It was the third month into the beginning of the Roaring 2020s, and New Orleanians were coming down off the high of a lively Carnival season when the devastating news broke. Our beloved holiday, Mardi Gras, had been a COVID-19 superspreader event. Along with the rest of the world, New Orleans shut down.
I already had the idea for my novella, The Repertoire. It was going to be about a middle-aged jazz singer, Audrey Reine, who was replaced by a younger version of herself and needed to rescue her career somehow. When not writing, I obsessively checked the news. Local musicians and lots of other people were dying from the virus. With the clubs closed, musicians had to use their creativity to survive. Many began live streaming performances from their homes, relying on viewers’ tips via PayPal or Venmo. Others took to the safer outdoors for their gigs.
Over the next year and a half, my story shifted from desperation and depression to optimism. It seemed to ebb and flow with the current situation in my city. It felt like a dance of two steps forward, two back as music festivals were canceled, rescheduled only to be canceled again, and finally returned. Some musicians will still only perform outside for health and safety reasons. Others continue their live streams from home and even from the now-reopened clubs. Listening to the LiveWire, a list of daily/nightly music events, on our local radio station WWOZ renews my faith in the future.
While The Repertoire was written during a pandemic, the fictional story does not address it. My protagonist’s resilience reflects the city’s musicians and denizens. I hope that from here on, New Orleans will not be thought of as a hotspot for a virus but one for its unique music and culture.