Ann Cohen  

Katrina and the Louisiana Philharmonic

Ann Cohen
August 28, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

August 29 is the 1-year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, which caused so much death and destruction, as well as pain and heartache, for New Orleans and other southern cities. America and the world watched with horror as one of our most beloved cities was flooded and most of its residents fled for their lives. The number of residents who didn't make it to safety still shocks us all.

In a gripping account, Ann Cohen, cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic, describes what it was like for the musicians in New Orleans' orchestra to cope with the aftermath of the hurricane in their struggles to deal with a sudden relocation, stay in contact with each other, find a means of making a living while the LPO was not performing, and ultimately, to bring their orchestra back in full force to the New Orleans community. The outpouring of assistance from musicians all around America is a tribute to our own sense of community, fostered by our deep union ties.

It's a story of courage, conviction, and triumph.

- Ann Drinan

Louisiana Philharmonic Listen to the Louisiana Philharmonic

August 29, 2019 — the newest of infamous days in US history. Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, leaving great destruction throughout the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coasts. We had been through hurricane evacuations before. No big deal; you pack for two days, you grab your instruments and head north, east or west to wait it out. Although we didn't know it immediately, this time was different. It had started out the same; we seemed to have dodged another storm and we all prepared to return to New Orleans and the opening of our 15th season. But then the levees failed and we watched in horror as the water rose, the holes widened, and the city of New Orleans went under water. For days we watched the pictures that showed the world the incredible destruction of one of America’s great cities, the awful personal toll on the people who had remained, and the images at the Super Dome and Convention Center. It was unimaginable.

The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) began from the ashes of the bankrupt New Orleans Symphony and was revived by its musicians. We learned our own strengths from that period of our lives. We were committed to the city of New Orleans. However, this time many of our orchestra members had lost their homes, their instruments, their music libraries and, perhaps even more importantly, their hope of returning to anything resembling normal life as they knew it before the storm.

No cell phones in the 504 (New Orleans) area code were working because the towers were down. It was very difficult to get in touch with anyone by phone. There was a sign on I-10 in Baton Rouge as you headed east: NEW ORLEANS CLOSED. It was so very sobering and sad. Curfews were in place in New Orleans. If you went there, you had to show identification, and you had to be out by 6 PM. The streets were patrolled by the National Guard.

Baton Rouge changed overnight as so many evacuees poured into the city. The same could be said for Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and so many other cities. There are countless stories of trying to find housing, schools for kids, myriad business relocations… Would the changes be for a month? A year? Forever?

Several decisions were made quickly by the board president, remaining staff, and musician leadership. All believed that it was crucial to return as quickly as was feasible. If there ever were a time when an orchestra was needed, it was now; as soon as the city was viable, we wanted to be back in New Orleans.

For weeks we worked to find every member of the orchestra and assure that all were safe. Health and instrument insurances were put in place for the entire season. A Google family website was initiated as a way of contacting each other and sharing information about the orchestra plans, new addresses, and updates as people found work. An outpouring of support from the AFM in New York, ICSOM, ASOL, Drew McManus at Adaptistration, the personnel managers around the country, and other groups too numerous to mention was very helpful and, more importantly, a great morale lifter to all of the LPO members. Orchestras were asked to hire LPO musicians if at all possible without hurting the normal sub lists of those orchestras. Many of us were fortunate to find work; I spend some weeks in the Baltimore Symphony; it is a great orchestra. I was delighted to renew acquaintances with so many old friends and I made some new ones.

Many orchestras had their own fundraisers in support of the LPO or New Orleans musicians. Alan Valentine, executive director of the Nashville Symphony, stepped forward and organized a fundraising concert in Nashville with the LPO, members of the Nashville Symphony, our principal guest conductor, Klauspeter Seibel, and our music director designate, Carlos Miguel Prieto. Mark O'Conner donated both his time and talent as he performed on stage, and then again later at a reception with members of his group who had left a tour to help out. The Nashville musicians donated their time. Hotels and Nashville Symphony board members donated rooms and homes. American Airlines donated all of the flights to Nashville for the LPO musicians and staff. The bartenders in the lobby kindly donated the money in their tip jars. It was the first meeting of the orchestra since our final concerts in May 2005. The event was extraordinary; audience members who were evacuees from New Orleans came up to the stage with tears in their eyes. We shared stories of our own evacuations. We hugged. We cried. A lot.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

More information about Drew McManus's work to help the Louisiana Philharmonic after Katrina can be found at this link:
timothyjudd on September 16, 2019 at 1:21 AM

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