“Tone Poem for St. Claude”

September 25, 2020

by Quintron: Organist / inventor from New Orleans.

The title of this piece refers to the street where I have lived for 30 years and most all of the sounds were recorded within 1 mile of where I am sitting right now. The opening is the sound of the 9th Ward Marching Band, performing under an overpass in the neighborhood (behind the Mardi Gras Zone grocery), just a few days before Fat Tuesday. The volume of the group happened to set off a car alarm, which the horn players brilliantly imitated as they marched by. Mixed in, we also hear the voice of neighborhood character, “Twister” – pitted against / aligned with, the Ursulines nuns reciting the Holy Rosary. Catholicism and street prophets inform every aspect of life in the city of New Orleans, ESPECIALLY Mardi Gras! These nuns speak the rosary every week on a powerful AM radio station here.

The mid-section of this tone-poem represents our long summer – the slow crawl of humidity, heat, and froggy swamps that creep into the city by night. The droning instrument you hear is called “Weather Warlock”, invented in New Orleans. This electronic instrument takes cues from wind, rain, sun, temperature, and barometric pressure to make music. Weather Warlock broadcasts live, from St. Claude Avenue at www.weatherfortheblind.org 24 hours per day, all year round.

At 2:28 we hear a homemade, glass-bottle-instrument, called the “Tullamarimba”, pay melodic tribute to New Orleans’ strong Vietnamese community. Many the greatest chefs and bakers in New Orleans are of Vietnamese descent.

The final minute of the piece features a snippet of a song called “Tire Shop”, featuring King Lee – a musical employee of the St. Claude Tire Shop. The lyrics are mostly a listing of his friends and loved ones, as well as other employees at the shop. The drum beat for this was constructed entirely from recorded samples of various tire shop tools. The St. Claude Tire Shop was the only business on this street that never closed during Hurricane Katrina. At the very end of the song, the Ursulines nuns make their return, to join King Lee in a closing prayer – a reflection of how our streets have always mixed with ancient tradition, to make something new.

Like many famous “cultural” cities, New Orleans is sold on a cliché that does not really exist. The true heart of this place is so much more diverse, interesting, and beautiful than any tourism-commercial could ever express. New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods and this is my letter to the one that I know and love so well.