Mackenzie Hurlbert – General Assignment Reporter –
The SCSU music department organized their 17th annual small ensemble Mardi Gras concert to celebrate the holiday and share the cultural music of the Big Easy with the Southern community.
“For the last 17 years we’ve been celebrating New Orleans in New Haven,” said small ensemble Director David Chevan to the audience. “Let the good times roll!”
The event started at 7:30 p.m. in Garner Recital Hall on Feb. 20, and while the celebration was a bit belated due to the previous week’s blizzard, the spirit of Mardi Gras was there along with a variety of the cultural music. Along with two blues bands, there was also a Latin band and a jazz band. The audience ranged from children to senior citizens, and everyone clapped along to the beat as the Southern students performed.
“We’ve been doing this event for 17 years,” said Chevan. “And it’s a Southern tradition. This is the first time we’ve ever had to do it late; it’s the first time we’ve ever been snowed out.”
While Chevan had not been to the Mardi Gras celebration, he has visited New Orleans and mentioned how important the culture and music is. “We always celebrate Mardi Gras and the music and culture of New Orleans because New Orleans is a really important city as far as American music is concerned,” said Chevan. “So by playing these songs, not only are we having fun but it’s an educational opportunity for the students to learn an important aspect of American culture.”
The four bands performed selected songs that were related to or culturally connected to the Mardi Gras tradition. The Latin band showcased an important ingredient of the musical melting pot that is New Orleans. “A lot of New Orleans’ music comes out of Hispanic tradition,” said Chevan.
Chevan said picking the music that the bands play is a combined effort, but students do have a say in what they’d like to play. “I try to help guide them toward material and then they choose things, and if it’s perfect we keep it.”
Sophomore Lucy Canada sang in the second blues band of the night, which performed the cultural classics “Rockin’ Pneumonia” and “Iko-Iko.”
“This is my very first time doing this so I’m very excited,” said Canada before the show. “I’m not a music major, so I’m just doing this because I love to sing and it’s something I’m able to do. It’s a really great opportunity. A lot of us still love it and it’s a great time, so it’s not really like work or class. It’s more like jamming out for an hour or two once or twice a week.”
While most of us know or have heard the jazzy music associated with New Orleans, some people may not know what the Mardi Gras celebration truly is. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is known as one giant party.
When we think of Mardi Gras, which if translated from French means Fat Tuesday, we think of colorful floats, flashy beads and the stereotypical flashing women of the French Quarter; but the history behind this celebration reveals a depth that is culturally rich and often unknown to most of those people traveling to New Orleans for the holiday. Mardi Gras, also considered a variation or part of carnival, is celebrated in Belgium, Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands and Italy; however it became a US tradition in 1857. Introduced as a holiday by the French who colonized New Orleans, it is celebrated exactly 47 days before Easter, therefore it falls on different days each year. The Mardi Gras colors, purple, green and gold, were selected by the Rex–King of the Carnival–in 1892.
Each color has its own significance and importance. According to the Mardi Gras website, “Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.”
The organization of the Mardi Gras parade is as follows: the celebration is made up of different krewes, or organizations, that create themed floats for the parade.
Each crew crowns a king for their float, but the Rex, the king of Mardi Gras, is chosen differently. In this year’s Mardi Gras, the Rex was chosen by a design school that sponsored the Rex parade float. Float riders are mandated to wear masks, but it is often the case that members of the crowd celebrating the event also like to don and show off their own elaborate masks. Other than the parade and floats, Mardi Gras also consists of picnicking, feasting, and music, especially jazz. Along with the floats come the throws. Throws are basically what the float riders toss to the audience, and they can range from stuffed animals and the infamous beads, to cups and personalized doubloons.
Most krewes will order and customize their throws to include images of their elected king and their krewe’s insignia.
It is a common assumption that women flash the floats in order to get thrown some beads or throws; however the Mardi Gras website says these actions are limited to the French Quarter, a part of New Orleans in which the floats don’t parade through, and that they are done for attention, not beads. Therefore, the Mardi Gras website says, the celebration is open for all ages and is considered a family event, the one exception being the French Quarter which markets towards an adult audience since it is mostly comprised of strip clubs and bars.
The assumption that Mardi Gras is only an opportunity to get drunk and meet loose women is an undeserved stereotype. It is a much more wholesome celebration than people usually perceive it to be.
It is basically a celebration of enjoying life, a celebration that causes New Orleans to be nicknamed “The Big Easy” due to the laid-back attitude and easy-going mindset of the locals. Their motto is “Let the good times roll” and it is intended for all ages, not just in the adulterated sense. Mardi Gras is a celebration of freedom, jubilation, and life and it applies to everyone.
It is really just one large party and everyone is invited. One of the best, if not the best, benefits of Mardi Gras is that it is absolutely free. No entrance fees or participation charges.
You may have to pay for travel, a hotel room, and food, but the entertainment is already taken care of, and it’s free.