Tip’s Foundation puts instruments in students’ hands

For six years post-Hurricane Katrina, several members of the Eleanor McMain Secondary School band marched in parades and performed in concerts playing instruments that had been salvaged from the storm.

“They were in horrible shape,” band director Todrick Carmouche said. “Some even had mold growing on the inside of them.”

Because there were so few instruments to begin with, Carmouche had to turn away students who could have benefited from being part of a musical group.

That all changed last year when the Tipitina’s Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Tipitina’s music club, supplied McMain and several other public schools with dozens of shiny new instruments, from flutes to clarinets to drums.

“It’s allowed for more students to participate,” Carmouche said. “We are forever grateful.”

To show its appreciation, McMain and other beneficiaries of the foundation will perform Monday outside of Tipitina’s as part of the 12th annual music extravaganza known as Instruments a Comin’. Other bands that will take part in the Napoleon Avenue festivities include the Martin Behrman Marching Band, the McDonogh No. 35 Marching Band and the St. Augustine Marching 100.

The festivities move indoors at 8:30 p.m. when an all-star musical revue gets underway, with such featured performers as Galactic, Anders Osborne, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Dumpstaphunk, Walter Wolfman Washington & the Roadmasters, Bonerama, New Orleans Suspects, Flow Tribe, Honey Island Swamp Band, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes and John Gros.

The street festival is free, and Tipitina’s Foundation Director Bethany Paulsen encourages families to attend.

“A lot of people like to come out to support the bands,” Paulsen said. “It’s very family friendly. We shut that block of Napoleon Avenue down. We have snowballs and a silent auction with art from local and national artists, restaurants, a lot of travel packages and tickets for other festivals around the country.”

As part of the Marching Band Blowout, each of the high school bands will perform, giving attendees a chance to see exactly how money raised from the event is being used, Paulsen said.

Paulsen has overseen the Tipitina’s Foundation since November, but the organization has been around for 12 years, its creation a consequence of drastic budget cuts in arts programs, including marching bands. The group designated the Monday between the two weekends of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for its major fundraiser, in part, to capitalize on the number of tourists in town for the fest.

“Last year, we had a couple thousand people out there,” Paulsen said. “It’s definitely worth staying the extra day.”

Since the foundation’s inception, it has purchased more than $2.5 million worth of instruments for 4,000 students in 75 schools. Paulsen credited the New Orleans Music Exchange with helping the foundation buy instruments at discounted prices.

Paulsen said she does not see the need for musical instruments ending any time soon.

“We know that music in schools is valuable to all aspects of education, but school funds for the arts are still being cut,” she said. “Fortunately, we have a very solid group of supporters from New Orleans and around the country who recognize that putting instruments in the hands of kids is the first step in making sure they get music education.”

Marching bands with instrument needs can apply for new instruments at www.tipitinasfoundation.org. But Paulsen said there are several conditions that must be met before they will be considered.

“They can send us a letter of interest and explain what their needs are,” she said. “But it’s important that the schools have the leadership and support to make the band program successful. We don’t just drop instruments off and go.”