearly two dozen Juilliard students from all disciplines and two administrators helped build houses through Habitat for Humanity as well as giving performances, doing outreach, and having a great time.

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On the seventh annual spring break trip to New Orleans, nearly two dozen Juilliard students from all disciplines and two administrators helped build houses through Habitat for Humanity as well as giving performances, doing outreach, and having a great time.

Juilliard students perform Barber’s Adagio for Strings

Juilliard students perform Barber’s Adagio for Strings at the site of one of the Habitat for Humanity houses they worked on.

Sabrina Tanbara
Dancer Gia Mongell takes part in a longtime Habitat tradition

Dancer Gia Mongell takes part in a longtime Habitat tradition: signing a stud of the house she worked on.

Sabrina Tanbara

Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, in 2005, some Juilliard students have been spending their spring break there, building houses through Habitat for Humanity, performing, and teaching. Stephanie Galipeau, a first-year violist from Red Deer, Alberta, wrote about March 7, the second to last day of the trip. 

Stephanie Galipeau

Stephanie Galipeau

(Photo by J.J. Jeter)

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6 a.m. Alarms start going off in our bunk-room of seven at the Hand on New Orleans (HONO) House. 

6:20-6:50 a.m. Lots of “Gangnam Style” snooze alarms going off every 10 minutes or so, but I’m taking my sweet time getting up. I showered last night to avoid fighting with almost two dozen people for two showers—and to ensure that I would have hot water.

7:01 a.m. I grab a cup of coffee (which I never drank before this trip) and make some toast with peanut butter (we’ve run out of cereal). I also make my lunch of PB&J in the kitchen with a bunch of other team members, cracking jokes and preparing for the big day ahead of us.

7:39 a.m. All 23 of us are finally in the vans departing HONO House for the two Habitat for Humanity sites we worked on yesterday—we’re only nine minutes behind schedule!

7:51 a.m. Having dropped off the first group, about 12 of us set off for the second Habitat site to finish the painting job we started yesterday—one and a half coats of eggshell white; we just have to finish the kitchen and living room. We start grooving to “Thrift Shop” on someone’s iPhone and begin to paint.

9:40 a.m. Done! There is amazing teamwork happening while we clean up—and fun collaborations as the dancers teach the musicians some moves. A man from the neighborhood, Mr. Wayne, stops by and gives us all Mardi Gras beads. 

10:10 a.m. We arrive back at the other Habitat site, and begin nailing the Tyvek sheets on the exterior of the house. When we started working on this house two days ago, there wasn’t even a roof on it!

11:30 a.m. Lunch break. Supervisors and team members play football and soccer and some of us just relax in the Louisiana sun. 

12:27 p.m. Back to work! Time to finish the Tyvek and caulking. Some people work on the roof, attached by harnesses; others continue inside. Mike, our Habitat supervisor, begins building a stage in preparation for our performance later in the afternoon.

2:30 p.m. Our performance for the other Habitat crew at the site, plus the supervisors, neighbors and community, begins. It includes performances by drama, music, dance, vocal arts, and jazz students, as well as multidivisional pieces. Our arrangement of Barber’s Adagio for Strings goes over well, and we end the performance with our group song, a mixture of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” arranged by the NOLA 2013 composer in residence—and third-year composition student—Molly Joyce.

3:30 p.m. We bid farewell to the Habitat site by signing the studs of the house—a Habitat tradition—and say good-bye to Mike who has worked with the Juilliard NOLA Team the past four years. After taking team pictures, we collect our stuff and head over to the Dryades Y.M.C.A.

4:45 p.m. As part of our last day at the Y, there is a performance by each teaching team’s students for all the other students. I taught with Gia Mongell and Enrique Sanchez, and our students—we called our group God’s Soul Brothers and Sisters—created a blues song and sang it with Enrique playing the melody on the trumpet. I’m so proud of our students—and all the students. 

5:35 p.m. We get a warm thanks from the Y.M.C.A. administrators and white handkerchiefs as a present. The handkerchiefs are symbolic of a New Orleans tradition—you wave one to show you’re enjoying music that’s being played. I’m so overwhelmed by their appreciation and feel really thankful for having the opportunity to work with the Y.M.C.A. kids.

6 p.m. Back at HONO House, we begin our last full team meeting (Enrique and Braxton Cook are scheduled to fly out tomorrow morning to go on the Juilliard Jazz tour). The meeting gets quite emotional—we’ve become really close as a team and this week has really impacted us as people and artists. We each get individual awards—mine’s the Suds in the Sink Award because I always found myself doing the dishes after each group dinner!

7:35 p.m. We depart for the Praline Connection for our final group dinner—amazing food with amazing company. I’ve had some real southern food on this trip, but my favorite from this meal are the fried pickles and alligator sausage—I don’t know how much of it was the sausage and how much the sauce, but it tasted amazing! 

10:35 p.m. Some people are staying out in the French Quarter, but I decide to go back to HONO House to reflect on the day and week thus far. I’m pretty tired, and we’re performing tomorrow, at the Lusher Charter School, so I need to rest. I try to watch a documentary about Hurricane Katrina, but fall asleep.

12:17 a.m. I wake up on the couch with the documentary still going. I groggily get up, noticing that J.J. Jeter and Said Pressley have also fallen asleep while trying to watch. I head off to bed, thankful for this amazing day and this amazing trip—and looking forward to our last day, which starts in just a few hours.

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