March 2017

by Joseph E. Morgan

The Katrina Ballads social justice symposium at the College of New Jersey Photograph Courtesy of College of New Jersey

This August will mark the 12th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s catastrophic landfall in the U.S. Due largely to an incredible storm surge and a series of levee failures, the hurricane and related flooding caused the greatest monetary damage of any natural disaster in the history of the United States, and further, the hurricane has been ranked as one of the five deadliest, claiming over 1,245 lives. In memory of this tragedy, Chatterbird, Nashville’s alternative chamber ensemble, is bringing composer Ted Hearne to Nashville for a residency on the weekend of April 1, during which he will offer a free day-long educational initiative. The initiative was created by Professor Colleen Sears of the College of New Jersey and tied to a performance of Hearne’s oratorio Katrina Ballads, which is constructed from the words of survivors, relief workers, politicians, and celebrities from the hurricane’s aftermath.

A unique aspect of the Katrina catastrophe was that it largely played out before our very eyes on national television. In this way, as Hearne has pointed out, “The storm forced the nation to engage with issues of race, socioeconomic status, climate change, and sustainability in a raw and emotionally charged way.” For this initiative, Chatterbird is working with Conexion Americas and Casa Azafran to recruit, facilitate, and present a creative workshop which will empower local high school students to explore how music and the visual arts can be used to highlight these issues of justice and equality.

Composer Ted Hearne; Photograph by Arthur Kaye

The workshop features a morning and afternoon session. In the morning, students will engage in facilitated discussion and use clips from Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, as well as Hearne’s oratorio, to learn how art can be a powerful way to make social commentary and spark conversations. In the afternoon, teaching artists from YEAH! (Youth Empowerment through Arts & Humanities) will lead hands-on sessions with students to help them create art, after which students will be given information on free/low-cost local resources where they can learn and continue their work.

Overall, the purpose of the initiative is to bring together “high-school students from different communities to discuss equity and social justice,” and to learn, as Professor Sears states, “how art can be an agent for social commentary and can spark a conversation with history.” The initiative is free and open to any Nashville-area students who want to participate, though the class size is capped at 40.

On March 31 and April 1, Chatterbird will be performing Hearne’s Katrina Ballads and selections from his album Outlanders at WELD followed by a Q&A/Talkback with Hearne on his work. The Friday evening concert will begin with an opening set of music by New York-based cellist/singer-songwriter Leah Coloff.

For more information or to reserve your spot at the initiative, please visit


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