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Classical musicians offer aid to Katrina victims

Trying to find jobs and homes for displaced musicians
/ Source: The Associated Press

Though New Orleans is renowned for its rich musical heritage, classical music may be the genre least identified with the city known for its jazz bands, blues clubs and pop festivals.

But across the nation, classical institutions and individual artists have rallied to offer their resources to victims of Katrina and to help preserve the region’s classical resources — most notably the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and other orchestras in the Gulf region.

“To have these musical institutions at risk is just really devastating for the town and the region,” said Jack McAuliffe, vice president and chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

“So because of that, I think those of us who are affiliated with music, and in this case especially orchestras, have said ‘What can we do to help?’ so in addition to the people surviving, that the cultures survive.”

The Washington National Opera is donating all of its proceeds from a Sept. 14 dress rehearsal of “I Vespri Siciliani.” The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is working with Habitat for Humanity to raise relief aid. And other orchestras nationwide have held events to help the devastated region.

There have also been offers to help displaced musicians. Several orchestras are offering jobs. Some musicians are reaching out personally to others, making space in their homes for fellow artists.

A ‘tight-knit community’“Our musicians really wanted to help in some way,” said Margaret Williams, the publicist for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is also advertising spots for five violinists, a cellist and a bass player for the entire season. It’s even trying to find work for members of the Louisiana Philharmonic’s administrative staff.

McAuliffe identified the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra in Biloxi, Miss., the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra and the Meridian Symphony Orchestra in Mississippi as being particularly hard-hit by the disaster.

“There are some others we haven’t heard from,” McAuliffe said, noting that one symphony contacted them to say they were safe, “but they didn’t know if they’d be able to play because the halls they play in are being used as refugee centers.”

Help from the classical world is being publicized on the Internet at

“The orchestra community is a very tight-knit community,” McAuliffe said. “It’s just very natural that they’ve embraced each other at this time.”

McAuliffe said the response from the classical community reminded him of the period following the 2001 terrorist attacks, when orchestras and operas around the nation donated proceeds to the victims and held poignant musical tributes.

“One of the other thing that orchestral music does is it’s very consoling,” he said, adding that concerts “help people deal with the disaster.”