The Boise Philharmonic has had quite a year. Its orchestra has unionized, with the organization and its players reaching a collective bargaining agreement in late January. Add to that the departure of Executive Director Hollis Welsh and a full slate of programming, from the Pops series and music education to live music accompaniment to movies from the Harry Potter franchise, which should give some idea about what Laura Reynolds, the incoming executive director of the Boise Phil, has on her plate.
She is, however, unfazed. At her back when she officially starts on Monday, March 16, will be years of working with groups like the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the Seattle Symphony, where she spearheaded programs that brought music to new communities.
BW: Tell me about your background.
LR: I did my undergrad at USC, and while I was there, I had this really great internship. My horn quartet went out to schools and hospitals and nursing homes, and I really loved that, so my senior year I interned for the department, and I saw the more administrative side of things—how to write grants, how to coordinate volunteers and all of that. I just loved it. I then spent a year at the San Francisco Conservatory doing graduate work, and while I was there, sitting in a practice room, I thought I loved music so much and I loved playing, but the thing that I really missed was the work that I’d done at the outreach program. After a year I started to work for an arts education nonprofit called Music in Schools Today. I worked with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. I came up to Seattle and started as a family programs manager at the Seattle Symphony, and was promoted to vice president of education and community engagement.
BW: What contributed to your decision to move away from performing and toward the administrative side?
LR: I was spending a lot of time alone in a practice room, and as I thought about where I could create the biggest impact for me, I kept going back to my experience in the outreach program. I loved that, and it was what energized me. It was one of the best decisions because I get to do all of the things that I love. I love programming, I love looking at an organization and looking at its goals in the community and how we can bring everything together.
BW: How do you reach people who are underserved by nonprofits like the Boise Phil?
LR: Every aspect of playing music should be community engagement. In Seattle, we launched the Simple Gifts homelessness initiative after a state of emergency that was declared in 2015. We partnered with social services and nonprofits that were focusing on shelter and food and housing and really basic needs, and when we partnered with them, a big conversation we had was, if we were to work together with you and enter into this space and create art together, would that infringe on your mission, because we don’t want to do it if it’s getting in the way of the work you’re doing, and they said no—the people we’re working with are experiencing the most difficult times in their lives, and we can provide basic human needs, but you’re providing something that creates the whole person.
BW: I’ve heard of food deserts—are there music deserts?
LR: Sure. Trans-nationally, investment in the arts as a whole has been declining for a number of years. I think that there’s less access to instruments, less access to just being exposed initially. When I worked with teenagers, I asked them, “Do you consider yourself a composer?” They’d say, “No,” but in their next breath they’d say, “I just made a beat for this song my friend and I are writing.” Because of the decline in arts education nationally over time, people just aren’t identifying themselves as musicians.
BW: Do you have ideas for changing the Phil’s approach to education and outreach?
LR: I think that the Boise Phil’s community engagement programs are really fabulous. What attracted me to this organization is continued investment in young people, so just last month, the Phil announced it’s doubling the size of its youth orchestra, because the demand for that is so high in this region. That is exciting because that’s just more people who will be able to play and learn.
BW: The Boise Phil announced it had reached a collective bargaining agreement with the orchestra last month. What are your thoughts?
LR: I think it’s great. Joining the musicians union is industry standard. The majority of professional orchestras are unionized, and what I’ve seen from this whole process is that it has really brought the organization to the next level, and brought the staff and musicians together in such a positive way. It makes this a super exciting place for everyone, and the unionization of musicians is part of that process.
BW: What projects are you most excited to dive into once you’ve set up your office?
LR: I think my first task is to meet everyone. I need to meet the community and people at other arts organizations. I think it will help me learn what everyone really cares about and guide where the Phil will go, because I don’t think that comes just from me imparting whatever my ideas are on the world. I think it’s about having those conversations and with people here, just to listen. I think that’s my top priority at the beginning. I just like to have conversations with folks who are trying to learn more about who they are and what they care about, and where the Phil fits in.
BW: Talk about an experience you’ve had with music in an unexpected place.
LR: I went to the contemporary art museum in Montreal, and there was an exhibit on Leonard Cohen, and so they had these two exhibits that struck me particularly. In the first room, there was a typewriter set up, and when you pushed the keys, different poems that he was reading would start playing, and you could layer the poems on top of each other, and there would be one person in the room on the typewriter, and everyone else in the room could sit in beanbags. In another room, it was a fully immersive sound experience. You’d walk into this installation, into this circle, and it was the “Hallelujah” chorus. You could walk up to different parts of that room and hear a different voice singing that part of the song.