Clarinets – A New Orleans Metaphor

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It was a chance encounter with Dr. Michael White at 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Upon seeing me he said that I should photograph his clarinet collection which was destroyed by the levees breech in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

This serendipitous moment gave birth to the collection of clarinet photographs called “A New Orleans metaphor; Death and Dying in post levees breach New Orleans aka Katrina”.

A long title for a long journey taken by a collection of clarinets, some dating back to the 1890’s.

Thus began the arduous and rewarding documentation of Dr. White’s clarinet collection.

The words reverence, awe, irony, rejuvenation, hope, despair, anger, and beauty served as inspiration for the collection. The journey,once begun, became a consuming passion.  Eric Waters

 Excerpt from “A Meditation on a Memory Keeper” by Kevin Sipp

The breach of the levees sent Eric Waters to Atlanta, yet his frequent trips back home have opened new paths and new wounds that need to be healed. When Eric Waters first showed me the ghostly photographs of the destroyed historical clarinets of Dr. Michael White I thought of Shakespear’s grand sing song poem from the tempest, “Full Fathom Five thy Father lies”. A sad song this poem, about drowning and transformation, that echoes down the ages, yet a song of Natures ability to take tragedy and change its appearance, to find the beauty in heartbreak and tragedy. Know that some of these instruments dated back to the beginnings of jazz and touched the lips of the known and unknown masters of a music that woke a world, a music turned like the line in Shakespear’s poem “into something rich and strange”. Know that these instruments were passed down through the ages by the dreaming juke joint griots and second line lovers of New Orleans who saw the importance of their lives and the art living within their artifacts.

Eric Waters’ photographs of Dr. Michael White’s clarinets are poignant reminders of work undone. In the absence of the human form Eric has captured human emotions. The clarinets have become totemic stand-ins for the lost souls of New Orleans, their anthropomorphic presences evoking memories of reverie and despair all at once.  The beauty of their decayed forms force all of us to confront the potential our own transformative mortality.

Inspired by Eric’s profound photographs of the transformed clarinets of Dr. Michael White I have begun to write a cycle of poems in response to his images.  The cycle of poems runs the gamut from celebration to sorrow, trying to capture even a little bit of the essence of a city as great as New Orleans leaves me in reverent awe. What I hope to accomplish in the undertaking is twofold. One, to shed light on the celebratory Africanisms and spiritual traditions that have made New Orleans a cultural beacon of American soul and two, to shine a light on the hypocrisy of an America that would exploit that soul and abandon it in a time of crisis.  We claim to have a love for soulful people , soulful music, soulful living, but with that love comes the need to witness the pain, the struggle the survival that made that soul so compelling in the first place.  The lives lived in blue shadow, the vice and virtues, the innocence and the decadence, in short, the humanity

It is ultimately with hope and love that I write these poems. Like others who’ve experienced the best of the city even at its worst I wish these poems to compliment the soul of New Orleans and let the ghosts who walk its’ streets know that there are those in the world who still pray for them and celebrate the culture they created. And to those who live, once lived, or just pass through that great city let the photographs of Eric Waters be a reminder of what was washed away, yet remains forever in the spirit. Kevin Sipp

In 2010 The Mason Murar Gallery in Atlanta presented an exhibit showcasing the clarinet images.  The catalogue titled, “Solemn Sounds of Silence”, includes twenty-three selected images from the collection and eloquently crafted poems by Kevin Sipp.

For more information on Kevin Sipp follow these links:

For more information on Dr. Michael White follow these links: