Ellis Marsalis Center for Music Update Conceived by New Orleans natives Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis and constructed by New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity as a cornerstone of its post-Katrina effort, the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village provides a home for both the artists who have defined the city’s culture and the sounds that have helped to shape the music vernacular of the world. Located in the Upper Ninth Ward on an eight acre parcel of land, the Village is comprised of 72 single-family homes, 5 elder-friendly duplexes, a toddler park, and perhaps the most important feature of the Musicians’ Village, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, named in honor of the New Orleans native and legendary jazz pianist, educator, and patriarch of the Marsalis clan. The 17,000 square foot Center includes a 170-seat performance space, recording facilities, computer center, listening library, dance studio, classrooms, and teaching facilities for individual and group instruction, and serves as a gathering place for the community. Young people in the Ninth Ward and the city’s poorer communities are often unable to access music education and so the Center is filling that need. More info about the Center is available here.
We recently spoke with Michele Jean-Pierre, the busy Executive Director of the Center, to learn more about the Center’s recent activities.
MM: What sorts of constituencies is the Center serving? MJP: Our core constituency are the residents of Musicians’ Village and the surrounding Ninth Ward. Residents of the Village are able to utilize the Center practice rooms, take adult piano classes, have access to the Computer Room, engage in fitness classes, and access the facility for community meetings, cultural forums, and other events.
In the very near future, people will be able to access state-of-the-art audio and video recording facilities available for use on a sliding scale by Village residents and other members of the New Orleans music community.
MM: Is there special summer programming available for children on summer break? MJP:During the summer months, the Center provides a place where children of the Ninth Ward can develop both musically as well as academically and socially. Children with little or no music training receive beginners’ group lessons on the instrument of their choice. These lessons include instruction in music performance and sight reading on the full range of stringed, brass, and percussion instruments.
Each enrolled student takes piano in our piano lab where music theory is reinforced. We also offer percussion, dance, and vocal classes. Students are provided an instrument of their own to take home.
Each student spends an hour daily in the Computer Room to help them advance in academic success, music skills, and cultural learning by completing various online music theory assignments, daily observation of musician/composers, music vocabulary review, and awareness of different music genres.
MM: What is your most memorable moment at the Center to date? MJP: One day, three of our 8-year-old female students were leaving my office after getting their new Center identification badges. Ellis Marsalis was in his office playing the piano. They shyly looked into his office to hear more of the beautiful music he was playing. He immediately changed the music to the theme from Snow White when he saw them at his office door. He smiled lovingly, and asked the young students if they knew this music. One bravely stated the right name. I asked the girls who were all smiling what they thought of Mr. Marsalis’ playing. One little girl said, “He is really good!” I said, “You think so?” Then she said, “He is not just good, he is awesome!” Ellis grinned as if this was the highest compliment he had ever received.
It was really special for me to observe these three young ladies and to see the joy they were experiencing in hearing and interacting with Ellis. It is moments like these which are most memorable for me.