Real Talk with Leanna Booze Renfro, Principal Oboe in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
Self-labeled as a “band geek” in high school, Leanna went on to attend acclaimed schools and earn a doctorate — but that was just the start of her musical career. She has held positions in more than five State Symphonies, performed at festivals and events, taught as a professor, created a trio with two of her close friends, and on top of all that, is a wife and recent mother. We were lucky enough to get her advice on how she does it while still enjoying what she does and having time for family.
Name: Leanna Booze Renfro
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Title: Principal Oboe, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
Educational Background: University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (D.M.A.), the San Francisco Conservatory (M.M.), and Vanderbilt University (B.M.)
What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I was a band geek in high school and went to college planning on double majoring in music and another field. When I got to play Mahler’s 9th Symphony with the Nashville Symphony during my sophomore year, I was hooked on orchestral music and decided to focus on a performance major.
What are the most rewarding and difficult parts of your musical career?
The most rewarding part is sharing a connection with someone else, whether it be by creating a nice musical moment with a colleague or having a positive impact on an audience member. The most difficult part is trying to maintain a high level of performance while also “living life” so to speak.
If you could have given yourself a piece of knowledge or advice when you started your career, what would that be? Would you do anything differently?
Since hindsight is 20/20, I wish I had practiced more in high school and early college! But for me, I needed to meander for a while until I figured out what I wanted to do for sure.
How do you define success?
It has changed as I have gotten older, from something more achievement-oriented (winning an audition or receiving accolades, for example) to focusing on and enjoying the pursuit of improvement. I feel successful if I am always striving to get better at what I do and not just settling for “good enough.” Inevitably, there are stretches of time when I feel like I’m stuck and not improving (particularly in regard to making oboe reeds) and that can be really frustrating.
You attended prestigious schools for all your degrees. What advice do you wish someone had told you about furthering your education?
There is no substitute for real world experience, and I wish I had accepted more gigs and taken more auditions rather than staying safely within the bubble of school.
What’s your favorite part of teaching? What’s the most challenging part?
It’s always exciting when a student has an “Aha!” moment and finally understands how to execute a concept. I find vibrato challenging to teach because it’s internal and the student can’t see what’s going on.
What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not working?
Right now, most of my time is consumed with taking care of our wonderful 11-month-old son. Before the whirlwind of being a new parent, I enjoyed exercising and was somewhat of a movie buff.
How do you balance your work with your personal life?
I’m lucky that I get to perform in the Arkansas Symphony with my husband, David (Principal Horn). We usually have the same evening schedule and carpool to rehearsals and concerts. During the day, I stay at home with our son and practice and make oboe reeds while he is sleeping or having some solo playtime.
You’ve lived in so many places. What are two things that make transitioning to a new city easier?
I’ve been lucky to have friends located in the places where I’ve moved, so that makes transitioning to a new city much easier. Also, I like to discover what’s unique about a new place (neighborhoods, restaurants, etc.) and go exploring.
Do you find it important to maintain strong female relationships?
Yes, for sure! I still check in several times a week with my best friend since 9th grade. She always keeps me grounded and makes me laugh.
What exactly is the DDG Trio and what inspired you to start it? And where did the name Duck Duck Goose (DDG) come from?
The DDG Trio essentially came out of a chamber music reading session between new friends. I got together with Beth Wheeler and Lorraine Duso Kitts to play oboe trios on one of my visits to Little Rock and we had such fun that we decided to pursue more opportunities.
We get asked about our name a lot! The oboe plays the duck in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and since a common oboe trio consists of two oboes and an English horn (the oboe’s larger cousin) we thought the DDG acronym would sort of be a subtle joke.
Is there a way we can follow DDG performances?
We are not active enough at the moment to warrant a website, but we recently have been found performing new pieces on the Arkansas Symphony’s River Rhapsodies Chamber Music Series (in 2017, 2015, and 2012) and on a recital presented by the Conway Composers Guild (2016).
The repertoire for oboe trio is rather small, so early on we decided to focus on commissioning new music for the ensemble by forming relationships with composers we like. Past recitals have taken place at University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College, and UAMS.
What’s next for you?
The Arkansas Symphony has a few performances left between now and the end of May. Then my summer will be spent relaxing and enjoying my family until I attend a short music festival in August in Wisconsin.