I entered the auditorium a on March 18th, for what I thought would be a normal assembly. I knew that there were going to be “street performers,” but I had not given much thought to what that would mean. To be honest, I figured it would be a good time to maybe close my eyes for a few minutes and get some rest. Turns out, I was in for a huge surprise.
The minute I entered the space and heard the music of our guest artists, Dorise and Tanya, I was hooked. I could not tear my eyes from the stage as their passion and skill hypnotized the students and staff. They played songs I knew, songs I had heard before, but brought their own unique spin to each piece. Their set was unbelievable and it was hard to believe their story and profession.
It turns out Tanya and Dorise are street performers from New Orleans. Tracy Foster, Director of the Arts, discovered their music walking down the street on her trip to their city. Fortunately they were able to come play for us and make their beautiful music for the upper school shortly after. I was fascinated by their work and talent, so I asked them to sit down with me over lunch for a brief interview.
Here is what I asked and discovered about our recent guests:
So in general I’m interested in how you got to where you are. But to start, I’d like to hear about your music background and how you came to love this form of music.
Tanya: Ok, I guess we came from different backgrounds. I’m Tanya and I’m from Taiwan. I moved to America when I was four, um, and I started playing the violin when I was six. I grew up with a classical training. It wasn’t till I met Dorise after college that I started playing off the books.And I just love it and I’ve been doing ever since.
So it was out of your classical training that you came into street performance?
Tanya: Yeah, it gave me a foundation, it taught me how to play my instrument, but, you know, I just took that technique and applied it to pop or all other kinds of genres of music.
Dorise: Well, I grew up in a kind of musical family. So my aunts and my uncles my cousins my brothers played. So I just learned to play with my family mostly and eventually I, uh, started playing in bands when I was in high school, maybe junior hugh, started playing guitar when I was about twelve.
What is it that you find special about street performance in particular?
Dorise: well I think the main beauty of street performing, versus other venues, is that it is open to everyone, so anyone passing by- they can be working- the trash people get to hear the music, the homeless people get to hear the music. The waiters when we are in the streets, even if they don’t have a lot of time in their day, they can still get a song or a minute of it as well as tourists and everyone else, just everybody gets to share a common space together. It doesnt matter how much money you have or what you’re doing, you can kind of just drive by your car and get some music.
That’s so beautiful. Do you have anything to add?
Tanya: Just there aren’t any expectations or anything like that, you know, when you go to a show or a restaurant you expect something- the musicians have to be good. I like how people don’t know what to expect and they can just kind of have a fresh slate in their minds.
Wonderful, how do you feel the reception is of your music?
Tanya: Anywhere between appreciation and shock, you know. People aren’t expecting to hear two women playing the violin and the guitar and the kinds of music that we play. There’s just a range.
What role would you say music has played in your life? I know that’s kind of a broad question, but I know for everyone it can be different- by bringing joy or it’s a way of being out of your head- you know.
Dorise: I think it does all of that. Especially after the storm- since New Orleans is such a musical city it was a way for people to feel that the city was coming back, you know? Just for me, playing, when the city had no electricity and it was very limited resources all around, playing was something that just didn’t change. It just stayed at a certain level and regardless of where I had to sleep or what I had to do… when I played I just kind of was in the same space as if I was in a luxury situation, you know. It was very healing- but not in the sense that I was recovering from any sort of situation, it just stabilized me.
Tanya: I guess you’re asking the roles music plays in life, um…
In your life in particular, yeah.
Tanya: For me, I don’t think its very much different from most people who love music. I just always loved listening to music. I love like hearing what’s on the radio. I love watching musicals. I love music just as much as anybody else- so it’s not much different than for anybody else.
Did playing here, in our auditorium, feel weird to you? Or does playing in other venues feel different?
Dorise: It doesn’t matter where we play. I mean, it was fun playing with the stagg. We just love to play with people, you know? Just to see where people are at, see what they bring insee what their ideas are, you know. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is though. People just bring what they bring.
Yeah, that’s awesome.
Tanya: It was just fun. You could tell everyone on the stage and in the audience were just enjoying seeing everybody play- it was fun.
What are some of the challenges of doing street performance?
Dorise: I mean, it’s no guaranteed income, you know it’s a street and New Orleans has a lot of stuff going on in the streets, it’s not a completely calm city. It has quite a history in the streets, you know? So I guess challenges are just to make it a better place, every day you’re out there it’s just to make the streets better.
Is there a big street performing community in New Orleans?
Dorise: Yeah, there’s hundreds of people doing it.
So, why New Orleans as your place to live?
Tanya: It’s warm enough most of the year, so we could play year round if we wanted to, compared to somewhere like here that has four seasons. So that’s part of it. And another part of it is the culture of having street music and the tourism- people coming all the time. There’s always an influx of new people that ready to enjoy themselves, um, yeah.
That’s great, thank you so much.