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New Orleans Jazz: Culture & History Come Alive Through Music

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Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Brennan Bugbee (Class of ’16) has been curious about visiting the city. Bugbee is a UVM environmental chemistry student with a history minor, and a loyal fan of the New Orleans Saints. When Bugbee learned that he could earn UVM credit to travel to New Orleans to study history and culture, while fulfilling his diversity graduation requirement, he jumped at the opportunity.

Bugbee is no stranger to travel in the United States. “I’ve been lucky to travel with my family,” he says. “Most of my travel experiences have been on the East Coast, but I have gained a little piece of first-hand exposure to regional and cultural diversity every time.” Over the years, he’s explored nearly 25 different states across the country.

Never having traveled to the Deep South, Bugbee wanted to better understand the cultural and ideological differences that sometimes come into play in national politics. “I wanted to know more about what shapes national conversations and policy decisions,” he says.

Gaining Exposure to New Orleans Jazz Culture and History

Bugbee registered for the New Orleans: Music and Culture travel study course last spring with Professor Clyde Stats, a musician. The course met a few times before traveling to New Orleans over spring break to prepare students for the trip.

“The class leading up to our trip really helped me to prepare for the experience,” he says. “I’m a history minor, so I was really interested in learning about the significance of the landmarks we visited.”

The course also explored the transformation of jazz as a musical genre. “We got to experience live performances at music halls all over the city, where we could hear the generational evolution of the music being performed,” he says.

With a historical understanding, the students could situate the different sounds and styles into cultural and historical context. History came to life through music. “I came to understand the concept that music is an expression of cultural identity, which is the product of ethnic tradition,” Bugbee says.

Students develop their cultural competency and understanding through experience. “In studying the history of a melting pot of races, New Orleans’ sociology explains the evolution of the musical genre. We saw how the history, culture, and musical expression are very much intertwined,” he says.

Indeed, cultural studies were infused throughout the experience. With its proximity to the Gulf of New Mexico, New Orleans has a booming fishing industry. Bugbee enjoyed exploring culture through the traditional cuisine of the region; especially the seafood.

“It’s very hard to find fresh seafood in Vermont and it’s probably impossible to find alligator gumbo anywhere around here,” he says, adding that he tried many of the local favorites and enjoyed exploring his palate in a new place. “In my opinion, eating local cuisine is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture because everyone loves food and there are so many different variations to explore. It’s easy to find something new that you’ll enjoy.”

Life in the city was a bit of a change for Bugbee, who grew up in a small Vermont town. It did not feel like an uncomfortable stretch for him to explore the city. “I love people-watching in Burlington, so I felt a similar connection to New Orleans, except that New Orleans is on a different scale. There is just more to see and experience.”

The course mixes traditional classroom learning with field visits, enabling students to learn through experience.

“Everyone I met was very hospitable. Tourism is a main industry for the city of New Orleans, and people don’t seem to mind if you are curious and ask them questions.”

Bugbee suggests that students who are considering a travel program consider their readiness before they go. “To enjoy your trip, you need to be able to handle a new environment far away from home, which is easy if you have the right mind set,” he says. “It’s important to be open-minded to accepting a culture other than your own and interested in learning as much as possible about it.”

Reiterating the value of his experience, Bugbee said, “Travel helped me to discover things I never knew I liked and gain a more global perspective.”