Tipitina’s music club feels smaller during the day, a quiet, dim retreat from the outside world.
Mighty musical dreams take root there on Sunday afternoons, however, when young people, most in their early teens, gather at the corner of Napoleon Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans for Youth Music Workshops sponsored by the Tipitina’s Foundation.
Deborah Vidacovich is program coordinator for the workshops. She and her husband, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, regularly persuade nationally known musicians to participate in the workshops as their schedules permit.
The twice-monthly workshops are free and recommended for middle school and high school music students. People of all ages are welcome to be a part of the audience. Monthly workshops also take place in Lafayette, Monroe and Lake Charles. The workshops involve more than 100 students a year in New Orleans and nearly 250 statewide.
On Sept. 13, the visiting artists were members of Snarky Puppy, a jazz collaborative that won the 2014 Grammy for best R&B performance for its song “Something,” featuring soul singer Lalah Hathaway.
Deborah Vidacovich said the band accepted her invitation to the workshop immediately, even though a taxing drive would be required after a Saturday night show in Austin, Texas. “They just said ‘yes’ right away,” Vidacovich said. “They didn’t think about how it might be hard.”
To begin the recent workshop, the nine members of Snarky Puppy who were on hand introduced themselves musically, performing the New Orleans-themed “Quarter Master” from their 2012 GroundUP CD and the dreamier “Kite” from 2014’s “We Like It Here.”
They then invited the young people onstage, and nearly 20 took them up on the offer, clustering around their instruments of choice.
The band members then taught the young people the basics of “Celebrity,” from “Bring Us The Bright” (2008). The tune is simple in some ways, using only two chords (G-Minor and E-Minor) and two melodic phrases. There was a rhythmic challenge, however, with a 7/4 beat.
“I know college graduates who can’t play in 7/4,” band leader Michael League said, but the young New Orleans groove-masters were up to the task.
Keyboardist Shaun Martin posted a Periscope video of his participation.
During the third part of the workshop, the young people took the lead, performing tunes they had been working on through the week, with members of the professional band backing them up, creating a full, exciting sound.
The young performers included Marigny Hemenway, a student at Ridgewood Prep in Metairie, who sang “House of the Rising Sun”; Caitlyn Harris, a NOCCA student who sang “Autumn Leaves”; and Christopher Coreil, a student from Baton Rouge High School who played keyboard on “St. James Infirmary,” which he also sang, and “On Green Dolphin Street.” The drummer for “St. James Infirmary” was Jacob Daley, a student at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in New Orleans.
“To me, there is nothing on Earth so universally communicative as music,” League said. “It allows us to connect deeply with human beings (and sometimes animals) from all over the world without a single word being spoken, without any knowledge of customs or language, and without anything more than the emotion within us and the sound of our instruments.
“When it’s at its best, the audience and the players become one organism, and the performance feels more like a dialogue, a conversation. In the end, you’re left with an increased sense of community and human empathy. It’s my favorite feeling in the world.”
The next Youth Music Workshop will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and will feature jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, whose new album, “Let the Bells Ring On,” features Curtis Fowlkes and Bobby Previte.
Hunter is scheduled to perform an early show with Johnny Vidacovich at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Maple Leaf Bar, 8316 Oak St., New Orleans; and Sunday at Chickie Wah Wah, 2828 Canal St., New Orleans.