Every day, I look forward to seeing Edgar and Rosie. Before you worry that there’s been a social distancing breach, I should clarify that Edgar and Rosie are the geese that live on the roof of the office building across the street from my apartment. They are fat, loud, happy geese that patrol the air along the short block between the milk factory and the real estate office. Each day at around 10:30 am they glide ungracefully onto that roof and we sit there staring at each other for a few moments. In those moments I wonder silently to myself if everything will be okay.
Typically, this scene unfolds during one of the many virtual meetings that fill up my calendar. Check-ins, board meetings, one-on-ones, sales pitches, introductions, happy hours, planning for in this time, in this time, in this time. This time that marches on. This time that makes us pause. This time that we fill up with fear or sorrow or dread or joy or hope or love.
At the beginning of March, when I moved out to Boise from Seattle to become the new Executive Director of the Boise Phil, I was preparing myself for the toughness of change, the steep learning curve of a new job and the loneliness of figuring out how to live in a new city. It’s laughable now to think about how I worried whether I had the right shoes as I stare out the window of a different kind of corner office and wait for the consistency of the neighborhood geese.
The anxiety of starting a new job has been replaced by the constant flood of information and an inner monologue that wonders who is doing what and when and how and should we do it too and have you talked to so-and-so and is it safe? Through that din, I am reminded of something I was asked just a few months ago during a meeting at the Hibulb Cultural Center on the Tulalip Reservation in Washington, “What does it mean to be an orchestra? How do you know you are you?”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to answer those questions. We take for granted that we exist. We have these monuments built around us to hold up our pristine performances, our egos, and the high tower of art that we like to perch ourselves upon. (I’m the first one to admit to my perching.) This pandemic has taken most of that away and left us with the question: How do you know you are you?
So what does it mean to be an orchestra? What could it mean to be an orchestra? Who are we?
Orchestras turn ideas into sounds and experiences.
There is so much to observe and process during This Time – from the individual to the collective. The range of sounds an orchestra can create, the skills of the musicians, and the weight of our institutions can uniquely interpret and help us all sort out this experience. After this is over, we must ask ourselves what ideas do we champion? Whose experiences do we memorialize? How can we help our community heal? How do we write our history?
Orchestras show up for and stand with the community.
What if “community engagement” was the job of the institution and not the job of one department? I really do believe that an orchestra’s purpose is to be in service to its community through art. That means everything from curating stories that are meaningful to the specific place where you live (which is why we need orchestras in every corner of this country) but also to share those stories outside of the concert hall, directly in the places that we all actually live, work, and play.
Orchestras add wonder and spark curiosity.
The most magical things orchestras do is to surprise us with new ideas and ways of thinking, especially with works we’ve heard a thousand times and thought we knew. If we looked at every experience as an opportunity to add wonder and spark curiosity how would we change?
Orchestras create love tsunamis.
This last one is inspired by the many conversations happening inside the Boise Phil right now. One of the cultural shocks I’ve experienced moving to Boise is the sheer abundance of kindness and warmth that the team shares with each other. Our musicians have started to send each other little gifts of food or wine or plants, especially to folks who are living alone, just to show that they are thinking of each other. The board practices this too – our treasurer literally cheers for, texts, shouts out, and love bombs people throughout the organization for their good work. It’s moving, it’s infectious, and we should always do this, not just in This Time.
Of course, SO MANY orchestras are already doing many of these things. This isn’t questioning what kind of education programs or community advisory groups or initiatives already exist – what I’m asking myself right now is: can these ideas be at the core of what it means to be an orchestra? Will this help us understand who we are? And what kind of incredible art could this inspire?
Edgar and Rosie honk wildly at a flock of passing geese and I remember that I have 72 more emails anxiously waiting for a reply. I’m grateful for the perspective that this pandemic has brought because we have some big questions to answer and lots of love tsunamis to start surfing.
Sign up for our monthly NewMusicBox newsletter
Laura Reynolds is the Executive Director of the Boise Philharmonic. Prior to joining the Boise Phil in March 2020, she was the Vice President of Education & Community Engagement at the Seattle Symphony where she spearheaded their Simple Gifts homelessness initiative and led the development of Benaroya Hall’s newest venue Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center. Throughout her career, she has focused on developing thoughtful programs that deepen the engagement with the community and youth while centering the art and musicians.