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If you’re a New Orleanian who can name your favorite Saints player, but not your favorite high school band director, you should have a talk with Nita Ketner.

The writer and radio host co-produces Cuttin’ Class, a series which brings in young New Orleans musicians from high school marching bands or community groups to perform live on-air in the WWOZ studio. The monthly show allows kids a chance to be on the radio, interact with show hosts, enjoy a pizza lunch, and, well, cut class – with permission – for a bit of the afternoon.

“I feel that our band directors are absolutely unsung heroes of New Orleans,” Ketner says. “We know all the names of the players of the Saints. I think we should know all the band directors’ names by heart… These band directors, they’re on the front lines every single day, and they are saving children’s lives hundreds at a time, every school year… Band helps children discipline themselves, focus, they know how to commit, they learn the value of teamwork…These are things New Orleans Saints can’t do in one-day workshop.”

Ketner continues, “Whether or not these children go on to become professional musicians – a lot of them become engineers or mathematicians or teachers or social workers – they’re all part of the same principles: of discipline, commitment, teamwork. And that’s why I do this, and that’s why WWOZ is committed, because we know the benefit to the community at large of children being involved in band programs.”

One could argue that in New Orleans, high school bands enjoy a higher level of respect than they might in some other parts of the country.. After all, every Carnival, bands march down streets lined with people shouting, dancing and cheering their efforts.

The parade route is where Ketner goes to scout talent: “I scour the Mardi Gras parades. I see which bands are creating the most excitement… The most fun bands to watch and listen to, and that’s who I go after.”

And what do these students walk into the studio ready to play? “Anything by Rebirth Brass Band,” Ketner says. “All the kids know Rebirth. All of them. It has become standard repertoire, like Louis Armstrong has become standard repertoire. The Rebirth has made their mark on young people like you would not believe…These kids know Rebirth’s repertoire.”

“‘You Don’t Wanna Go to War’…Something about that tune totally resonated with either the children or the band directors,” Ketner adds. “I hear ‘You Don’t Wanna Go to War’ all the time. And it’s a great marching band song, because all the marching bands wanna be the top dog. And so for a marching band to come out with ‘You Don’t Wanna Go to War’…they’re calling you out. They’re like, Be better than this.”

We know all the names of the players of the Saints. I think we should know all the band directors' names by heart. Nita Kener, WWOZ

The high school students work within and innovate tradition. “That’s what I love about it the most,” Ketner says. “Seeing guys like Philip Frazier, Keith Frazier, Kermit Ruffins – the songs that they created 25, 30 years ago are now being propagated by young high school marching bands. Rebirth is old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers at this point, and they’re doing these original tunes, and that is what amazes me more than anything.”

Cuttin’ Class is supported by a community grant, and each band receives a $1,000 gift for their appearance. Warren Easton’s band, which performed in October 2015, will put the money toward a cultural exchange trip to Cuba.

Cuttin’ Class airs during Ketner’s “Throwback Thursday” New Orleans Music Show, which runs from 11am to 2pm. Upcoming features include the Trombone Shorty Foundation on Nov. 12, KIPP Central City Marching Band on Dec. 17, and Chalmette High School Brass Band on Jan. 21.

Looking ahead, Ketner sees no lack of talent to showcase: “It’s gonna book itself.” But that’s just to start. Plans are also in the works for a big public event in late 2016.

All photos by Charlie Steiner for WWOZ. Images are of members of the McDonogh 35 Young & Talented Brass Band performing during ‘Cuttin’ Class’ at the WWOZ studios.

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The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

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WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

PRC

Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

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The Historic New Orleans Collection

The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

Southern Food

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

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The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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