By Ellie McKinnon
“I would love,” Robert Franz says in the intro to Stella, his video-based children’s book series, “to ride in a hot air balloon.” A nice dream, but instead of going up, up and away himself, he sent Stella, the book’s main character on whimsical, musical balloon trips. When Boise Baroque board member Stephanie Kennedy, once a balloon pilot herself, heard of his dream an idea was born. She wanted Robert to be up in the clouds before he headed to Canada, and she knew how to make that happen.
And there were reasons to celebrate, like Robert’s decision to reverse commute and maintain his position as Artistic Director at Boise Baroque Orchestra even while living in Canada and working with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO). As he sees it, the commuting arrangement benefits everyone. While living and working in Canada, he can acquire inspiration, information, and ideas that he will bring back to Boise to enliven his work and performances here. Currently, he is acquiring valuable skills as the WSO inaugurates a 12-concert digital series. And he is used to commuting after spending much of his time in the air for the past ten years. But of course, he flies on a commercial jet while commuting, never in the basket of a hot air balloon. So, with reasons to celebrate and Robert’s move approaching, a hot air balloon ride for Robert and his husband, Brandon, seemed a perfect send-off.
Kennedy knows the pleasure of floating in the quiet above the treetops, the adventure of not knowing exactly where you are headed, and pure joy that lets the imagination take flight. Because of Franz’s total engagement and obvious delight while conducting, she knew that Franz understands joy, likes adventure and possesses a soaring imagination. For Kennedy, hot air ballooning and rich musical engagement are parallel experiences. And she knew just which balloon would be ideal for Robert’s ride—The Oz Ballon, a gorgeous piece of artistry gifted by the Disney Corporation to Laurie Spencer, owner of the Boise ballon company, Lighter than Air America. Laurie agreed that the Oz balloon which she piloted in promotional pieces for the release of Disney’s film, Oz, the Great and Powerful, perfectly suited the occasion, and she offered to serve as pilot for Robert’s ride. Spencer says she loves meeting people from all over the world while sharing the basket of her hot air balloon and giving her passengers, in her words, “memories that will last a lifetime.”
Fire In The Hole
The Idaho sky on the morning the balloon ride was drop-dead gorgeous blue as Robert and Brandon stepped into the balloon basket. The crew (which included BBO Executive Director, Dave Everett) waited for the pilot’s command, “Long Burn.” Laurie shouted the command to release the tethering ropes and the balloon lifted a couple inches off the ground. Stephanie remembers Robert’s eyes, wide with wonder and filled with gratitude. He felt, he told me, that her rare and wonderful gift of experience meant everything.
He remembers the startling sensation of motion stopping. There was no perception of wind, little, if any, perception of rising. No jolting take off. And sound: It carries so far into the air! He recalls that it felt like a magical adventure, a return to the incredible land of Oz. Brandon, a scientist, was intrigued by the physics of the flight and with Laurie’s expertise. And the landing? Brandon said it was as soft as coming down upon a bed of 5,000 feathers.
In Franz’s storybook, Stella peers over the edge of the balloon basket as it hovers over a river. When Robert and Brandon’s balloon danced on the wind over the Boise River, Spencer says Robert burst into singing. Because he was totally wrapped up in the experience itself, Franz says he doesn’t remember that moment, and wonders if maybe it was Brandon’s voice that she heard. But on subsequent trips, Laurie says that while riding wind currents over water, she remembers that moment, and feels it was a gift. While many of her flights have been memorable, she counts the flight with Robert and Brandon among the most magical.
Grateful, Robert gave Laurie two additional gifts—one, a video of a performance where she could watch orchestral music being created. The other, the promise of a seat at at Boise Baroque Orchestra performance when the orchestra is able to again perform before a live audience. She will be there along with the musicians, and with Stephanie Kennedy, and with the BBO patrons, all of us riding on sweeping currents of sound.
By Yvonne McCoy
We’ve all heard the aphorism “it takes a village,” more familiarly as to whether it takes one to raise a child. It can also be applied to all that it takes to make beautiful, meaningful music, whether it’s during “the best of times or … the worst of times.” The COVID-19 pandemic is surely the latter and has presented us with some unprecedented and unique challenges that require complicated logistics, expertise, and flexibility by the Boise Baroque Orchestra (“BBO”) in order to survive and continue bringing beautiful and meaningful music to our community.
