Sunday, June 27, 2010


Lagniappe @ N. Carolina Governor’s School East

Lagniappe (Louisiana Creole): to give something extra, an unexpected bonus given freely (like a thirteenth donut when asking for a dozen)

Mark Twain writes about the word in Life on the Mississippi: he called it "a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get":

We picked up one excellent word — a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word — "lagniappe." We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.When a child or a servant buys something in a shop he finishes the operation by saying — "Give me something for lagniappe." The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans — and you say, "What, again? — no, I've had enough;" the other party says, "But just this one time more — this is for lagniappe."

So Lagniappe is now in its second year at GSE- led by our director Michael McElreath and our French teachers last year and this year who are really into Creole, both Haitian and ‘Nawlins style. And our version of Lagniappe is this- not only do we work our tails off teaching these gifted kids Monday through Saturday, but we also give them Lagniappe night- an evening when our goal is to entertain them with the creative things we are doing in our careers and in our explorations, whether really serious or just interesting dabbling. It’s all presented as performance, and even the teachers who aren’t really performers (like natural science folks and math folks) take a shot a being stage personas.

So tonight Lagniappe included the following, in no particular order--the instrumental faculty dressed in jammies and lounging on a beat-up sofa gradually launching into John Cage’s Living Room Music; a video of Bill Fick doing some amazing print-making processes accompanied by a weirded- out Conlon Nancarrow piano track with improv added in by percussionist Billy Bialecki; a dance contact improv by dance teachers Karen Ivey and James Healey to a slightly modified track of Moon River, with an added live video feed, creating interaction between the dancers, their video images and cameraman; a magical holographic art demonstration by Gavin Hackeling; a poetry reading by Chuck Sullivan which tied directly into thoughts from the Thursday night Holocaust guest speaker; and much more. My presentation was pretty low-tech to begin with, and became even lower tech when we had the one tech snafu of the night when the cam projector failed. So I went into talk to the audience without tech mode, involved the audience a bit as I introduced the background of my choral setting of May Swenson’s witty and wonderfully humorous poem Summer’s Bounty and then we listened to a performance of the piece. The students laughed at the funny spots (yes it’s funny for sure, how could 300 HS students not laugh when they hear a choir sing about "nuts"?) and the tiny tech failure made no difference. In fact, later on, some colleagues complimented me for not flaking out over it, and just talking directly to the audience- their comments made feel nice.

So Lagniappe was a big success—the students in the audience had no idea what to expect as we told them really nothing about what this was- but we for sure gave them that thirteenth donut. I think the students here now realize fully that their faculty is weird but yeah, also really talented and totally thinking outside the box. We’re really just them with some years added on. And maybe next year we should have free popcorn for them- that would for sure be Lagniappe!

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