The Juneau Symphony has named Troy Quinn its newest conductor. While Quinn has an advanced degree in conducting, he’s also game to bring pop culture to the orchestra.
Quinn has sung backup for The Rolling Stones and has even been on the popular TV show “Glee.” Growing up in Connecticut, he says he was influenced by his parents’ taste in music, everything from Barry Manilow to Motown.
“And my brother and I would do a little show with combs as microphones, set up in the living room and perform for our friends,” he says.
Quinn lives in Los Angeles and plans to split his time between there and Juneau. He says as a kid he loved learning new songs, but his background is different from most of his colleagues.
“I didn’t start taking formal training in music and formal lessons until I was in college,” he says. “That’s kind of a well-kept secret.”
He calls his piano playing skills “proficient” and has been a longtime member of the choir but he didn’t think of music as a viable career. That is, until a professor at Providence College called on him to conduct in class.
“And I had no idea what I was doing but I was just feeling the music,” he says. “You know, I’m of the belief conducting is innate. You either have it or you don’t.”
Quinn had it and his career took off from there. He would go on to earn a doctorate in conducting at the University of California’s Thornton School of Music. Juneau Symphony board President Bev Smith says Quinn’s charisma stood out on stage.
“I just love watching his hands and his graceful way he conducted. He was very engaging with everyone that he met,” she says.
In that performance, Quinn conducted the orchestra without a score — no sheet music to guide him, only the feel. Executive Director Sara Radke Brown says that’s something the audience remembers.
“Not only was it impressive, but it allowed him to be expressive,” she says. “And he may not do that for every concert. He was certainly able to make a more impactful connection with them for that reason.”
After the last conductor, Kyle Wiley Pickett, left for a new job, the Juneau Symphony received about 70 applications for the position. Three of those were selected to perform their own concert in Juneau, including Quinn. Radke Brown says they were looking for a conductor who could appeal to a diverse audience.
“So many people say that classical music is dying,” she says. “Opera is dying, orchestras are dying. I think people like Troy are going to remind people that it’s still alive and there’s a lot to offer.”
At 31, Quinn says he’s comfortable navigating social media, like Facebook, to bring new appreciation to the music.
“Because I think that’s what’s going to reach new audiences so that’s vital to the survival of orchestras in the 21st century and beyond,” he says.
He hopes to introduce a new audience to the symphony by taking an interdisciplinary approach. In the classical world, there’s a movement to shake things up.
“The music of Led Zeppelin in an orchestral setting,” he says. “You know, that’s all great because people come in and we offer them a Beethoven symphony as well and that’s how they may get involved.”
Quinn says he’s interested in incorporating film clips or having dancers perform to the symphony’s music. Whenever possible, he wants the arts community in Juneau to be a part of that.
And if his iTunes playlist is any indication, what he’ll bring is eclectic.
“Beethoven five is on my iPod, Usher and Alicia Keys. It’s all music, it’s all good. We just need a common denominator so people can be exposed to the classics,” he says.
Quinn starts the new season as conductor with the Juneau symphony in October.