We, the BBO family, found ourselves having to postpone and perhaps even cancel the final concert of the season. We can be grateful to so many people, businesses, and organizations that recognized all that it would take to put on that concert successfully during the pandemic. They all stepped up to contribute to make that possible—to keep the music playing … safely … for us all.
Making music requires rehearsals with musicians working together (in addition to their many hours of private practicing); a venue for rehearsals and performances; special equipment to ensure the safety of musicians and staff; and agreement among our listeners about how and when they would like to receive the music. The Boise Baroque Orchestra is grateful to have received from our community the support it needs to carry on … support given so generously and gladly.
Helen Carter, Board of Directors President, Adjusting Air Filter
Producing the season finale concert presented many challenges:
Rehearsal: Dave Everett, Executive Director, Explaining Protocol
Financial stability has taken on even greater importance during this health crisis. We are lucky to have a large group of financial supporters that includes our loyal season subscribers, some of whom donated the cost of their tickets for the final scheduled concert at the outbreak of the pandemic.
Donors and sponsors continue to make generous contributions. Three donors who moved to Boise from major Eastern cities about three to four years ago were used to all the performing arts that one gets in large cities. Here they found the BBO and showed how much they enjoyed this family of musicians by supporting it in a variety of ways.
Linda Droker and Paul Dacher recently decided to sponsor Anna-Marie Vargas (Violin). They also recently asked—unsolicited—if they could increase their donation. “We know it’s a tough time for the arts, and we recognize that they need to be supported, especially here in a smaller city like Boise. If we want to maintain the arts, we have to feed the arts.” Linda and Paul recognize how much they enjoy the quality of the musicianship of BBO players. “We’ve lived here for four years and have heard some excellent soloists. Maybe it’s the intimacy of the venue and the small size of the orchestra. We can talk with the musicians and other audience members that makes every concert and event special to us.”
Upon viewing the video of the “Haydn in Paris” concert, BBO supporter Kathryn Goria said, “What a bolt of joy you have brought into our lives. Thank you for a beautiful repertoire, masterfully executed. And how intimate to sit with Robert in that beautiful space and learn about the history of each piece! The concert filled my heart.” (Look for a future article detailing a way Kathryn supported the BBO that we might not have thought of before, i.e., by hiring one of the BBO small ensembles for an intimate, socially-distanced neighborhood street party.)
The Eagle Arts Commission supported the “Haydn in Paris” concert by awarding the BBO a grant to sponsor the annual Summer Dinner Party and Concert in Eagle. However, due to the pandemic, it was not possible to hold the dinner. Instead, they generously allowed us to repurpose the grant for the production of this on-line concert. Jane Kramer (Chairman of the EAC) said, “the Commission has budgeted for many different programs this year, including grants for the arts. Unfortunately, some of our grantees have had to delay events because of the COVID pandemic. We don’t want to jeopardize their health, well-being, and comfort levels. We’ve tried to be as flexible as possible when events are having to be delayed and to have the events go off with as much impact as they would have had they not been delayed.”
Because our patrons, sponsors, and grant organizations have stood by us and have been so very generous to us, the BBO is finishing our fiscal year in the black.
Our musicians founded the Boise Baroque Orchestra because they love making music, and they want to continue making music even during this difficult time … perhaps even more so because it is a difficult time. We want to keep the orchestra and these musicians viable, so the BBO agreed to pay our musicians whether or not we performed this last concert of the season. To help in that regard, Esther Simplot has allowed us to re-purpose a portion of the J.R. Simplot Foundation grant to pay the musicians for the rescheduled March season finale.
Ready To Rehearse
This concert was a tremendous amount of work by many people, and it might have been easier to simply cancel it. So many performing arts organizations in the Treasure Valley have done just that. But ours is a story of perseverance, love, and dedication. To paraphrase the words of Charles Dickens, this might have been the “season of darkness,” but we’re turning it into the “season of light.” It might have been the “winter of despair,” but we’re making it the “spring of hope.” We—all of us—ensure that the Boise Baroque Orchestra, instead of nothing, has “everything before us.”