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.