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Gulf Area Orchestras Destroyed, Classical Musicians Rally Support

The bassoon player is holed up in Texas. The violinists are scattered across Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois and Tennessee. The French hornist, who also plays the garden hose, is stuck in Nashville.

Katrina has blown the 68-member Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (search) — the only full-time symphony in America owned and operated by its musicians— into exile. And no one knows if their beloved ensemble will survive.

The orchestra's audience, the city of New Orleans, is gone. Its venue, the ornate Orpheum Theater (search) in the business district, has taken on water. And many of its musicians have lost their homes.

"There's no reason to have an orchestra if there's no one to play for," said Howard Pink, who escaped with his instruments, all 30 or 40 of them, including his French horns, his ram's horns and a 15-foot alphorn, all of which he uses on his second job as the star of a traveling road show called "Howard Pink and Musical Garden Hoses."

Pink's house in Gretna is ruined. "The water damage is insane," he said. He is staying with friends, 450 miles from home and he can no longer bear to look at the images of his destroyed city. "It's too horrific," he says.

Though New Orleans is renowned for its rich musical heritage, classical music may be the genre least identified with the city known for its jazz bands, blues clubs and pop festivals.

But across the nation, classical institutions and individual artists have rallied to offer their resources to victims of Katrina and to help preserve the region's classical resources — most notably the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and other orchestras in the Gulf region.

"To have these musical institutions at risk is just really devastating for the town and the region," said Jack McAuliffe, vice president and chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

"So because of that, I think those of us who are affiliated with music, and in this case especially orchestras, have said 'What can we do to help?' so in addition to the people surviving, that the cultures survive."

"Our musicians really wanted to help in some way," said Margaret Williams, the publicist for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (search). The orchestra is also advertising spots for five violinists, a cellist and a bass player for the entire season. It's even trying to find work for members of the Louisiana Philharmonic's administrative staff.

The Washington National Opera (search) is donating all of its proceeds from a Sept. 14 dress rehearsal of "I Vespri Siciliani." The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (search) is working with Habitat for Humanity to raise relief aid. And other orchestras nationwide have held events to help the devastated region.

There have also been offers to help displaced musicians. Several orchestras are offering jobs. Some musicians are reaching out personally to others, making space in their homes for fellow artists.

McAuliffe identified the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra (search) in Biloxi, Miss., the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra (search) and the Meridian Symphony Orchestra (search) in Mississippi as being particularly hard-hit by the disaster.

"There are some others we haven't heard from," McAuliffe said, noting that one symphony contacted them to say they were safe, "but they didn't know if they'd be able to play because the halls they play in are being used as refugee centers."

"The orchestra community is a very tight-knit community," McAuliffe said. "It's just very natural that they've embraced each other at this time."

McAuliffe said the response from the classical community reminded him of the period following the 2001 terrorist attacks, when orchestras and operas around the nation donated proceeds to the victims and held poignant musical tributes.

"One of the other thing that orchestral music does is it's very consoling," he said, adding that concerts "help people deal with the disaster."

Professional French horn players, like every other orchestra member, aren't in it for the money. The pay is lousy — about $18,000 a year in the Louisiana Philharmonic. You have to love the music, and you have to have at least one other job. Pink has his garden hoses. Cellist Kent Jensen conducts a youth symphony and gives private lessons, and sometimes paints houses.

And in New Orleans, an orchestra struggles. Music in the Big Easy means jazz and blues and zydeco — not necessarily Mozart.

"We're not what people think of when they think of music in New Orleans," said Jensen, who has taken refuge at a friend's house in Baton Rouge. "We're not the sexiest thing out there. We're not the biggest thing on the block."

He fled the day before Katrina hit, with his wife, who teaches Japanese at Tulane University, his kids, and the family guinea pig. And, of course, his cello.

Less easy to tote while hightailing out of a flood are the kettle drums. The timpanist, who owns his own turn-of-the-century instruments, stored his in the basement of the Orpheum, which most likely is submerged. No one has been able to reach the theater, but photographs show it engulfed by water.

"Most of us are attached at the hip to what we play," explained Fairlie. "We would never leave without it."

On a Web site and a Google chat group, the orchestra members post messages to each other, giving out phone numbers and e-mails, passing along gig possibilities — the Kalamazoo, Mich., orchestra has openings — and wondering aloud what is left of their scrappy group, and whether they will collect enough funds and public aid to continue.

"We are dependent on the good will of donors," said Fairlie. "And considering the terrible state of our city, I'm just really worried that the arts will suffer. And without the arts, what makes us human?"