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Riffing On the Tradition: Do You Hear What I Hear?

I'm trying to get into the holiday spirit.

Since my travels excused me from post-Thanks-having consumerism campaigns, including “Black Friday” (Whatever.) and  “Cyber-Monday” (Huh?), I hoped something in the air would eventually put me in a more festive mood. Saturday, I finished string quartet arrangements of “Let it Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas” for tonight’s St. Louis Cathedral holiday show. Sunday, I bought my first gifts at sales by local artists, and attended my first Menorah lighting of the season.

But, I’m still not there.

The other day, I even stopped to watch a neighbor decorate his house with lights like icicles. He was in shorts and a t-shirt, not sweating profusely but enough to seem ironic. Yet, having never lived south of I-10 (except for one chapter of my life I don’t really count), cold weather wouldn’t necessarily snap me into being merry.

Holiday music? Nope, totally uninspiring. Street musicians never play the melodies correctly, and stores that started their seasonal Muzak around Halloween have done little more than provided an extra six weeks to feed my “Bah Hambug” attitude.

I think it’s this: The holiday season can be a time to take a break, a breath, a time to celebrate the year’s victories. Remember looking forward to a vacation from school, or later, having extra days off work? Well, for us musicians, this isn’t the case. We work harder than ever during the holidays. This is the last busy season before the spring festivals, save Carnival related labor.

At any rate, count me among those who feel too busy to stop to light a candle and reflect on this year’s accomplishments.

Has there been progress? Absolutely. Weekly meetings that birthed MACCNO (The Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans) have proved our resolve to speak with a unified voice and focus on issues pertaining to musicians and other cultural workers. Our city’s “eat your cake and have it, too” attitude about our role in the “cultural economy” made MACCNO a necessity and they're starting to pay attention to us. However, we’re still not truly at the table.

For example, despite a couple of names that evoke vague cause to be optimistic, a new 19 member “Community Roundtable” organized by The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com that will meet bi-monthly to discuss what’s “most important for our region” includes no musicians, venue operators, performing artists, or journalists.

Now, if the conspicuous absence of these voices inspires you to join me in an apathetic one-finger salute to TP Publisher Ricky Mathews, who says he expects to be “prodded” and “chided,” pause and think for a minute. Who would, or should, they have asked from our community to be a part of their roundtable anyway?

Well, the question is largely rhetorical. After all, we didn’t form MACCNO to sing “Kum Ba Yah” with the Mayor’s office and declare our shared devotion to our city. Our network is about making sure all members of the cultural workforce have access to the clearest information possible to work constructively within the bounds of City Hall's procedural gauntlet, enforcement, and permitting to move our community forward with our creative efforts. The fact is that our work will be ongoing regardless of what gets discussed by others.

Maybe that’s why I’m not ready for holiday happiness. Now is the time for vigilance, not a winter break. We especially need increased participation from brass band musicians, Social Aid & Pleasure Club members, and veteran musicians. Last week’s MACCNO meeting was productive, this coming Wednesday, among other issues, we’re addressing ordinances affecting our buskers. For anyone who wants to be a part of the dialogue, we’re at Kermit’s Speakeasy every Wednesday at noon.

While these others convene to pat each other on the back for hosting another Superbowl, join us. We’re the REAL gift that will keep on giving.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. Click here for his holiday performance schedule. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]