‘Will I ever get this time back?’ A student musician in New Orleans plays through pandemic quiet
This spring, trumpeter Jordan Colin mostly practiced in his bedroom. He used the voice memo app on his phone to record himself playing for his teachers.
By Matt Valerio
This profile is part of The Lost Year, a series documenting the stories of local K-12 students and educators as they return to in-person classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The series was written and recorded by fellows in the Lede New Orleans Spring 2021 Community Reporting Fellowship.
Jordan Colin was among thousands of student musicians across New Orleans suddenly forced to learn their craft remotely when local schools shut down last spring. The 17-year-old trumpeter was used to spending hours playing alongside other students and instructors at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts where he studies jazz. He relished feeding off the creative energy of his peers in class and getting direct feedback from his instructors.
This past year, Colin mostly practiced alone in his room with his smartphone as an audience. He used the voice memo app on his phone to record himself playing and sent the recordings to his teachers for feedback and a grade. The process was “cold and detached,” he said, not at all what playing trumpet is supposed to be.
“Jazz is a conversation, as teachers would tell you,” said Colin, who will be a senior this fall. “This is an intimate thing, and for you to not be around people playing this genre of music, it kind of takes the essence of it out of it.”
Students across the country have had their lives upended this past year. They’ve had to find ways to stay motivated with their schooling while staring at screens for hours each day. There’s the emotional impact of not being able to see peers in person, and the feelings of loneliness and isolation that come with that.
Here in New Orleans, the pandemic hit young musicians like Colin especially hard. Music classrooms were empty and quiet for nearly a year. The familiar sound of marching bands practicing for Mardi Gras parades was absent earlier this year.
Colin, who lives with his parents and two younger brothers in Algiers, has been playing instruments since he was in grade school. He started getting interested in jazz at 14 age. Now, he considers his trumpet “an extension of my voice.” He was ecstatic when he was accepted into NOCCA in 2018. He was grateful for the chance to study and practice in the same halls jazz greats like the Marsalis brothers and Donald Harrison once roamed.
That all came to a grinding halt in March 2020. Colin said he was excited to have a break from school when local schools first closed last spring. After a few weeks, reality started to sink in. COVID-19 deaths were climbing. Quarantine measures tightened. His friends and teachers were reduced to little boxes on his computer screen. Colin realized it could be months before he saw his friends again in person.
“You’re forced to stay at home all of a sudden. You’re just stuck in a room thinking about the things that are passing you by wondering, ‘Man, college is coming. Adulthood is coming. I won’t have time to be a kid anymore,’” Colin said. “You’re just steadily wondering will I ever get this time back?”
In December 2020, NOCCA gave Colin and other students the option to return to in-person learning. Colin chose to stay virtual. He was worried about bringing COVID-19 home to his family. He also found he worked well on his own and had gotten used to the flexibility online learning allowed. He was able to make his own class schedule and spend extra time with his family.
Things are starting to return to something like normal. Colin was busy this summer, working in construction and completing four internships, including one learning jazz and film scoring with a NOCCA teacher, and another mentoring other young creators through visual artist Brandan “B-Mike” Odums’ youth program. He worked on some original music, mostly hip-hop, crafting lyrics and experimenting with bare-bones production, he said. He even started hanging out with friends in person again.
Still, Colin said he misses the intimacy of the classroom. He misses being surrounded by like-minded student artists at NOCCA. That hits home when he picks up his trumpet and starts in on a tune.
Colin started his senior year at NOCCA in August. It was his first time in a physical classroom in more than a year. He noted “everybody’s construct of time is messed up.” His friends keep referring to things that happened last year, when it was really 2019, he said. This year’s seniors barely know the sophomore class, who started attending NOCCA online.
“It’s like we skipped a couple of things,” Colin said. “We were just the little kids. Now we’re the seniors. It’s just weird.”
He’s most excited about being around friends again. That was something he used to take for granted, he said. He knows better now.
If anything, the pandemic taught him to slow down, “take time for yourself and appreciate the ones around you,” Colin said.
Matt Valerio is a Lede New Orleans Spring 2021 Fellow. He is a writer from New Orleans and a student at the University of New Orleans.
This story is available to republish under a Creative Commons license. Read Lede New Orleans’ publishing guidelines here.
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