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Creative Commentary

New Amsterdam Records released the CD Katrina Ballads on Tuesday, August 31, 2010.

September 2, 2010

Creative Commentary
From Piccolo Spoleto to studio recording, Katrina Ballads commemorates the New Orleans disaster

WRITTEN BY Harriet McLeod

Five years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters breached New Orleans’ levees, and the world was inundated by media images of desperate citizens clinging to rooftops, wading through toxic streets, sweltering in the Superdome. On Tuesday, New Amsterdam Records marked the anniversary with the CD release of Katrina Ballads, composer Ted Hearne’s 70-minute cycle of 10 songs with lyrics drawn entirely from the aftermath’s shocking news reports, interviews, and sound bites from celebrities and politicians.

Nathan Koci of New Music Collective Photograph by Leslie McKellar

Katrina Ballads premiered in 2007 at Piccolo Spoleto as a live concert with 11 musicians and five singers, among them Charlestonians Nathan Koci and Ron Wiltrout of New Music Collective. The two multi-instrumentalists played for the recording sessions, and they continue to perform the work, most recently in New York (last week) and at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (last Saturday night).

Katrina Ballads mashes up forlorn and scary sounds, bluesy interludes, jazz riffs, classical figures, and electronics. “It’s an intense piece,” says 29-year-old Koci from Brooklyn, where he now lives. “For me, the piece is really about our experience as Americans who are not New Orleanians. It’s not necessarily about the survivors or the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but about the country’s response, or lack of response.” The songs revisit and question “what happened that made it possible for news media to be really honest with people, for George Bush to say, ‘Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job?’” Koci says.

The track “Brownie, You’re Doing a Heck of a Job” is a speedy, muscular vocal, and one of two bits of almost acidic parody. Another piece includes an interview by an angry Anderson Cooper with the very calm Senator Mary Landrieu. But Koci says he’s most moved by “Hardy Jackson.” The lyrics for the baritone vocal come from a television interview in which a survivor says: “My wife, I can’t find her body, she gone. The house just split in half—I held her hand tight as I could and she told me, ‘You can’t hold me.’”

Koci, a graduate of the University of South Carolina in French horn performance who also plays keyboard, piano, trumpet, and accordion, says he’s pleased with the CD. “I think it represents the piece so well. Katrina Ballads is probing a deep wound with a lot of people. I hope it engages listeners just like the live performance, makes them think about that time again in a critical sense, whether it be positive or negative. All I can ask is for people to listen and think.”

To learn more about Katrina Ballads, click here.

The learn more about New Music Collective, click here.

Thu, 09/02/2010