The first-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic has officially passed and, in the United States, it has been a very difficult year for many cities and their residents. New Orleans is amongst those cities experiencing extreme grief due to the absence of live music and the limitations on our food establishments. The culture of this town is like no other, and without live music and food, New Orleans just doesn't seem like New Orleans. We had a virtual sit down with famous local New Orleans clarinetist, band leader, composer, musicologist, jazz historian, and educator Dr. Michael White to discuss his time in quarantine and how he's been since our last interview that took place in October 2020.
How has it been for your band, including you, to make modifications to your practices during the pandemic?
Well, everyone is currently doing everything individually. Coming together as a group right now has been impossible. I only practice at home and I haven't been going out too much because I haven't really felt comfortable going to public spaces. A lot of them have been staying in, others have been teaching, and others are trying to live their most normal lives while being careful and still enjoying being out there.
In our previous interview, we asked if you were worried for the up-and-coming musicians of New Orleans and why. Seeing that it's been over a year since the pandemic started, and that we've advanced towards finding a vaccine, how has your worry for the up-and-coming musicians changed, or has it stayed the same?
As time passes, things haven't really changed a lot. I think it's going to take a little more time before we really see what the effects of the pandemic have been on the New Orleans culture and the music scene. Since I've been home, I've been not only writing songs but practicing a lot, so hopefully I would imagine a lot of musicians have been doing that. So, that might end up being for the better. I think it's hard because just practicing at home, you want to play and that might be good for the music.
How have you found inspiration to compose multiple songs while being at home for most of the pandemic?
What's happened is it has become a daily habit, a routine function like how you eat and brush your teeth. It's just something that I do. I find that I don't think about it, not only do I not think about the act of composing, I don't think about time, or themes, or titles, temples, chords, or melodies. I just basically put my heart into it and stuff comes out. So, whatever comes out usually ends up becoming the basis of a song.
Currently, traveling has been a difficult task for many due to the pandemic. How have offers been coming in? Are you still given offers to travel and perform?
I have had some out of town jobs, but they all ended up cancelling. Currently, I have a festival in May but it's still pending. My feelings about it are mixed, whether they're actually doing it or not is pending. But, it's really all about safety. You don't want to put people in danger and it seems that we're going at this day-by-day and week-by-week to see where we're going.
Now that you have received your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, how do you see the rest of the year looking? Do you see any progress with live performances coming up?
There are plans for Jazz Fest in October, so I'm looking forward to that. I have a couple of things on the calendar, some weddings too. We'll see how it goes, but people are hopeful and positive that we'll be able to resume normal activities, but we'll just have to really wait and see. And that's one of the things that makes it so hard is that there's really no guaranteed certainty of what the future is going to be like, so we just have to hang in there and know it's coming.
Would you say that staying at home has motivated you to compose more? What's a positive thing you got out of this pandemic, since our last interview?
It certainly gives me more time to do that, more focus time, because most of my meetings are from home, so I don't have to get dressed up and go to places. As far as motivation goes, it seems to have started a few months back, even before COVID-19. So, about 6 months before COVID, I started writing every day and now I still do that, which is something positive for me. Now, I have a couple of hundred songs, and, before, I only had about 40.
When you go about your days, have you ever had any "composer's" block? What alternatives would you say helped you get through it and keep you going?
Yes, certainly, I've had to fight the "COVID depression," I guess you would call it that. Staying home and not going places, I'd say that's combined with that and with finding out about the devastations that the disease has caused, the uncertainty about the future, personal concerns, and family concerns. You have all of those things kind of come together and that can be a bit depressing. But, overall, I can say that just like when Hurricane Katrina hit, I guess you can say prayer and music got me through and it's what's getting me through this. It's surprising in a different way because I have all these new song ideas coming out and it's something that keeps me looking forward to sharing those songs with other musicians and with audiences and, overall, just seeing what happens. I'm ready for life to go back to normal.
Dr. White, like many in New Orleans and around the world, are ready for life to go back to normal, ready for the revival of live music, and ready to experience all the joy that comes along with it. We hope for the day when we can all enjoy a good sit down whilst enjoying a good meal and some live music to accompany it. Hopefully, with the advances with the different COVID-19 vaccinations, Dr. White's performance at Jazz Fest in October will be a success, along with any other performances that are sure to come.
A special thanks to Dr. Michael White for dedicating his time to follow up with us. If you would like to support our local musicians who have been affected because of this pandemic, consider donating to the Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund.