I mentioned in the previous post that I had a job with the new marching band at Tulane. This deserves some clarification: I was work study support staff for the Tulane University Marching Band, and fall of 2005 was its debut season. Band camp began on August 23, 2005.
It really was a bit of a rag tag start. There was the band director, a color guard instructor, a drumline instructor, another student worker, and me. There were few enough band members that I had hand-addressed and mailed all the individual music packets (we weren’t quite ready for digital yet). I emailed all the students from my personal Gmail account because it made organizing responses easier.
But what does this have to do with the hurricane?
Well, on August 26, we became aware of a storm in the Gulf. Not unusual, as I’ve already said, and nothing to panic about. Besides, it was headed east of us. No big deal.
On August 27, the path of the hurricane had… shifted. After what seemed like a forever of waiting — though it was only mid-morning– the university announced it would be closing for the hurricane, and recommended evacuation. I ran down to the band rehearsal with the news. The director gathered everyone together and started organizing which students had cars, who was going where, and how many people they could take. Within a few hours, I was on my way to Baton Rouge.
Did you know that water is bad for servers? Did you know catastrophic flooding can wipe out a university’s entire communication system? It’s not really something you think about– it’s not necessary for survival, certainly– but Tulane’s webmail servers went down. Phone numbers that used New Orleans area codes were unreachable. You couldn’t get in contact with people. Yahoo groups and forums started popping up with lists of people–professors, staff, students– who were known to be safe or who were still being sought. And because of the blind luck of my choosing convenience over professionalism, I had non-university email addresses for over half the band.
Over the next few months, I sent out dozens of mass emails. Where is everyone? Who is coming back? Yes, the university is slashing programs left and right, but somehow, they haven’t cut the band yet. Band members talked with one another. We’re getting together to play at the Tulane/Rice game, can you make it? We’re playing at a basketball game, who can be there? A group of people who had known each other for less than a week, half of whom were freshmen, were talking, planning, comforting, and reaching out. It was like Katrina had told them they couldn’t, and they pushed back with everything they had to prove that not only could they, how dare anyone ever suggest otherwise.
In February of 2006, the band made its debut in Mardi Gras, marching in parades uptown and across the river. Some of my closest friends are people I marched with that season. Many stayed in the city, but even those who moved away after graduation remain fiercely devoted to the city and each other.
Tulane’s motto is Non sibi sed suis: Not for oneself but for one’s own. When I designed the banner for the marching band in early August of 2005, I thought it would be nice to have that motto leading us in parades. I had no idea how well the band members would live out that motto, or how deeply they would come to represent New Orleans and its rebirth to me.