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How's Bayou? Artistic Director 001

Birdfoot Festival residents rehearse in Madewood's ballroom, where Jenna Sherry performed in 2007. (Photo by Angie Johnson)

It seems perfectly clear.

Jenna Sherry, artistic director of the nascent Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival, which commenced rehearsals and residency at Madewood last weekend, must have wanted her friends and collaborators back in Great Britain, where she currently resides, to be able to reach her with ease. That would explain the (001) -- international country code for the U.S. –that precedes the local 504 area code on the festival's website.

It also symbolizes the hope she has for international recognition of the inaugural festival that she developed from across the Atlantic with the assistance of her mother, Tracey Sherry, co-founder of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra.

It would be such a shame, now wouldn't it, if high-falutin' flautist James Galway, for example, or an avant-garde French cellist couldn't get in touch?

KP duty to fuel artistic inspiration. (Photo by Angie Johnson)

Over the weekend, Jenna’s love of London, and all things English, dovetailed nicely with Madewood's tradition of Afternoon Tea -- and the need to provide late-afternoon sustenance for weary pianists and string players.

Jenna has a history with Madewood. In 2007, Music at Madewood sponsored a benefit concert, followed by a proper tea, where she performed in the ballroom before leaving to study at the Beijing International Music Festival and Academy.

I’ve felt an artistic entrepreneur kinship (German must have a phrase for this – something like Kunstlerischunternehmer Verwandtschaft, perhaps?) with Jenna since Tracey called me a year ago with news that she and Jenna were founding a new chamber music festival in New Orleans.

I thought back to 1974, when I, like Jenna, was in my 20s and living in London. My brother Don, involved in all things artistic in New Orleans at the time, suggested to our mom – the archetypal mother-of-all-mothers, who had just hosted a luncheon for New Orleans Opera Association singers at Madewood – that we hold an arts festival at the plantation house. It was she who landed Metropolitan Opera basso Paul Plishka for an inaugural concert in the ballroom where, 33 years later, Jenna was to charm patrons with her skills as an earnest young violinist.

Earth Mother (011) quickly dialed that international code for England and asked me what I thought about doing an opera at Madewood – a “Glyndebourne on the Bayou,” as Times-Picayune music critic Frank Gagnard would describe the venture in an advance column shortly after I set foot back on the terra firma of country (001).

I thought it was a grand idea and immediately hired a one-day-a-week assistant, Naomi Ryan, an upper-crust lady, with a Queen-of-England intonation to her voice, whose residence in Chiswick, a fashionable 18th-century suburb of London, had a view of the historic home of painter and social satirist William Hogarth.

Birdfoot Festival artistic director Jenna Sherry in her impromptu office in the Charlet House at Madewood. (Photo by Angie Johnson)

Naomi decided right away that I needed a bookcase to store documents, and Terence Conran’s trendy new emporium, Habitat, in nearby Chelsea, was just the place to get it.

When the gleaming, yellow-enamel behemoth hadn’t arrived a week later, she picked up the phone and queried the delay.

When told that all delivery vehicles were engaged, she replied, simply and grandly, consonants rolling up slowly from her throat, “And what’s that to us?”

Two hours later, the doorbell rang, and the operatic segment of the first Madewood Arts Festival was launched at 24 Petersham Mews, London, SW7.

Meanwhile, my mother, also a Naomi, carried out my suggestions while running Dixie Art and her Downtown Gallery.

Last October, as Tracey and I sat in rockers on the porch of Madewood, she expressed what Mother must have felt almost 40 years ago:

“At this stage of my life, the last thing I need is to organize another non-profit organization. But I’ll get to spend time with my daughter.”

Musicians rehearse in the library of Rosedale Theatre at Madewood. (Photo by Angie Johnson)

Gordon Brown, director of the New Orleans Recreation Department’s Civic Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Dorothy, suggested Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as our first opera at Madewood; and I headed off to Kew Gardens, outside London, to take out-of-focus 35mm slides for rear-screen projections that I envisioned on huge screens placed between the columns at the rear of Madewood, towering over the raked, lozenge-shaped stage that I planned to build – with precious little knowledge of how difficult it would be to construct.

I’ll never forget driving up to the first rehearsal, opening the car door, and hearing the harpsichord, uniquely placed with the orchestra on the rear gallery above the stage, strike the first chord of the opera.

Not only was I at home; I knew that I had found my true home in the world of music I’d known since childhood. Now, 15 operas later, and ballroom concerts by distinguished chamber music groups such as The Fine Arts Quartet, Madewood is nurturing a new entity.

And now Jenna is coming home.

“New Orleans is the only place I care about enough to put in the energy and work of starting a festival like this,” she mused. “It is also a way I can give back to a place that has meant so much to me by sharing what I do and love.”

I wish I could stand next to Jenna later this week in New Orleans as she savors the opening notes of the Birdfoot Chamber Music Festival.

I guarantee she’ll never forget that moment.

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville. 

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.